Hofbrau Bierhaus Is a Real Brew-haha

Noisy-ass beer garden blasts into Midtown from Munich

Hofbräu Bierhaus had been open for three weeks when some friends and I decided to drop by for dinner and a few brews around 6:30 on a rainy Tuesday evening. The scene was already tumultuous: every cranny crammed with guys in a complete state of dishabille—ties flung over shoulders, elbows resting in puddles of beer, giving wild-eyed looks as they leaped up to offer toasts. Unable to make myself heard above the din, I whipped out my decibel meter—a phone app perhaps not perfectly calibrated. To my astonishment, the device caromed between 135 and 145 dBs (130 is often referred to as the "threshold of pain"). No matter how much you like the suds or the food at the Bierhäus, you'll never be able to get away from that unearthly noise, which is like being strapped to a stack of Marshalls.

Munich's Hofbräu—the state-owned brewery founded by the Duke of Bavaria in 1589—has established a New York outpost just east of Grand Central Station. The company was a pioneer in using unadulterated local and natural ingredients in brewing, and its famous, 33,000-square-foot beer garden was frequented over the centuries by the likes of Mozart, Ibsen, Lenin, and Hitler—who held Nazi Party rallies there. Somewhat more recently, Hofbräu has franchised drinking and eating establishments in Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee, making our own place appear an American afterthought.

The beer hall occupies the sky-lit upper floor of a two-story building, outfitted with long communal tables, blue-and-white Bavarian pennants, a 50-foot balcony overlooking Third Avenue, and baroque woodwork that might remind you of the witch's cottage in Hansel und Gretel. A bar at one end offers five beers from a shifting roster of Hofbräu products—currently lager, dunkel ("dark") lager, hefeweizen, dunkelweizen, and bock—made according to centuries-old recipes. The bock, at least, is damn good. Once we managed to wedge our party onto the crowded benches, our waitress approached wearing a dirndl and ruffled blouse. Her massive eye-level cleavage as she bent over to shout caused my guests to squirm. "You can't look away," a female friend from Florida complained.

The menu she handed us was extensive. While the beers seemed expensive at $8 per half-liter stein, the food was remarkably cheap given the size of the portions. Unfortunately, much of it was awful, with a frozen-and-reheated taste that explained how the menu manages to be so ambitious. Sausages seemed like the best choice, and we made a beeline for those. The wurst sampler ($24) featured a bratwurst, bauernwurst (mustard-laced beef-pork blend), Käsekrainer (garlicky pork studded with cheese), and, odd man out, Cajun andouille, which is the only really spicy thing on the menu. The sides, though voluminous, proved disappointing: two scoops of vinegary German potato salad sans bacon (WTF!), a heap of steamed red cabbage, and a tangle of very, very sour sauerkraut.

Several other sausages were available, each presented in multiples and occupying its own platter, including a trio of transcendent "wieners" ($13)—pale pink links that, as the name implies, supposedly originated in Vienna. They put Nathan's to shame. But once again, the sides ended up getting left on the plate. Other things we didn't hate included a giant homemade pretzel ($9) offered with sweet or spicy mustard, and a charcuterie platter flaunting several types of ham and salami, so neatly rolled up we thought of barging into the kitchen and asking the prep cook to make a fatty for us. Another comparative triumph was the jaegerschnitzel à la Holstein ($21)—a pair of breaded pork cutlets topped with bacon and a runny fried egg.

But the litany of culinary failures was even more extensive: fried sauerkraut balls that succeeded in being mainly starchy; a sauerbraten platter holding dry pucks of beef, with none of the tartness implied by the name; a sautéed vegetable mélange tasting of dodgy fat and dried oregano; and a flavorless cucumber salad so damp it should have been wrung out like a mop prior to serving. The desserts, however, were exceptional. We liked the apple strudel ($8) served with ice cream. Warm and flaky, it had never seen the inside of a microwave. The Bavarian cream—a round, pleasant cream puff—was also top-notch. As we polished it off and turned to revisit our mugs of beer, a pal groused, "These desserts are about the last thing you'd want to wash down with bock."

rsietsema@villagevoice.com

 
My Voice Nation Help
9 comments
Breaking Dawn
Breaking Dawn

all i have to say, its not a liter of beer. however, the food at hofbrau munchen is not the greatest either, you go there for the beer and to sit with the locals on a crowded saturday.

Keith G.
Keith G.

Two words to describe the potential disaster that could happen at this place:" Happy Land". Having a bar of this drunk-fest nature located on a second floor, serviced by ONE narrow staircase is fucking nuts!

To those NYers who might mremember the tragic fire at the Happy Land social club in the late 80s, it is ripe to happen at this place. What the hell is up with ONE staircase that serves both incoming and outgoing (heavily buzzed) patrons?! Yeah there's a fire exit at the back (by the kitchen!) but that still doesn't make me feel like it would be safe in a panic situation.

Kroltan
Kroltan

Someone from Florida complaining about cleavage? Gimme a break.

Mark Walker
Mark Walker

I've been to the original Hofbrau in Munich. The food is disappointing there too. Every other restaurant we tried in Munich was better. Lovely beer, though.

Bvonstuelpnagel
Bvonstuelpnagel

Excellent report; since I am from Bavaria and an expert on Munich food, I was taken back by the poor quality of almost everything that I tried. Same for my other German friends: we were not able to come up with even a passing grade. Too bad, the food is excellent, and the service remarkable.

BvS
BvS

Sorry, should saye: The beer is excellent...

bonf71
bonf71

The biergarten at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich does NOT hold 33,000 people, not even close, where'd you get that info ?

rsietsema
rsietsema

You're right, bonf71, my mistake. Hofbrauhaus holds 3,000 and is 33,000 square feet in size.

rsietsema
rsietsema

Note: Number has been corrected in the online version.

 
Loading...