OKTOBERFEST SPECIAL!!! - BEER GARDEN WARS

>> 10/9/10

OKTOBERFEST SPECIAL!!! (BEER GARDEN WARS)
Berry Park
Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden
Radegast Hall & Biergarten
The Standard Biergarten
Studio Square

October. The leaves are yellow and orange, the air is crisp and clean. Halloween, which used to be when girls dressed like hookers but which is now when girls dress like zombies, is just on the horizon. October is the title of a thankfully very short, brooding U2 song. October is the official month both for Breast Cancer Awareness, an important cause we should all support, and Caffeine Addiction Recovery Awareness, a fake cause invented to hawk merchandise we should all laugh at. Last but not least, October is the international month of beer. OKTOBERFEST is here!!

The best place, we all know, to fully appreciate Oktoberfest isn't at some sports bar watching the Giants lose. No, Oktoberfest requires a beer garden. So this Winterfylleth I decided to wander the boroughs to find the best Beer Gardens NYC has to offer.

BERRY PARK
4 Berry Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 782-2829


Berry Park, on the border between Williamsburg and Greenpoint, was the second stop on my journey between the boroughs hunting for outdoor German beering. Berry Park sits alone along a deserted industrial street smack between the bustle of the Nassau stop on the G and the bustle of the Bedford stop on the L. You can't miss it. It's the warehouse with all the lights. Unlike Bohemian Hall, the inside area is large and maintains the ubiquitous beer hall decor of communal tables. In fact, with the high ceilings, warm candlelight glows and the faint smells of wood and ale blending together, you could almost pretend that your imbibery was taking place at a ski lodge in the Alps.



But of course, this isn't about sitting inside on a perfect fall night, it's about sitting outside. Walk up the long staircase in the back to find yourself on the roof. There's far less seating than at Bohemian Hall and far, far less seating than at Studio Square, but when Mr. Dogz and I showed up, the place was calm and we were able to get a table to ourselves. We ordered a couple of beers from the rooftop bar and hunkered in for some guy-talk.



If the beer menu is almost exclusively German, the food menu is anything but (save a pretzel). Mostly appetizers, salads and sandwiches, this isn't standard bar food. With choices like a jambalaya, a smoked salmon sandwich, roasted seasonal vegetables and an avocado BLT the menu has more in common with what you'd find on the menu of a WASPy, Hamptons venue than any normal bar. I wound up ordering the Pulled Pork Sandwich (very tasty), which came with a small side salad and a small side of potato salad while Dogz decided to have a Roasted Artichoke Dip, which came with roasted corn chips. This was mediocre at absolute best.

But we didn't come here for dinner. We came for the ambiance, and that particular aspect of Berry Park was fantastic. The crisp air, the lively, but not raucous fellow patrons and the smell of someone's wood-burning fireplace in the air was everything this particular New Yorker was in the mood for. The beers we tried, to give you an idea of what they had, were a Palm, an Aventinus, a Gosser, a Weihenstephaner, and a Leffe Blonde. They ranged in price from $6 to $8.

Berry Park is cash only.



BOHEMIAN HALL & BEER GARDEN
29-19 24th Avenue
Astoria, NY 11102
(718) 274-4925


When NYC beer gardens come to mind, this is the one that we picture. The Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden is such an iconic part of NYC that it was chosen as a location in the latest Grand Theft Auto video game. What makes this a beer garden, as opposed to an outdoor bar, are the trees. Big and thick and as old as the century-old bar itself.



The indoor space is microscopic. But who comes here to sit inside? Head to the back and you'll immediately find that the seating outdoors is both vast and yet insufficient. Seemingly hundreds upon hundreds of grad students fill row upon row of picnic tables. Most people here came in groups of four or more. Bro and I were certainly in the minority as we wandered the aisles looking for a seat. We squeezed in between some law students from DC and a pair of cutesy couples on a double date. It's not very loud here, but it's hardly quiet. The air, as fall began to descend upon us, had turned brisk, but the mass of humanity warmed the place up and wearing my jacket became uncomfortable.

While I held our place at the table, Bro grabbed us some liquid and solid refreshment. The food menu is pretty small. Kielbasa (pictured) and Bratwurst (not pictured) was our nosh du jour. But most people seemed content with fries or some other sort of lighter, shareable finger food. The beer menu was much smaller than one might expect from a place this size and this famous. Sure, 20-odd beers may not be something to sneeze at elsewhere, but I was thinking that I'd have an array of 50-plus. The beers we tried, which I won't bother opining about, were Hoegaarden, Krusovice and Staropramen. Bro also went for one of the few domestics with a Captain Lawrence. The majority of the brew options are from the old country, as it should be. Half liter mugs are the standard size and cost $5.



RADEGAST HALL & BIERGARTEN
113 North 3rd Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 963-3973


About a ten minute walk down from Williamsburg's Berry Park is Radegast Hall, on the corner of Berry and North Third. From the side, it appears to sit in a large factory-like building. From the front, it looks like a medieval tavern where road-weary travelers seeking sanctuary from the bandits of the night. Either way, it's an ominous structure. Unlike the other four beer gardens I visited, despite the name, Radegast Hall is entirely indoors. It's a beer hall. And when I say hall, I mean it's big enough to line three freight cars up in the dining room.



Radegast Hall's front room is a standard bar/restaurant with individual tables and a very large central bar. Combine the smell of citrus, the dark woods, the jazz music playing and the non-beer drink menu and you can almost imagine that you're in a cocktail lounge instead of a beer hall. You can almost miss the little touches of German cliches that pepper the walls. But walk into the vast rear dining room, sit at the long tables and glance at the beer menu and you'll bring yourself to reality pretty quick. The beer menu is two pages long. One page is entirely drafts. The bottle menu on page two is literally in fine print.



There are two food menus. One is for table service and has things like steak and soups and so forth. The second menu is the grill menu where you go for burgers and sausages. Dogz and I split a Large Pretzel, which was very very good. Not too soft, not too hard, with just enough salt and a perfect mustard to dip it in. Dogz also tried Radegast's Garlic Soup, which I stole a sip of. Good, if a bit thin. We decided to stick with the grill menu for the remainder of our solid food here. Dogz ordered a Portobello Sandwich, which he gave a thumbs up to. Radegast has a large sausage menu, so I tried their Venison Sausage. It was smaller than the sausages you might get at Bohemian Hall, but it had a bit more concentrated flavor. Both of these meals came on a paper plate with fries. Mine also came with (surprisingly good sauerkraut).



Of course, the name of the game here is beer. And the selection is seemingly limitless. Between the two of us, we had a Gaffel Kolsch, a Schneider Weisse, a Hopus Ale, a Weihenstephaner Festbier, a Franziskaner Hefel-Weisse, and a Krusovice Imperial. I'm sure that these don't mean much to most of you, but that just means it's time to start expanding your palate.

Bottles vary in price. The Hopus was a bottle that cost $11. Everything else was a draft and Radegast Hall uses the following price structure: Half a liter (a little more than a pint) will run you $7, a liter will cost $13, and a liter-and-a-half will cost $18.



THE STANDARD BIERGARTEN
848 Washington Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 645-4646


The Standard Hotel, in NYC's trendiest neighborhood, Meatpacking District, is perhaps the surest sign that beer gardens are cool again. Not long ago, beer gardens were quaint and kitch and anyone who showed up in heels, a miniskirt and sporting a Fendi bag would be first laughed at, then sprayed with lager, then laughed at again. Finally, arm candy girls can go someplace where they won't be discriminated against by the haters to meet the man of their wallet's dreams.



The Standard lies under the High Line and beside the Standard Hotel, so it's both indoors and outdoors at the same time. It's actually a very nice space and the inside-but-outside concept means you're safe to brew it up on a rainy day. Long beer-gardeny tables, high steel support beams, a decent number of tables including a bunch of smaller ones off to the side so you don't have to squeeze between strangers, and plenty of candles made for a pretty good time. But it has three big drawbacks. First, the clientele. If the other beer gardens are causal places for relaxing with your buddies, The Standard is where suits go to pretend that they're laid back dudes slumming it with the masses. The place absolutely reeked of cologne and there's something distinctly nauseating about watching a graying guy in a tie and eight-hundred dollar wingtips play ping-pong with what appears to be his clone while their dates drink cosmos at a nearby table. Second, the waitresses dress like Bavarian beer-wenches, something that I happen to think is pretty tacky.

Finally, for a "beer garden", more people were at the liquor bar than at the beer bar. But they offer up surprisingly little beer anyway. Three are on tap. Three. Kostriker, Lychee Weizen, and Bitburger, when I was there. I tried all three, suffice it to say. Food-wise, I saw a lot of pretzels floating around.

Poseurs can expect to pay $8 per beer.



35-33 36th Street
Astoria, NY 11106
(718) 383-1001


Like Bohemian Hall, Studio Square is in Astoria and has a positively huge outdoor space. 18,000 square feet of it. That's pretty much where the similarity ends. If you're looking for a traditional beer garden experience, don't go here. If you're looking for a place where you can arrive dressed up, don't go here. On the other hand, if you're looking for a place where you can take ten friends and sport your Ed Hardy collection, then Studio Square is where you want to be.



If The Standard Biergarten presumes class (or at least the pretense of class), then Studio Square eschews any and every such presumption. After waiting in line behind a girl in torn capri jeans and ultra-glossy heels for the bouncer to scan your ID, I headed to the bar and placed an order with one of the bartenders in a black S2 tee. There's theoretically a "fire pit", something sort of like a long, stone trough of fire outside that people can hover around in the cold, but only one burner was on so it seemed more underwhelming than cool.



The best word to describe Studio Square is "immature". If Bohemian Hall feels like it attracts Ivy League grad students, Studio Square feels like it attracts State U. undergrads. There are probably a dozen flat screen TVs playing sports. The beer Studio Square serves on tap is basically regular beer, despite what articles may say to the contrary. A variety of Sam Adams, Blue Moon, Magic Hat, Spaten. Not a bad beer among them, but they aren't serving up any of that unique stuff nobody's ever heard of. For the non-beer drinkers, pitchers of hard lemonade, sangria, hard cider and mojitos (all on tap) are available.

I wanted to like Studio Square more than I did, it certainly has an incredible potential, but it was hard to get past the quasi-club-scene atmosphere and the customers. Two guys who look like they spent the whole day burying bodies in a Jersey landfill leaned against the unlit part of the fire pit for a smoke. The live music was a horrible band singing painfully off-key covers of pop songs. Lady Gaga blended into Boston blended into Miley Cyrus blended into ACDC. "That guy just spit on the floor!" Operagirl blurted out. "Right there in front of the bouncer! You know, at other bars, they'd have a problem with that. Here, no biggie." I slugged some more of my beer, not really feeling the place and watched as a guy about fifteen feet away slid his hand down onto his date's ass, squeezed it firmly, and didn't really let go.

Studio Square has a standard bar-food menu with some German wursts, plus a sushi menu, but keep in mind that it's cash only.



Berry Park on Urbanspoon
Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden on Urbanspoon
Studio Square on Urbanspoon
Radegast Hall & Beer Garden on Urbanspoon
Biergarten at the Standard Hotel on Urbanspoon

3 comments:

Wayno2424,  October 12, 2010 at 12:18 PM  

Cool Jon. I have never been to Studio Square or the rooftop on Berry, the latter I will def go to soon. The bar at the Standard is ok but the other two are 2 of the best places to go in the city especially with a group. If u cant have fun at a German beer hall/garden, I dont know when u can have fun. it was cool to listen to ur insights.

Hope Tarr November 19, 2010 at 3:30 PM  

Great article, Jon. Back in September, we launched Beer Gardens NYC, the first iPhone app for beer gardens in new York City, actually anywhere in the US. Along with Radegast, Standard, Berry Park, and the ubiquitous venue in Astoria, we made some great finds eg., a cool little Vietnamese beer garden, BIA, in the LES. In total, we feature 50 NYC beer gardens by borough, neighborhood, and of course beer. Our listing of 925+ unique domestic and international brews is searchable by venue and brand, so the party doesn't have to end now that winter's here. We also have video, pics, and detailed summaries of the scene.

Enough said, check us out at www.BeerGardensNYC.com. The app is available at the App Store for the princely price of $1.99.

Hope Tarr & Raj Moorjani
BeerGardensNYC

Jon Parker November 19, 2010 at 6:41 PM  

Although my policy is always to delete comments that are basically ads (I'll post ads if people want to pony up the cash), I'm going to let the above comment slip through. Why? Because, although I'm at a loss as to why she'd describe her product as being expensive, Hope here has convinced me that she read what I wrote about. If only it was a universal trait.

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