29-19 24th Ave.
Astoria, NY 11102 (Queens)
The Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall might seem like an odd destination on a trip to New York. After all, there are enough sites and spectacles in Manhattan alone to fill a dozen visits. But each of New York's boroughs is filled with culture and history that any worthwhile urban explorer should discover for themselves. So, with my wallet safely transferred to my front pocket, I descended into the subway in Mid-town Manhattan for a taste of history in the Astoria section of Queens. Once there were over 800 beer gardens in New York City. Today, there is only one: the Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall.
The Beer Garden portion of the Bohemian Hall opened in 1919, just in time for the start of prohibition. Almost ninety years later, the Bohemian Hall has not just survived, but also has flourished. It is an engaging mix of Old World and New, Bohemians (a.k.a. Czechs and Slovaks) and bohemians (a.k.a. hipsters who favor thrift stores).
The bleached brick and glass-block exterior gives little indication at the scope within. The small main building, originally built in 1910, is home to a narrow and dimly lit bar. At the end of the thirty foot bar, visitors are presented with a choice: take a right and go downstairs to the full restaurant, or take a left and enter the adjacent beer garden. If the weather is even remotely fair, always hang a left.
The beer garden is larger than any I can think of in Chicago, and bigger than any I've ever seen outside Cancun. The expanse is truly startling, particularly given the overall density of New York. Full-grown trees spread their branches over a sprawling and paved patio. Dozens of picnic tables and tents surround a wooden dance floor and stage. On weekends, patrons enjoy to live folk music. The scent of the grill beckons from another corner of the garden.
For $10, I encourage you to try a Flintstone-sized kielbasa or bratwurst. The sausages, too large for any existing bun technology, are served naked over a bed of fries. Choose your condiments wisely (sauerkraut kills) and think about a beer pairing for your meal. Though the Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall offers a full bar, I would suggest something from their fine selection of European brews. For a genuine Czech beer, try a Staropramen, Brouczech or a Czechvar (the original Budweiser). I opted for a pitcher of Spaten Optimator, which I know is German, but sure went well with my brat. Compared to the sticker-shock you'll find in other parts of New York—I paid $8.50 for a pint of Guinness on 3rd Avenue—the Bohemian Hall is a value in food as well as drink.
The Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall stands as the last of its kind. It's not simply the last beer garden in Astoria, but in the entire city of New York. It is both a monument to a bygone era and a vibrant urban oasis. Astoria is only fifteen minutes from Times Square via the N subway line. If you're looking for some fresh air, history and atmosphere, the Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall makes for a worthy side-trip. For more information, check out the Bohemain Hall & Beer Garden website.