The beer gardens grew in popularity throughout the 1830s and 1840s, with people often coming with picnic baskets to the breweries to socialize outdoors. Breweries like Augustiner and Löwenbräu would later add indoor spaces (beer halls and cellars) to accommodate more people and to serve food from their own kitchens.
Dornbusch says it is impossible to know which brewery was the first to open an official beer garden as the concept evolved over time, but that it was likely one of the big six (Löwenbräu, Hofbräuhaus, Augustinerbräu, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr and Spaten).
It is also impossible to think of beer gardens without also thinking of the annual celebration of Oktoberfest. Each year millions pour into Munich to celebrate the anniversary of the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810. What is interesting, however is that the wedding took place a good 20 years before the rise of the beer garden as we know it.
And while the first to operate in the fashion we know today could only accommodate a few hundred people at a time, the largest one in operation today, the Hirschgarten in Munich, can comfortably seat 8,000 thirsty patrons at a time.
When German immigrants first came to the Unites States in the 1800s to open their breweries in cities like Milwaukee, they also brought along the idea of beer gardens. In construction fitting the land of opportunity, places like Schlitz Park that opened in 1880 gave patrons a place to not only drink lager in beautifully sculpted outdoor spaces, but also the chance to bowl and dance to a live orchestra. Other brewers followed suit and the beer halls and beer gardens became grand affairs on sweeping pieces of property. Throughout the country beer gardens sprang up in places like New York City’s Bowery and San Antonio, TX.
The term ‘garden’ was intended to be loose,” says historian Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew: The History of American Beer. “The grand ones were lush and pleasant places. You went with the family, spent the night playing cards and chess, getting up to dance or just break out in song.”