Looking for a real beer garden experience? You know, a beer garden with an old-school vibe, authentic European flavors, and a huge outdoor space? Then it’s time to venture to Astoria, home to the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden. Founded in 1910 by the Bohemian Benevolent Citizens Society so that Czech immigrants could have a space to convene, the Bohemian is a refreshing change of pace from yuppies sipping fruit-infused gin cocktails in the “beer gardens” that populate Manhattan.
Bohemian has a fully stocked bar, but what’s the point of missing out on inexpensive mugs of delicious Czech or German beer? Get there on a weekday before 7 pm and a half-liter of the crisp Czech lager Pilsner Urquell or German Oktoberfest-style Spaten will only run you $5. The regular price for a mug of draft beer is $7 (still a good deal considering you get a liter of good beer), and besides the regular $5 happy hour, they also offer $3 happy hours. However, the specials and hours are inconsistent, so check the website or call for the most up-to-date deals.
Bohemian has about fifteen beers on tap. If you‘re so inclined, you can order a Blue Moon or a craft beer in a Czech beer hall that’s been around for more than a century. Of course, that doesn’t make you a total weenie, right?
Sipping on some cold brews in the warm summer air can make you hungry. The Bohemian offers a wide range of traditional Czech and European dishes and a few American bar staples. It can be a real sausagefest with the wait staff running around with plates of Kielbasa or Knockwurst, but if huge chunks of phallic meats aren’t appealing, there are also vegetarian options like fried Muenster cheese or vegetarian crepes.
Despite some interesting choices, the food I tried wasn’t great. I started with Czech potato pancakes. Unlike Jewish potato pancakes (latkes), they are thinner, fluffier and not crispy. The pancakes were cold and not very flavorful, though adding applesauce or sour cream helped. For 10 bucks it wasn’t anything to write home (or blog) about.
For dish number two, my buddy and I took the plunge and tried Tlacenka, or, head cheese. Head cheese is a terrine typically made from the head of a pig or a cow. I can get all Food and Wine Magazine on your ass and go into the intricacies of the dish, but it’s basically an animal head grinded up and then shaped into a loaf or sausage. Luckily, the eyes are not usually included in this delightful treat, and Bohemian’s version had been marinated in vinegar. If cutting through mystery meat suspended in aspic (or ‘meat jelly) sounds like a hoot and a holler, then by all means go for it. I was glad to have tried it, even if I didn’t exactly enjoy it.
In keeping with its roots, Bohemian Hall sometimes offers live Czech music and cultural events, so if you want to get drunk and cultured, “Czech” it out (ha ha! Get it? No? Ok.) For now, I’ll be back soon for the good beer, communal atmosphere, and pretty and massive outdoor space.
Go on the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden website to see what drink specials are available. The Bohemian is located at 29-19th 24th Blvd in Astoria. Take the N or Q to the Astoria Blvd stop and walk north for a few minutes.