Monday, August 10, 2009

Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden

Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden (29-19 24th Ave., Astoria, Queens) is New York's last standing original beer garden. It also serves as a Czech and Slovak cultural center that's maintained by the Bohemian Citizens Benevolent Society of Astoria.

When we walked in, the first thing we saw were two priests having some beers at the bar. Sounds like an opening line to a joke, right? The small bar area at the entrance is nothing special - small space with a few booths - but the beers on tap are unique and worth a try. The bartender was incredibly nice and let us sample a few beers (since most of the Czech beers were unfamiliar to us) before we decided which one we liked. We chose the Staropramen Premium Lager and got a pitcher of it ($15) since it's a better deal than getting two mugs ($5 each). We then headed outside to the beer garden.

When you first walk outside, your jaw kind of drops seeing how large the space is. It can seat up to several hundred people on its many benches. The high walls protectively enclosing the garden make you feel like you're in some sort of European fortress. It also kind of felt like summer camp for adults. The Czech school is located right next to the beer garden; in fact, you can see the kids going down the slides at the playground as you're drinking your beer.

The great thing is that it's not like a frat boy's beer garden. It's also not like those fancy Manhattan outdoor summer gardens. It's casual and comfortable, even a kid friendly place. We went at about 5 pm on a week night so it wasn't too crowded, but it's probably crazy on weekends (we've seen pictures when the place is at full capacity). The crowd was a mix of people our age and older and a melting pot of cultures. Couples, families, and priests all having a good time.

The outdoor grill area.

Their menu consists of beer friendly and hearty Czech food. The oven roasted Veprova was a simple dish that paired nicely with our beer - pork, sauerkraut and bread dumpling, with a light gravy dressing. The tender pork and sauerkraut went perfectly with the fluffy bread dumplings.

The bratwurst was perfectly grilled and seasoned. It was lean yet juicy. Another excellent beer companion. Other menu items include the Bohemka Party Grill (a mix of several of the menu items), beef goulash, potato perogies, pork schnitzel, Czech pancakes, grilled klobasa, and more. It's a meat lover's menu. Our Czech waiter was helpful about giving her "hometown's" recommendations.

Good beer. Authentic Czech food. Diverse mix of people. Attentive service. It was a fun experience drinking at a historic beer garden. Worth the easy subway ride to Queens.