I think it’s a real shame I haven’t been to the real Oktoberfest yet. It’s basically an epitome of everything I love: beer, singing, drinking beer and singing while dancing on table tops, polka-like beats (blame growing up in NEPA on that one), bratwursts and group chants, but sadly due to budgetary restraints and the fact that since I have all summer off I can’t just up and take a week in the middle of September, it’s alluded me thus far.
Over the past couple of years I’ve also developed a real appreciation for German beer and cuisine. My love affair with German food and brew began on my first trip to Pittsburgh and a visit to the legendary Hofbrauhaus. This southside staple is Pennsylvania’s first authentic Hofrauhaus, modeled after the legendary 400+ year old original in Munich, where the actual Oktoberfest celebrations are held every September.
The Pittsburgh bar does indeed resemble a German beer hall, with a cavernous seating area filled with long cafeteria style tables, an Omm-pah band who churns out top-40 hits on the accordion and giant liter mugs of one of their four in-house brewed beers; lager, light, dunkel and hefeweizen (my particular favorite). Our first night there we ended up singing for a good two hours while standing on top of our seats. It was indeed love at first meeting. On subsequent visits I’ve only become more fond of this establishment and found that German cuisine, with it’s focus on potatoes, cheese, pretzels, various brats and schnitzel, is right up my alley. I enjoy eating there almost as much as I enjoy the head-sized mugs of beer. I look forward to visits to Pittsburgh specifically because of Hofbrauhaus (and made my brother promise to take me there next weekend, as it hasn’t been on the itinerary our last few visits).
Typically Oktoberfests and German beer halls in general are traditionally thought of as a fall/winter activity, but much like Christmas music and patriotic clothing, I don’t see why they aren’t something we can enjoy all year long, which is why I was ecstatic to end up at a spring-Oktoberfest this past first weekend of May. I was staying at my sister’s (who lives in center city Philadelphia) and she suggested we go to the South Street festival, which she explained was hosted by Brauhaus Schmitz, a German beer hall.
I honestly wasn’t expecting too much. I’d recently been somewhat let down by Bru’s, a German bar that recently opened directly across the alley from McGillin’s. It’s not bad, per say, but while I picture a German beer hall to be open and warm and well lite with the appropriate music, Bru is all dark trendy lighting and Kesha. Again, not bad (and they had a legit selection of beer and food) but in my opinion not the time nor the place.
So, I started to get excited when we got close to South Street, and I noticed that the road was blocked off, the familiar strains of a tuba and accordion wafted through the air and people walking away from us were carrying giant plastic steins. It was the real deal, random as hell for Cinco De Mayo weekend, but no complaints here. We spent a lot of our time in the street listening to the band and wishing we had some lederhosen but ventured into Brauhaus Schmitz for a bit and I was definitely impressed by what I saw and want to go back to eat on my next Philly visit. The beer hall and restaurant have been opened since 2009, so I have no real excuse for not having heard about them prior to this month. They also run Wursthaus Schmitz, a German delicattesan in Reading Terminal Market I’d like to visit that in the future as well.
The thing is, and I guess I sort of knew this, is that Philly has a pretty decent German Beer Hall renaissance going on at the moment. Besides for Brauhaus Schmizt and the aforementioned Bru, there’s also Frankford Hall, a popular beer hall and biergarten in Fishtown. I’ve never been there but could tell you what it looks like because I’ve seen photos uploaded from it that many times via Facebook and Instagram and have always heard good things about it.
Xfinity Live, Philadelphia’s sports complex’s entertainment center has the Victory Beer Hall, a branch of Downingtown’s Victory Brewery, which has all the requisite beer atmosphere and where I one time went a little over zealous with the shotskis. Hopangel Brauhaus is located in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Northeastern Philadelphia and if you want to go even further northeast, the Newportville Inn in, well, Newportville is billed as “an American Tavern with a German accent.” The Bier Stube is a recently opened German Beer hall right on Market Street in Old City that claims to have the largest selection of German beer in the city. I automatically like them because it says “fo shizzle my schnitzel” on their website and they are the newest stop on the Big Red Pedal Tour.
So basically Philly is backing me up on the Oktoberfest doesn’t need to be a seasonal activity. So if you live in or around Philly or are planning a visit soon, it might not be a bad idea to string a couple of pretzels around your neck, hit these locations, and pretend it’s September no matter what month it really is.