BOHEMIAN HALL AND BEER GARDEN: a Little Slice of Paradise in Queens
BOHEMIAN HALL AND BEER GARDEN • ASTORIA, QUEENS
[This is part six in a series of sneak peeks from the chapters of my book Bars, Taverns and Dives New Yorkers Love, coming out in March 2018 from Rizzoli Publishing.) You can order it online now at Powell’s, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.]
Walk through that gate At Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden on a summer afternoon and be dazzled. Leave the grime and stink of the city behind, and head into the beer garden of Eden! The space is huge, like a state park—with trees! Towering, real trees!—compared to the little backyard patio bars you’re used to in New York. Just hearing the breeze rustle the leaves starts to cool you off. In a minute you’re at a shaded picnic table, surrounded by groups of youngish friends, middle-agers, oldsters, lunch dates, dominoes players, and families with kids. Dozens of people, hundreds! All happy, de-stressified, and a long way from the harsh realities of summer.
What to Drink
- Most popular: Beer, of course. Have a Pilsner Urquell, the Bohemian granddaddy of the most popular style of beer in the world, pilsner.
- Next: Have a Czechvar lager, the other Budweiser! (Its brand name in nearly every country on the globe, except the U.S. and a few others, for obvious—but legally drawn-out—reasons.)
Happy hour: Monday–Friday, 5–7 p.m. $4 half-liter mugs of draft beer and $14 for pitchers.
How to Get There
Subway: The N and Q trains stop at Astoria Blvd., about a six-minute walk from Bohemian Hall.
- Bohemian Hall is home to New York’s oldest existing beer garden. At one time there were over 800 throughout NYC, three in Astoria alone. In 2001, the Hall made the National Register of Historic Places.
- Angelo Gonzalez, general manager at BHBG told me that in 2000 Vaclav Havel, then president of the Czech Republic, visited Bohemian Hall, hosted a press conference, and planted a lime tree which still grows in the beer garden today.
- Why’s the neighborhood called Astoria, by the way? Interesting story. Before it was ever part New York City, it was just a nice little part of Queens County called Hallett’s Cove. In the early1800s, local boosters tried to lure investment from New York’s John Jacob Astor, then the richest man in America, so they renamed the village Astoria. That’s just sad, but it gets worse. Astor, who summered in upper Manhattan, could look right across the East River at Astoria, yet never even set foot in it, and only invested a measly $500 of his $40 million fortune in his namesake town. Still, they kept the name Astoria. Ain’t that a kick in the pants?
- And another, barely-related thing: What’s the link between Bohemia (the ancestral lands of the ancient kingdom) and bohemians (the scruffy countercultural characters, like from Greenwich Village’s wacky heyday, daddy-o)? That is a very good question. Thanks for asking. The term was originally (and somewhat sloppily) used by the French, who in the 1800s likened unconventional, loosey-goosey, artistic types with the vagabond Romani rovers then known as Gypsies, who they imagined came from the roughly the region of Bohemia and called les Bohémiens. Thus, they dubbed a whole bunch of money-poor, experience-rich, semi-rootless artsy folks, regardless of their geographic origins, les Bohémiens as well. And, like Astoria, the name somehow stuck.
Next up: Bronx Beer Hall of Kingsbridge in the Bronx, another chapter of my book Bars, Taverns and Dives New Yorkers Love, which you can order right here. Limited-edition signed prints are available here.