Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Biergarten Haus

During the last weekend of Oktoberfest, B wanted to relive his trip to the actual Oktoberfest in Munich and drink a huge beer and eat roast chicken with his hands. To fulfill this wish, we headed to the only local German biergarten that we know of, the aptly named Biergarten Haus on H Street NE.

Our friends adore the Biergarten Haus with its large outdoor patio area and vibrant groups of rowdy revelers. We figured that during the last weekend of Oktoberfest, right around kickoff of a Redskins game, we'd be fighting the masses for a seat. Instead, when we arrived there were only a couple of people inside, and nobody whooping it up on the patio. A bit disappointed by the sleepy atmosphere, we grabbed a table upstairs by the window with a good view of many large TVs.

Since it was so dead, we got quick service. Shortly after arriving, we were clanging large beers and yelling "prost!" We gobbled down the first order of warm pretzel rolls with beer cheese and mustard, and quickly ordered a second helping. Unfortunately the second helping wasn't warm and it was a chore to finish them.

B was crushed when he learned that roast chicken, an Oktoberfest staple, was only available in the evenings. We settled on a sausage platter featuring three varieties (bratwurst, bauernwurst, and knackwurst) served with a side of potatoes and sauerkraut. Somehow, all three sausages tasted bland. The zippy mustard helped a lot, but I don't think we'd head back to Biergarten Haus for this dish.

After our experience, our Biergarten-loving buddies told us that you need to go only for the beer and the atmosphere, and skip the food. We'll call this one a mulligan and try again during a large sporting event or warm weekend evening.

Second Thoughts from B

Instead of rehashing J's comments (pretzel rolls were great when warm but so-so cold, bland sausages, no chicken, no people), I'll just tell you about my Oktoberfest experience.

In 2002, I was a young graduate student in a laboratory of mostly foreign-born scientists. Because of the travel restrictions in those post-9/11 days, I was selected to give a talk at a scientific meeting in Munich as a replacement for my double-booked professor. Fortunately for me, the meeting started the day after the final day of Oktoberfest.

After flying halfway around the world, I stumbled from the airport directly to the festival. It is very much like a carnival with games and rides for people of all ages. Around the outside are enormous beer tents sponsored by various beer makers. Accompanied by two Americans who I met at my hotel, I went to the smallest of these tents, the one sponsored by Spaten, called the Hippodrome.

First a word about the size of these tents. When Donald Trump or Hugh Hefner throws a party and puts a tent up in their backyard, those are big tents. The Oktoberfest tents laugh at those tents and call them names. You could play a football game in these beer tents. Jerry Jones could erect a jumbo screen in these tents.

Now fill these beer tents with park benches, an oom pah pah band, beer girls in "traditional garb" with a high tolerance for idiots and tremendously strong arms, and thousands of people from around the world with indestructibly large glasses of beer.

So that's the scene. Here's what I remember:
  • Drinking by the quart is crazy. However, everyone was doing it and I didn't see anyone get sick.
  • The laws of physics cease to exist when slamming glasses into each other and yelling Prost! I did not see one glass stein break.
  • Dancing on the table is not just accepted, but encouraged.
  • Drinking songs have never been so universally embraced.
  • Beer has never tasted so good.
  • Salty, roasted chicken or fresh pretzels have never tasted so good.
  • Sitting in the rain for hours with drunk people that I've never met and don't understand has never been so much fun.
The point is, Oktoberfest is not a destination in and of itself, it is an event that requires good-natured people... lots of people. Going to an empty Biergarten Haus had all the elements (minus the chicken until after 4pm), but lacked the energy that can only come from a big crowd. Alas, it was not to be but perhaps we'll get our Prost on with a bigger crowd in the future.
Biergarten Haus on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Maverick said...

This brings back some great memories. I have been there many times.