In mythology, Arcadia is a serene, pastoral paradise that’s often portrayed as elusive or unattainable.
In Edmonton, Arcadia is the realization of a dream for Darren McGeown, who wanted to open his own brewery. He did it — in November 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting public health restrictions that forced him to temporarily close the doors and scale back operations more than once.
You could forgive McGeown for giving up on his dream in the face so many challenges. Yet, at a time when so many businesses are consumed with simply surviving, Arcadia organizes a steady stream of fundraisers and donation drives for local causes.
“It’s about building community, no matter how tough it is,” McGeown says.
McGeown has done this for several years now, going back to when Arcadia was a bar on 124th Street. He’s raised money for local agencies like Boyle Street Community Services through bottle drives and he’s collected socks, underwear and winter clothes for people who are homeless. At the same time, Arcadia became a steadfast supporter of the province’s craft beer community by stocking a wide selection of Alberta-made beer and regularly hosting cask events and launch parties featuring local breweries.
An ardent music fan who drew Arcadia’s name from the works of one of his favourite bands, the Libertines, McGeown uses a musical analogy to explain why he closed the bar to open a brewery.
“I didn’t want to be a cover band. I wanted to write my own songs,” he says.
In early 2020, McGeown moved out of the bar location and began building Arcadia Brewing Co. at the new Manchester Square development on 107th Avenue. Designed to look like a European high street, Manchester Square was the object of some derision at ﬁrst — and I was one of people who wondered whether it would ﬁt into the surrounding neighbourhood. I gladly dropped my opposition after spending an enjoyable summer afternoon sipping Arcadia pints beside the outdoor fountain.
The exterior of Manchester Square may be an ungainly mashup of London and Amsterdam, but the interior of Arcadia is an homage to Edmonton, as well as McGeown’s musical loves. Signs from the old Northlands Coliseum line the walls and the seating area is furnished with chairs from the Oilers’ old arena. A large mosaic portrait of Joe Strummer from the Clash has a place of pride nearby.
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Arcadia’s core lineup spans a range of styles that also includes a blonde ale, a pale ale, West Coast IPA, a dry Irish stout and a Kolsch-style beer lightly infused with coffee. There’s a wide variety, and the beer manages to balance approachability with some creative touches.
Meanwhile, McGeown continues to brew up community alongside the beer. He recently established a monthly “unsung hero” award he named after a mentor and former teacher of his, Tom Feehan. It’s meant to be a socially conscious twist on the common “customer of the month” schtick employed by many businesses, with nominees chosen by patrons.
“We’re trying to celebrate someone who does a lot for the community, who maybe doesn’t get a lot of recognition,” McGeown says.
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This article appears in the April 2022 issue of Edify