Celebrating Autumn With a Walk to Bohemian Hall

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Every so often, two great ideas combine to form an even better one.

DSC_0616 cropped smallThat’s what happened this past Saturday. Last fall, Vlad suggested we go to the Bohemian Hall Beer Garden for Oktoberfest. This was more than just a yen for drinking beer outdoors—Vlad is actually from the original Bohemia, and he enjoys discovering hidden flashes of the “old country” all the way here in NYC. (Another discovery is Hospoda, an eastside Czech restaurant, but that’s for another post.) Anyway, we didn’t make it last year, but the idea stayed on our list.

Bohemian Hall is in Astoria, Queens. It’s actually very near to where we live—as the crow flies. We can almost see it from our apartment. The problem is that between us and it flows the East River.

But, there is a bridge…

Hell Gate bridgesWe paddle under it all the time. But I’ve been wanting to walk across the Triborough (now Robert F. Kennedy) Bridge for the past few months since my friend Marc mentioned it was possible. The Triborough Bridge was built for cars, with pedestrians a grudging afterthought. But is can be done—Marc lives in Astoria and regularly hikes across the bridge into Manhattan.

And looking at the map, talk about serendipity: It turns out Bohemian Hall is just a couple of blocks from the bridge’s pedestrian exit in Astoria.

What could be more perfect than a walk over the bridge culminating in a visit to the beer garden? To top it off, this weekend, for the beginning of Oktoberfest, Bohemian Hall was featuring authentic roast pig  in addition to the usual sausage, sauerkraut, and beer. And the weather was absolutely perfect: A golden early-autumn day.

DSC_0413 cropped smallSo we set out. The shortest way to the Triborough Bridge led us first across the Harlem River, over the Wards Island Footbridge. We crossed the footbridge onto Wards Island… and promptly took a wrong turn, left instead of right. But we didn’t mind—the path led us through a DSC_0423 cropped smallgreenscape we’d seen many times from the water on our Manhattan circumnavigations, but never before experienced on land. We passed the New York Riding Academy and the grounds of the Manhattan Psychiatric Center (more cheerful than it sounds, at least until you notice such details as the razor wire). Then we turned right at Little Hell Gate, meandered along the edge of “Mulberry Cove”, and found our way to the pedestrian entrance onto Triborough Bridge.

DSC_0430 cropped smallAt first, the walkway up to the bridge was covered by an intimidating wire mesh. Signs warned sternly that “bikes must be walked across the bridge” and “photography is strictly forbidden”. But as we climbed up and up… and up and up…the mesh cage disappeared, and stunning vistas opened up all around.

On the narrow walkway of the bridge proper, we encountered plenty of bikers (riding their bikes) and fellow photographers. And, high above Hell Gate, the view was simply amazing: All the sights we’re accustomed to see from the water, but from the sky this time.

(click on any photo to start slideshow)

Then we descended the long arc of the bridge into the heart of Astoria, where from a block or two away we could hear the excited babble of the beer hall. Stepping inside was in many ways like a return to the old DSC_0636 cropped smallcountry (Vlad used the word “traditional” several times), with long, shared tables and strikingly agile waitstaff.

But there were a few differences: The customers were largely under 30, and very few dirndls or lederhosen were in sight.

However, there was the promised roast pork—complete with pig’s head—and an ample supply of Czech (as well as local NYC) beer.

We feasted and drank until just before sunset, when happy and sated, we headed for the subway home. (The party was just getting started, however—a live band was getting ready, and on Saturdays the beer garden is open until 3 AM.)

DSC_0776 cropped smallDSC_0801 cropped smallVlad was fascinated by the old-school industrial feel of the subway station, one of those that are above-ground, and took plenty of photographs…

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… while I watched the sunset over Manhattan (for a change)..

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All in all, a wonderful first trip to Bohemian Hall. Somehow, I think we’ll be back…

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The New York Times has a nice article about walking across the Triborough Bridge here.

Another New York Times article (albeit from 2011) about the beer garden phenomenon in NYC is here.

Finally, last year Chris Schiffner compiled a very helpful “(un)Official NYC Oktoberfest Trail” guide and map here.

37 responses to “Celebrating Autumn With a Walk to Bohemian Hall

  1. Pingback: Relaxing Saturated | Wind Against Current

  2. great walk and tour…had to be fun!…and yes, I think you need to try it again sometime…

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  3. Well, don’t forego kayak/water photos hey?! I went to Jr and Hi School in NY and NJ and am appreciating the memories. First paddled the Delaware in NW NJ in the 60s with my sof shop project kayak.

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Oh what a wonderful story about the Delaware! Believe it or not, Vlad and I have never paddled the Delaware together.

      And yes, we have plenty of kayak/water photos… and plan many more!

      Thanks for reading (and posting)!

      Like

  4. oureverydayadventures365

    I had up look twice thinking it was the Sydney Harbour Bridge – check my post today :-)

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  5. Once again I’m happy you’ve done the adventuring for me (and people like me, who are acrophobic). Wonderful photos, of course, and strong feet and sure heads.
    I would have eaten the roast pork for myself though if I could have. I’ll bet it was delicious, and of course, the Czech beer! A wonderful New York adventure, as usual.

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Ha! “Sure heads” in a manner of speaking. Please note the photo of me looking down at the barge—note particularly how carefully I’m holding on to the railing.

      I’m a bit afraid of heights, so I always take care to make sure I’m firmly holding on to things before I look down. It’s a LOOOOONG way down to that water!

      Thanks for reading, and posting!

      Like

  6. I didn’t know about the Bohemian Beer Garden before. Since I love beer, I’m going to check it out.

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    • Great! Bohemian Hall appears to be the oldest remaining beer garden, over 100 years old. But there are some middle-aged ones and in the last few years many newcomers. A couple of useful listings of beer gardens and other Oktoberfest-ready establishments around NYC are here and here.

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  7. Really great pictures! I especially like that last one :)

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  8. how I miss the city thanks for all the beautiful photos it helps as I sit in the woods of NH

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  9. This was a wonderful read. I love it when you visit by land something you usually frequent by kayak!

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  10. I like our pictures from bridges. They are great!

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  11. just had a catch up Vladimir – always entertaining always great detail just an amazing blog

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