The only authority for all things beer…
With all the government shutdown drama going on and all especially with the real German Oktoberfest wrapping up this weekend, I’ve been meaning to write about the Biergartens particularly in DC since I am from the area and most of my readers are as well. Oktoberfest has always held a special place in my heart just like it does for most beer guzzling fans and I enjoy watching the German national soccer team especially drinking with the Germans at the biergartens whether it is during a friendly, Euro or the World Cup.
I am going to focus on the Biergarten Haus (1355 H Street, NE http://www.biergartenhaus.com) as this place is probably the closest thing to the real thing to what a biergarten should stand for. I am not looking at any “beer garden” where there’s beer and outdoor seating, but rather that serves up purely German food and bier, has that authentic Bavarian ambiance and service. I have two other recommendations as well as one place to watch out for in the near future.
The Biergarten Haus is situated in a rapidly growing and transitional neighborhood in once-rundown H Street (also known as the H street corridor) near Gallaudet University in Northeast DC. The management of Biergarten (who also owns the Russia House in DC) has taken significant steps to correct their most frequently criticized mistakes. In the first three weeks, they nearly tripled their staff and attempted to streamline their order delivery process. It’s been a mixed success, but, in my estimation, things have improved to some measure. For example, they have expanded their bathroom options (they used to only have one bathroom for each gender) and added a rooftop section to the bar. It still, to this day, peeves me that the owners are NOT German.
The food is mediocre at best. My German friends do seem to wholeheartedly agree. The pretzels are dry and dull and served with ordinary mustard, which is usually the first sign we’re not going to be visiting Germany tonight. Furthermore, no amount of beer can erase the reality of arid sauerbraten, spongy bratwurst and a Wiener schnitzel whose stiffness could qualify the meat as a lethal weapon. The squiggly sautéed spaetzle are decent at best. The sauerkraut needs to be dosed with some German white wine and sprinkled with caraway seeds if they want to salvage what they can at this point.
All in all, Biergarten Haus does offer a decent, authentic draft selection. It’s filled with staple German beers and styles. The menu was designed to meet any budget, with beers ranging in price from slightly expensive to rather expensive. All selections are offered in different sizes, typically .5L and 1L, which further adds to pricing options. Yet, is an epitome of how outrageously beer prices are in the DC area. The beer comes in heavy-bottomed, glass mugs, reminiscent of what you’d see buxom frauleins serving in some beer garden themed German post card. The quality and breadth of the selection is adequate. The rest of the list is pretty much the standard what’s what of German beers, which is my real problem with the place.
If you were to ask any semi-knowledgeable beer person to name a few German beers off the top of their head, they’d say “Spaten, Weihenstephaner, Franziskaner, Eggenberg, Paulaner, Hofbrau, Kostritzer” and that pretty much gives you the tap list at Biergarten. They’re all fine beers, to be sure, but there’s nothing that stands out as being unique or exciting. It’s surprising considering that the menu was designed by Bill Catron, the man behind the phenomenally well crafted beer list at Brasserie Beck. I expected something more creative.
It would be nice to see some rarer German beers make their way onto the list at Biergarten, or, dare I suggest it, some American variations on German styles. Hopefully, menu updates will likely come as the restaurant ages, but for now it’s a pretty standard selection of good German beers. Although, I do like their taps during Oktoberfest – the H Street festival late Fall is a good opportunity to check them out.
All in all, I do like Biergarten Haus. I don’t love it, but I will take it. The look and feel of the beer garden is pretty spot on, the beer is decent, the service is improving and I’m told work is being done on the kitchen. You can avoid a lot of problems by simply going on a weeknight. I think Biergarten Haus is a work in progress and will bring great things once it grows into maturity. My only recommendation for them is to bring on a successful German owner who knows the ins and outs of running an authentic German spot.
Café Berlin: Cafe Berlin gets points for being one of the few places in D.C. where you can drink from a boot (bierstiefel in German). Steeped in German folklore and tradition, the boot is characteristic of Cafe Berlin’s offerings. Cafe Berlin is a little more focused on food than beer and offers a menu of authentic German cuisine, but it also has three great German beers on tap: a hefeweizen, a pilsner, and a bock. The two-liter boots are by request only and they’ll ask to hold your credit card to deter theft, which, I’m told, is common. http://www.cafeberlindc.com
Garden District (formerly The Standard): Located at U and 14th St., The Garden District small outdoor space seems to be always lively. Service can be on the slow side when the tables are full, but be persistent and keep your beer topped off to ensure a great time. Unfortunately, their menu is not German centric but does offer good BBQ sandwiches. http://www.gardendistrictdc.com
Bavarian Beer Garden (slated to open sometime next year): http://www.capitolriverfront.org/go/bavarian-beer-garden
You will be bound to find me and my fellow hard-drinking German friends at one of those places on a nice day especially during the upcoming World Cup in 2014.