The beer garden serves many purposes: at once a purveyor of fine Austrian, Belgian, Czech, and German beers, it’s also traditionally a great place to find bona fide goulash, blintzes, or bratwurst, and if you’re lucky, sweaty old men in undershirts playing the unpronounceable card games of their youth.
Here are five of the best beer gardens in New York City. Some are more traditional and some more modern (they may not have goulash on the menu), plus one more on the way.
This is the grand-daddy of all NYC beer gardens. It’s been running continuously since 1910 and is managed by the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society of Astoria. It doesn’t look like much from the outside – you might even dismiss it as just another dive bar were it not for the enormous sign blaring “BEER GARDEN” above the door – but inside its deep wooden booths are perfect for sinking into a plate of pierogies and a pint of Krušovice světlé. Or bring friends to share a $15 pitcher of Gaffel.The outdoor garden can hold up to 800 people and though that seems like a lot, trust me: those picnic tables go fast when the weather is nice.
29-19 24th Avenue, Astoria
d.b.a. (yes, in all e.e. cummings-esque lowercase) doesn’t claim to be a beer garden but they might as well, given that they carry 60 varieties of beer, including 12 different types of Belgian Trappist. If you’re feeling fancy (or just want to get drunk faster), they also serve single-malt Scotches, a multitude of American, Irish, and even Canadian whiskies, and too many tequilas to name here.
The outdoor decor is nothing too impressive — think white plastic chairs and tables — but the atmosphere is convivial, especially with the Friday night after-work crowd throwing back brews and letting their hair down. Weekends at the East Village location are often a mad crush of people, so check out the Brooklyn outpost, which has a similarly sparse interior with a mellower attitude.
41 First Avenue, East Village and 113 N. 7th Street, Brooklyn
Studio Square is not your average beer garden, with its cool, gleaming industrial fixtures and a combined 30,000 square feet between its indoor and outdoor space. Located just two subway stops from midtown Manhattan, this Long Island City leviathan has around twenty beers on tap, including one gluten-free beer called Greens Discovery.
Burly security guards and a disc rotation that’s heavy on “dance your pants off” type tunes give it a clubby vibe. But don’t be turned off by those popped-collar fist-pumpers: beer prices are very reasonable at $13 for a liter and $18 for a pitcher. The menu includes yummy Black Angus burgers for about 10 bucks. My favorite feature is their fire pit — perfect for winter boozing.
35-33 36th Street, Long Island City
Just a stone’s throw from Williamsburg’s massive hipster drag (Bedford Avenue), the Radegast Hall & Biergarten provides a respite from cheap cans of PBR. With 13 beers on draft and 58 in bottles, you won’t be lamenting the dearth of choices here.Their menu includes Italian Pappardelle Primavera ($11) and French Rib Steak ($25) along with flaming kielbasa from the grill man in the back. The space itself features a retractable roof, exposed brick walls, and long wooden tables that provide just the right anchor for the $15 liter of Hofbrau that requires two hands to lift.
They’ve also got a sweet brunch deal – all dishes are served with a free Peach Bellini or Cucumber Bloody Mary.
113 N. 3rd Street, Brooklyn
Spuyten Duyvil is less of a biergarten and more of an homage to beer itself: a place to swear fealty to the lord of hops. This Williamsburg bar has six beers on tap, cask offerings that change seasonally, and about 140 different bottled beers, all broken down by country and region: Belgian (Flemish, Lambic, Wallonian), Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, German, Japanese, and even Sri Lankan beers are all represented here. Pair your drink with a plate of Brooklyn-made pickles.
The interiors are cozy and welcoming, with chalkboards listing what’s available and neat flea market finds decorating the walls. The garden’s ivy-covered brick walls obstruct the view of any lingering hipsters outside.
359 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
La Birreria was scheduled to open in late May 2011, though the date is being pushed back. It will be the rooftop beer garden of Mario Batali’s Italian megamart (and tourist haven) Eataly. Three different brewmasters – from Dogfish Head, Baladin, and Del Borgo breweries – are collaborating on three original ales, which will be made in a copper clad system just a few feet from where customers sit.
Six draft ales and 30 different bottled beers will round out the selection, and Batali himself is composing a menu of small dishes (think vegetables and charcuterie) to accompany the beer. La Birreria could be a game-changer on the NYC biergarten scene, taking beer geeks out of the backyards and depositing us into the sleek, stylish caverns of the Flatiron district – or under the retractable rooftop, as it were.
200 Fifth Avenue
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Jessica Kulick recently escaped the clutches of 'The Man' to become a freelance writer and blogger. Originally from New York City, she is currently spending the next year traveling across Europe, and hopes to make it to the Middle East by 2012. In addition to writing and traveling, Jessica enjoys photographing her misadventures and posting the evidence on her website, Of Revolt.