Previewing Picnic, Kensington’s Massive, No-Reservations, Non-Stop Garden Party

The beers are chilling, the wine is stocked, the rotisseries are heating up and all seems ready for one of the most highly-anticipated openings of the summer.

A spread of dishes at Picnic. / Photograph by Mike Prince

When work on Picnic first began, it was nothing but a shell.

No, seriously. I’ve seen the pictures. The old Weisbrod & Hess Brewery building at 2421 Martha Street was just weeds growing in the shadow of crumbling brick walls. Blue sky where the ceiling should’ve been. This was 2022-ish, the beginning of development on what will shortly become the 7th restaurant project from Greg Root, Al Lucas, Nick Kennedy, David Reuter and Roland Kassis, partners at Defined Hospitality.

Defined already runs some of the most notable restaurants in the city — places that I write about all the time. Kalaya, Suraya and Beddia are all theirs. As are Condesa, R&D Cocktail Bar and El Techo. But Picnic? It’s still a big swing. Starting with the remains of an old brewery originally built in 1890, they spent a full year (working alongside Stokes Architecture) just to stabilize the structure, then a whole second year restoring it (with help from Katherine Lundberg of Briquette Studio) and turning it into a massive, soaring, beautifully appointed 11,200 square-foot space full of greenery and light. It seats 225 indoors, including 50 mezzanine seats overlooking the main dining room. There are two private dining areas (which aren’t quite finished yet), a gigantic walk-up bar, communal seating on the floor and space for live music. It is, essentially, a giant, daily picnic held indoors.

And it even comes with its own wine store.

Actually, you enter the space through the wine store. That’s part of the theater of the thing. The drama. “As you enter, you will find yourself in the wine shop framed by the exposed kitchen featuring the rotisserie and oyster bar,” according to Root. “You exit the wine shop into the uniquely designed dining area with 40-foot-high ceilings, skylights, lots of greenery, and a mezzanine that overlooks the whole scene.”

“The idea is that you’re stopping at the wine shop on the way to a picnic,” adds Lucas. “The wine shop is meant to act like a live wine list.”

Scenes from Picnic’s wine shop. / Photograph by Mike Prince

Which is cool, sure. A little confusing, maybe, but this strikes me as the kind of place where you’re just supposed to roll with it. Figure it out as you go along. A casual, easy-going vibe enforced by architecture and traffic funneling, but still probably a pretty good time because the partners (with Joe Beddia on board as creative advisor) have designed it that way.

“Anyone who works in hospitality who has been to Bacchanal in New Orleans wants to do their own version of that,” Beddia explains in the press materials. “It’s simple, convivial, and with a focus on a kind of laid-back quality. Fun for everyone.”

In the kitchen, they’ve got Mark Jerome Hennessey, ex of Messina Social Club, Helm and Condessa. He’s the exec here and seems super-psyched about all the gear he gets to play with, but especially the wood-fired rotisserie. They’ll be using it to roast whole chickens, then will move on to experiment with lamb, pork, vegetables — whatever they can get on the spike. He’ll also be overseeing an oyster program in partnership with Fishtown Seafood (which we talked about recently in our news round-up regarding their Willy Wonka opening antics) and sourcing his supplies from a variety of local farms and producers in order to keep the menu “rotating and approachable.”

Obviously, wine is going to be a big thing here. Aaron Deary from R&D is in charge of the beverage program, and he’s trying to keep bottles in the $50 to $70 range. He’ll also have beer, frozen and draft cocktails, zero-proof drinks — everything necessary to keep a party humming along.

Picnic is housed in an old brewery originally built in 1890. / Photograph by Mike Prince

And while yes, we’re still a little light on specifics regarding the food and booze, I imagine the kitchen and bar crews are still busy ironing out those details because one thing we’re sure of? Picnic has an opening date. Next Wednesday, July 3rd, at 5 p.m., the doors open and the crowds flood in.

And after that, Picnic just doesn’t stop. They’re operating seven days a week right from the jump, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, and Sundays, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.) The bar and wine shop will be running until “late,” according to the team, though I’m not exactly sure what that means. And in the near future, they’ll be opening at noon on Saturdays and Sundays and running the whole day.

Oh, and one other thing? In keeping with that “laidback quality” Joe Beddia mentioned above, Picnic won’t be taking reservations for any party smaller than eight people. It’s walk-in only, with all tables first-come, first-served. Which is a pretty cool way to run things in this day and age where pretty much everything requires reservations in advance, but it’s also the kind of thing that’s only really feasible when you’re offering up 225 new seats to a neighborhood that isn’t exactly lacking in places to sit down and spend money.

But Defined has done some amazing work over the years, and Picnic is one of those projects that food nerds (like me) have been keeping an eye on for a long time. Personally, I’m really hoping it works out for them.

And come Wednesday, I guess we’ll all get to see if the wait was worth it.

Editor’s note: After this article was published, Picnic decided to offer reservations for half of the restaurant. Walk-ins are still welcome, but if you’d like to book a table, you can do so over at Resy.