We got to get back to the garden (beer garden that is)

Last weekend my wife and I were trying to find a suitable location for the after party that will follow my brother’s wedding reception.  Since many of the guests will be from out of town, or even out of the country, we wanted to find somewhere that really represented our fair city.  We thought about the usual iconic restaurants, bars and hotels but then she was struck by a flash of inspiration.  And so after dinner that night we headed down to the new Independence Beer Garden.

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downloadWhen we arrived at Sixth and Chestnut Streets (directly across from the Liberty Bell) you could see even from a distance that the place was packed.  The main hall was simply too noisy so we walked around the outskirts to try to find some open space to sit and enjoy our beer.  Finding nowhere where there were just two empty seats I spotted a grouping of six Adirondack style chairs occupied by only four people.  I asked if the two empty seats were taken and were told they weren’t.

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For our first round (I had Yards IPA on nitro and she had Ommegang Wit) we spoke only with each other, discussing the merits of the venue.  But as our beers were running dry one of the young women seated in the group complimented my t-shirt which read “Fizzy Yellow Beer if for Wussies”.  With the ice broken we turned our chairs into their group and began to talk.  Turns out  all four were originally from Ukraine.  Two now live in Philly and two were down visiting from Brooklyn.  Soon they were pouring some of their pitcher (Yards Love Stout) into our empty glasses.  We reciprocated by buying the next round.

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Beer brings people together.  I have written before about beer’s capacity as social lubricant and about the potential that the bar has to make friends out of strangers.  This holds true even here in the United States where we tend to prefer reserved tables or sitting with as much space as possible between ourselves and the people on either side of us at the bar.

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Yet in Europe and many other places around the world the social potential of beer reaches its apex in beer gardens and beer halls.  They are of course largely the same as the average American bar.  People still go there to drink, to let off steam, to talk politics and sports and to make friends.  The major difference is in the seating.  Beer gardens and halls tend to feature long tables, often seating a dozen or more.  As such our concept of personal space goes out the window.

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Think about it, a group of three or four people couldn’t possibly hope to keep such a table all to themselves. As the place fills up, people inevitably come and fill in the extra space.  The sense of isolation that some Americans value so highly is simply impossible in such a gregarious setting.  Moreover, the beer garden is not simply a place to dash into for a quick round.  It invite you to sit and stay, often for a long time.  It’s allure is furthered by music and games, be it ping pong, shuffle board, bocce or even giant Jenga.

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Another important difference from the traditional American bar is that the beer garden isPicture 632 usually a family friendly environment.  In my travels to Germany in particular, this was a place for everyone to gather, to eat, talk, play and of course drink.  It is not considered at all incongruous to have children playing just because the men (and some of the women too) are hoisting liter mugs of beer. (FYI, my daughter is only holding that mug for the photo op)

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philly-fergies-beergarden-lg_636_400_85_s_c1Thankfully, this time honored tradition of drinking and community is finally catching on here, particularly in Philadelphia.  Several years ago Frankford Hall helped to get the trend of an outdoor beer garden going.  But this summer, spurred by a newly exploited loop hole in the law, a number of “pop up” beer gardens have appeared all over the city.  Some are in very public places like the Parkway in front of the Art Museum.  Others, like Fergie’s “Beach,” (above) are in open lots next to established bars.  But I am not here to opine on the legalities but I hope they are here to stay.  Because I enjoyed meeting my new friends from Ukraine and it might never have happened without the blessing of the Beer Garden.

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