Sunday, July 5, 2009

O, beloved Beer Garden, where have you gone?

(photo credit: John Saponara)

On Friday evening we took advantage of the lovely weather, grabbed a couple of friends and headed off to the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden. Since our move to the apartment on 30th Ave a few years ago our visits to the Beer Garden have become less frequent, and I'm truly ashamed to say that last summer we didn't make it there even once. My old studio apartment was around the corner from the Garden and Arbor Boy's old apartment was a few blocks away in the other direction so it was a natural meeting place and we spent a lot of time there. It was the best place to get a $12 pitcher of good beer, some tasty food from the grill or kitchen and just chill out with friends and a deck of cards or the backgammon board. In recent years the Beer Garden has gained a lot of popularity sparking the need for some transformations including renovations to upgrade certain features as well as an increase in prices. This is all to be expected, it's the nature of the business world.

However, our visit Friday night left me disappointed and longing for the Beer Garden I knew and loved just a few short years ago. It's no secret that Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest nights and waiting in line to gain entrance is the norm, but we decided to take our chances and made it in with no waiting and even managed to find a table (or more specifically, half a table). The pitchers are now up to $15, still a good deal for Stella Artois and Staropramen. Arbor Boy and I hadn't eaten dinner yet so we were looking forward to our favorite portabello mushroom sandwich from the grill. I encountered the first of many disheartening changes when I went to order our food. Upon arriving at the grill in the corner of the yard I was told that I should take a seat and order from my table. This was news to me since traditionally the grill was walk-up ordering and table service was only for the kitchen. But I returned to my seat and began searching the crowds for a waitress. I flagged one down only to be told that she did not take orders for the grill but would send someone our way. When no one arrived after 15 minutes I flagged a guy down who looked like he was making his way back and forth from the grill. He also could not take my order but told me my waitress could. I told him I had already been denied and he promised to send someone my way. When a server again failed to arrive I asked a bus boy who also told me to ask my waitress. We finally found a waitress who could take a grill order and happily ordered our portabello sandwiches.

By this time we had made our way through a couple of pitchers so I decided to navigate the sea of people in search of the bathrooms. I headed in the direction I knew had once had the Ladies restroom. In place of the old facilities I found the newly constructed restrooms that had been part of the recent renovation of the Beer Garden. Gone was the two stall Ladies room that tended to overflow when the crowds got heavy and soap and paper towels were a luxury rather than a basic essential. The new contruction, shiny new and well-lit, included self-flushing toilets and a bathroom attendant. A bathroom attendant. At the Beer Garden. What was going on? Where were the tiny cramped stalls that were part of the rustic charm of my Beer Garden? I made my way back to our table and relayed my tale of a new bathroom. Arbor Boy shared my shock and dismay but before we could dwell upon it our food arrived. Two mushroom sandwiches and an order of fries. Yay! I noticed right off that the sandwiches were made differently than in the past but thought little of it. The portabello was a popular grill item, a large cap thrown on the grill with a little oil and balsamic vinegar and some garlic then placed on two slices of bread that nicely soaked up the oil. These were on regular hamburger rolls with lettuce and tomato. I took a bite and immediately realized that something was terribly wrong. My whole mouth was on fire, my lips were burning. It was spicy. Really, really spicy. I thought perhaps I had gotten a very garlic-y bite but each subsequent bite added more heat to my already burning tongue. Arbor Boy finished his but I finally threw in the towel realizing that the intense spiciness would be sure to give me heartburn later.

We packed up and headed out a short time later. We all agreed that we had a good time hanging out and drinking beer but my disappointment lingered. The changes in the food, the shiny fluorescent lit bathrooms, the newness of everything. It wasn't the Beer Garden I knew and loved.

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