By Scott Sullivan
The Old Root Beer Barrel, closed 40-plus ago, reopened in a rehabbed structure catty-corner from its old home to long lines eager Aug. 1 to experience old-time favorites like root beer and hot dogs served from within the iconic structure.
“We ran out of food the first day,” said Mick White, who with Allegan County Health Department approval has reopened the Douglas eatery on the southwest corner of Ferry and West Center streets.
The new Barrel serves only “classic” dogs, root beer and floats, but two gourmet dogs daily, fruit, vegetables with hummus dip, chili, a house brownie, bottled water and soft drinks from noon to sunset through Labor Day. It will be open September and October weekends as weather allows, White said.
There is no on-the-way-to-the-beach experience here, or anywhere, quite like it.
The 17-foot-tall barrel, a concession stand from which root beer and foot-long hot dogs were sold from the 1950s to mid-1970s, was renovated and installed two summers ago on the corner it now occupies.
The structure sat dormant and decayed for decades until 2011, when Saugatuck Douglas History Center members heard it was slated for demolition and bought it for $1.
A Friends of the Barrel group raised funds to save it, cleaned out and dismantled the structure, then sanded, repaired and refinished its 120 curved redwood staves, plus made new ones.
The refurbished materials were stored in a barn while alternative sites and potential uses were weighed.
It was placed on city-owned land last summer. Since then landscaping has been done around it, lighting and signage installed, plus more.
A new interpretative sign northeast of the barrel, facing the cross streets, tells and depicts its history on one side and restoration efforts on the other.
The city has added parking on the site, which also boasts five picnic tables, a cornhole game and porta-potty.
White — who has owned both a local retail business, then the Sunset Subs eatery in Douglas’ Weathervane mall from 2000 to 2008 — and his staff were sweating when we visited Aug. 2.
Part was due to keeping up with the stream of customers, part because there is no air-conditioning in the barrel. Service windows on two sides and an entry/exit door provide natural ventilation which varies depending on wind and temperatures.
“We provide a unique experience. The food is good too,” White said.