Dirt, trees, and communal seating: this is a beer garden.
Spring is in the air, and that gives us all the itch to drink outside. We’ve already offered up some of our favorite places to drink outside, but there’s going to be a lot of talk about “beer gardens” in New York City in the next few weeks. But far too often, the term “Beer Garden” tends to be thrown around in New York. And just as we called out the local media for it last year, we’ll do it again this year until it stops.
Case in point: this week’s list of “beer gardens” in Time Out New York. The magazine lists 17 “beer gardens,” but very few are actually beer gardens. Let us tell you why.
By definition, a beer garden (taken from the German “biergarten”) is an open-air space where beer and food are served. The concept actually originated as Bavarian breweries planted gardens above cellars to keep their lagers cool enough to ferment underground. Many clever breweries turned these spaces into outdoor spaces with communal seating that serve beer and traditional food.
Just because a bar has a German theme and serves German beer doesn’t make it a beer garden. “Open-air” is a key word here. There is no such thing as an indoor beer garden.
And since these gardens were planted - as in, shaded by trees to keep the ground above their beer cellars cool - a paved patio baking in the sun in the backyard of a bar also isn’t a beer garden.
And since the German tradition of drinking in beer gardens was rooted in an intangible social benefit they call Gemütlichkeit. That’s defined as the “notion of belonging, social acceptance, cheerfulness, the absence of anything hectic and the opportunity to spend quality time.” If your options for seating include two-top tables and some benches in a corner, you’re not in a beer garden.
That’s it: outdoors, planted and shaded, with communal seating. That’s not asking much, right?
Yet we’re baffled by how places like Zum Schneider (107 Avenue C, at E. 7th St., East Village), Der Schwarze Kolner (710 Fulton St., at Hanson Pl., Ft. Greene), and Hallo Berlin (626 10th Ave., at 44th St., Hell’s Kitchen) meet the standards of a “beer garden” on Time Out New York’s list. All are fantastic German beer bars, but most of their outdoor seating is along a busy city sidewalk. They are not beer gardens.
Then there are places like Berry Park (4 Berry St., at N. 14th St., Williamsburg) and Birreria (200 Fifth Ave., at 23rd St., Flatiron). Those are rooftop bars. Sure, there are a few actual rooftop gardens in the city, but simply serving food and beer on a roof doesn’t make you a beer garden.
And what of Hot Bird (546 Clinton Ave., at Atlantic Ave., Clinton Hill) and Mission Dolores (249 4th Ave., at Carroll St., Park Slope)? These spots don’t even have a tree in sight. Neither of them even refer to themselves as “beer gardens,” but that doesn’t stop the local press from slapping a label on them that doesn’t stick.
We’re glad Time Out avoided mentioning places like Radegast Hall (113 N. 3rd St., at Berry St., Williamsburg), Bierhaus (712 3rd Ave., at 45th St., Midtown East), and Bier International (2099 Frederick Douglass Blvd., at 113th St., Harlem), unlike far too many other “beer garden” lists. These places are surrounded by four walls and have a ceiling (although one has a small space with a retractable roof). These are not beer gardens. These are beer halls.
And what is a beer hall? Well, look no further than the oldest American beer garden: Queens’ Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden (29-19 24th Ave., at 29th St., Astoria). The indoor space, which serves beer and food in large enclosed spaces with communal seating, is called Bohemian Hall. The outdoor space, which serves beer and food in large open-air spaces with communal seating, is called the Beer Garden.
This is not a difficult concept to grasp, but the local media seems to assume that any beer spot that’s German-themed or anything with an outdoor space of any kind is a beer garden.
If you’re mostly indoors, there’s no reason you shouldn’t call yourself a beer hall. Beer halls are long-standing traditions in the beer community. If you have a backyard, there’s no reason you can’t call it a backyard. Backyard drinking is a whole lot of fun. And if you’re a beer drinker, embrace these places for what they are, not what the press or some PR flack is calling them. They’re great places to drink beer, but they’re not beer gardens.
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