Biergarten Haus is on the defensive. They’re still sore from the reaming Tom Sietsema gave them in the Post (having your food described as “a lethal weapon” always hurts), and there’s a certain measure of bitterness amongst the staff against the Yelpers for their similarly worded reviews criticizing, amongst other things, the service. To me, Biergarten Haus isn’t about the food or the waiters, it’s about the beer. And how is the beer? Well, it’s better than the food or the waiters. It’s not the best, but it’s good enough.
Biergarten Haus is the latest and greatest nightlife phenomena in DC. It seems like one comes along every year or so, and Washingtonians pack the place out and make it impossible to find a seat on the weekends. Last year it was Churchkey, this year it’s Biergarten. It’s a blessing and a curse. The broader neighborhood benefits from the patronage that is turned away at the door for lack of space. The patrons themselves face the frustration of massive crowds, slow service and lack of seating.
The beer garden was hyped and highly anticipated before it even opened its doors. After a series of delays and extended soft openings, the DC citizenry was practically clamoring to get inside to experience the Biergarten for themselves. When the establishment finally did open in June, it was rough, to say the least. If you came after 6, there were no seats. If you happened to get a table, you where crammed in with literally hundreds of other people. The staff was too small, the service was too slow and people generally left disenchanted.
The management of Biergarten has taken significant steps to correct their most frequently criticized mistakes. In the first three weeks, they nearly tripled their staff and attempted to streamline their order delivery process. It’s been a mixed success, but, in my estimation, things have generally improved. I’ve been twice, gotten a seat both times, and had a chance to experience the tap list.
All in all, Biergarten Haus does offer a decent, authentic draft selection. It’s filled with staple German beers and styles. The menu was designed to meet any budget, with beers ranging in price from reasonable to expensive. All selections are offered in different sizes, typically .5L and 1L, which further adds to pricing options. The beer comes in heavy-bottomed, glass mugs, reminiscent of what you’d see buxom frauleins serving in some beer garden themed German post card.
The quality and breadth of the selection is adequate. There are a dozen beers on tap and 13 more in bottles. The real stand out in on the beer menu is Aventinus on draft. Aventinus is one of the best beers in the world. It’s rare to see it in anything but bottles, as it’s traditionally a bottle conditioned beer, so having it on tap is a nice treat. The rest of the list is pretty much the standard what’s what of German beers, which is my real problem with the place.
If you were to ask any semi-knowledgeable beer person to name a few German beers off the top of their head, they’d say “Spaten, Weihenstephaner, Franziskaner, Eggenberg, Paulaner, Hofbrau, Kostritzer” and that pretty much gives you the tap list at Biergarten. They’re all fine beers, to be sure, but there’s nothing that stands out as being unique or exciting. It’s surprising considering that the menu was designed by Bill Catron, the man behind the phenomenally well crafted beer list at Brasserie Beck. I expected something more creative.
It would be nice to see some rarer German beers make their way onto the list at Biergarten, or, dare I suggest it, some American variations on German styles. Menu updates will likely come as the restaurant ages, but for now it’s a pretty standard selection of good German beers. Life could be worse, I suppose. They’re adding 12 taps for Oktoberfest. That might be something worth checking out.
All in all, I do like Biergarten Haus. I don’t love it, but I don’t think it quite deserves the beating it’s taken online and in the press. The look and feel of the beer garden is pretty spot on, the beer is decent, the service is improving and I’m told work is being done on the kitchen. You can avoid a lot of problems by simply going on a weeknight. I think Biergarten Haus is a work in progress and will bring great things once it grows into maturity.