Beekman Beer Garden
Der Schwartz Kolner
Last year, I traveled the city for my first Oktoberfest Special. This year, the beer garden wars return with a little more of a showing from the indoor beer halls instead, thanks in no small part to the abysmally crappy weather we've been having this month.
In addition to last year's five, Berry Park (Williamsburg/Greenpoint), Bohemian Hall (Astoria), Radegast Hall (Williamsburg), Standard Biergarten (Meatpacking), and Studio Square (Astoria), there are a few other notables that I have visited that were not all lumped together in the Special, but which would be great additions to anyone's Oktoberfest bar crawl: Beer Table (Park Slope), Manor Oktoberfest (Forest Hills), and Wechsler's Currywurst and Bratwurst (East Village).
Although Queens is what most people think of when they think of beer gardens, Brooklyn has taken center stage as the place to be for beer people. Brooklyn Brewery is there and has grown lots in the past few years. It's New York's answer to Boston's Sam Adams. Brooklyn probably has as many beer gardens/halls as the other boroughs put together. Hence, for the five I looked at this year, Brooklyn took three spots.
89 South Street
New York, NY 10038
The Beekman, at South Street Seaport, takes over from the recently gone Water Taxi Beach and the sand is still there. The outdoor space is vast. Dozens of long tables, a pool table and some fooseball sit beside bright white easy chairs and benches that look like soft pleather but are actually all-weather hard plastic.
The Beekman was dead when I went around lunchtime. Shockingly dead. The beer menu is paltry at best, and as much as I like Magic Hat #9, it didn't really inspire that Oktoberfest biergarten mood. Plus the food I ordered, a tasteless sausage, generic fries, and a pretzel that was probably made out of cardboard didn't add much to the experience. Still, one can't get past the simple truth that of every beer garden in the city, it has the far and away best views of all of them. I was content with my book and the solitude but I imagine that come nightfall throngs of tourists and recent MBA grads swarm this place like their life depended on it, huddled together by the outdoor fire pits, pints of Witte in hand.
710 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217
Smack in Fort Greene, Der Schwartz Kolner is gentrification incarnate. Once upon a time, if someone compared Fort Greene to a toilet, the toilet would get offended. These days, based on the number of babies, smartphones, and yuppie 30 year olds high fiving each other, you're looking at Park Slope 2. Communal tables with folding chairs aside, that's where Der Schwartz Kolner falls short. It's a (small) beer hall with good beer and better currywurst, but it lacks a certain soul. The white and black checkered tiles say that much.
I met Seth here after he finished roaming the nabe for an apartment. I grabbed one of the tall tables near the door and plopped down. I ordered a beer from a waitress in jeggings and was left pretty much completely alone. The customers, from the business-type dudes in the photo to the community-garden hippies with the strollers behind me, everyone was having a loud ball. One thing's for sure, I may not score it high in the traditional sense, but if you're here, the odds are you've got a big smile on your face. Like you probably would at a normal bar.
64 Frost Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Loreley (shouldn't it be Lorelei?) is the place everyone has been talking about (recently with a short blurb in the Oktoberfest pullout in the Daily News). Located in what looks like a widget factory, half indoors and half outdoors, half restaurant and half beer garden, half eating space and half music venue, Loreley is the closest I came this year to a traditional beer garden. It's maybe a fifth the size of Bohemian Hall in Astoria, but with some trees, communal tables and more Radeberger than you can shake a stick out, it sure does try to live up to the standard.
I met Lina here after she got herself a tattoo nearby (this is Williamsburg). We grabbed a table outside, a round of half liters, and proceeded to fill up on pretzels. Warm and soft, the way they should be, though perhaps with more salt than necessary. She then ordered the a weisswurst plate. It came the way they do in Germany: with a mountain of sauerkraut next to another mountain of mashed potatoes. I ordered another beer and a schnitzel sandwich (the schnitzelsandwich, in German).
The crowd here was young, but this is Brooklyn, where they get rid of you Logan's Run style once you hit 40. It was also chilly and overcast, as it was all week. So much so that we wondered if we'd be forced inside by rain. But the rain never came, leaving Loreley relatively calm and relaxing. The walls and hedges muffled the sound of the few cars that drove by, but at a cost of making one feel somewhat claustrophobic. Still. If I lived around here, I'd be a regular.
33 Nassau Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11222
Spritzenhaus wins. Spritzenhaus manages to be literally everything anyone could want in a drinkatorium. First, they're huge. Just massive. Bench tables, bistro tables, group tables, plus outdoor sidewalk seating. They have a vast arrays of beer on tap and, for those who aren't into beer, a vast array of whiskey to boot. The staff is friendly. They let you sample the beer first and those "samples" are big. I had a whole pint in samples alone before I ordered anything. Not only that, but the food was spectacular.
I met Seth here for a few bites and a few brews and it was deserted. "It's the weather," the bartender told me. "Usually we're packed." Still, I wasn't complaining. Better service for me. We ordered the blood sausage, which was fantastic, along with a bratwurst. That was followed up by some more wursts and some fries and plenty of dipping sauce. All of which was washed down with copious liters of malty hoppy goodness.
But no place is perfect and I won't go anywhere without making one negative comment, so here it is. The music. God awful. Please, no more heavy metal. Or at least, no more bad heavy metal. I beg of thee.
69-46 Myrtle Avenue
Yeah, that's right. There's a guy playing an accordion in that pic. That's how real Zum Stammtisch is. No bullshit games about trying to incorporate ways to get free-range organic veal on the menu. This place is old school. Do the waitresses wear those St.Pauli Girl get-ups? Yep. Does the bartender wear green overalls and hand you your beer in an off-white porcelain mug? Damn right he does. Is escargot served in a baked potato here? Ummm... apparently that's a tradition. Who knew? Anyway.
Granted, Zum Stammtisch isn't a great big beer hall and granted, it doesn't have quite the outdoor space to be a beer garden either (or any outdoor space, for that matter). But there's something to be said for adding an honest-to-God, NYU student-free, tourist-free, blasting-live-polka-loud-as-all-shit place to the Oktoberfest mix. If Bohemian Hall and Zum Stammtisch prove nothing else, it's that if authenticity's what you want, Queens is where to be.
Pike and I arrived here midweek and killed a half hour at the bar before getting food. If the other places I looked at were young or hip, this ain't them. The average age here was 60 and the average weight was 200 pounds. These were fat, aged, happy people. And I emphasize happy. People were tapping on the windows and waving when they looked in to see their friend inside. Middle aged women were dancing with each other between the tables. People you didn't even see five seconds ago were striking up conversations about... well, nothing. You know how people complain about New Yorkers saying that we're cold, that we're not outgoing, that we don't smile at each other. They need to come here.
So Pike and I found a seat, ordered more food between us than a third world village saw in a week, drank from our steins and vegged out for who knows how long while the oompah band played loudly on. Sadly, the sauerbraten was not more than just okay. But the potato soup was something you'd kick cute little puppies to get at.
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