Missing the Point
Germans would likely be less complimentary when it came to other places in the United States that call themselves beer gardens.
Take the Zeppelin Hall Restaurant & Biergarten in New Jersey for example. First off, the mugs—both half and full liters—are made of plastic. Plastic! Owners complained that people were either walking off with the glass mugs or patrons, unaccustomed to the effects that 33 oz of Leffe Blonde can have on a person, would drop the mugs and watch through bleary eyes as they shattered on the floor. So the owners now serve beer in a material appropriate for children, or a college party—same goes for the mixed drinks they serve.
Some bartenders—there is no waitstaff—have little knowledge about the lagers and ales served. Questions about styles, tastes or history have often been met with a shrug. This is problematic as they boast more than 140 taps serving everything from Abita’s Purple Haze to Spaten Oktoberfest. Overall it lacks the gemütlichkeit, one would expect from a more traditional beer garden.
That said, for being in a city, it offers a great space: three large indoor rooms with vaulted ceilings, polished wood picnic tables, a fireplace, a stage. An outdoor area with its own bar has even more long tables. In that respect it has the elements of what has made the German beer gardens so revered and popular. The similarities however end there. Owners have made halfhearted attempts to give it that “authentic” Bavarian feeling (weekly performances by oompah bands that combine traditional drinking songs with more contemporary hits), but the large projection televisions constantly broadcasting sports kill the “authentic” vibe.
Of course the flaws outlined above are from the perspective of someone who seeks out and appreciates authenticity and substance over slapdash. The fact is that while many of the places that have popped up across the country in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles are loose representations of the German molds, they are quite fun and offer great nights out. There are even some breweries that offer German beer garden experiences like Stoudt’s Brewing Company and the Weeping Radish in North Carolina.
However, should an unaccustomed American traveler visit Munich for the first time and expect a scene similar to the beer gardens they have come to embrace here, they would likely be disappointed.
They can be surprised that strangers sit with each other,” says Rich Ireland who writes about beer for the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia and frequently travels to Munich. “Americans are just not used to it, we’ve never been challenged in that direction.”
While the normal American bar experience is either solitary, a chance for couples to catch up, or a group of friends gathering, striking up conversation with strangers is rare. A rise in the beer garden concept could change that. In situations where people are encouraged to share long tables, perhaps they can also find common conversation ground. If nothing else, perhaps they will be polite enough to at least say hello and raise a glass in recognition of new people in their approximate area. It could lead to the whole pub experience becoming more enjoyable.