By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina
Every so often, two great ideas combine to form an even better one.
That’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…
We 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.
So 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 greenscape 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.
At 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 country (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.)
… while I watched the sunset over Manhattan (for a change)..
All in all, a wonderful first trip to Bohemian Hall. Somehow, I think we’ll be back…
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.