Bohemian Hall In Astoria Is Far More Than A Beer Garden
Astoria / October 5th 2008. Sunday I visited Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria on its final day of its extended Oktoberfest. It was an impromptu visit so I didn't have the opportunity to schedule talks with John Argento or Lizanne Fluxman, but the manager on duty, Alex Kehl, graciously provided me with a tour and some background. And here is what I learned.
The Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden is well known for its large beer garden, its entertainment events – many of which take place in the beer garden during the warm weather months, and its dining facilities.
What few outside the neighborhood know, is that Bohemian Hall is really far more than a place to have some fun. It’s actually the home to a Czech cultural organization that began back in 1892 and it is home to an architectural treasure that work began on in 1910. I had the opportunity to learn more about this unusual place on a recent visit to the Hall.
My host that day was Alex Kehl, the manager, who as fate would have it, hails from Wisconsin, my home state. This is an aside, but it’s worth mentioning that many eastern Europeans settled in Wisconsin in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, so there’s an affinity there, as drinking beer isn’t just a past time – it can be a way of life.
The Bohemian Citizens Benevolent Society is the group that owns and runs the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden [hereafter referred to in short hand as BHBG]. The group was founded in 1892, and built the BHBG. As their website says, they completed building it in 1919, just in time for the Prohibition.
Every year in late September they throw an Octoberfest Party in keeping with tradition. For the event they have live music, good festival food and lots of authentic bohemian beers [which they always keep on hand]. This year they extended the festival to two weekends due to the inclement weather.
On the second weekend of the event, they were also celebrating an affinity with the Czech Republic as the New York Rangers were in Prague playing the Tampa Bay Lightning. For those of you who are hockey fans, we note that the Rangers beat the Lightning 2 – 1.
The beer garden is open all year round, but obviously the Astoria weather between November and March can get in the way of one truly enjoying themselves outside. The BHBG has grilling and bar facilities outside, but these are generally closed during the winter months as the use of the garden falls off. There’s also a grill and kitchen inside which is open year round, but closed on Mondays and Tuesdays [hey, the cook needs a bit of time off too].
The bar area one first walks into was the original building. Two other areas were added later, including the great hall, which was once a gymnasium. It has an old Wisconsin church hall feel, with beautiful wooden floors that are great for dancing for special occasions. The children are also taught gymnastics in this hall, as it is a Czech / Slovak sport. The BHBG rents out the hall during the week to a senior citizens group. Downstairs there’s another bar and a diner style dining hall.
As mentioned earlier in this article, the BHBG still serves as a Bohemian cultural center and as such, there are a number of classrooms upstairs. Alex showed me the classrooms where children learn about their cultural heritage. Just off the classrooms there’s a balcony, which has tables and from where one can oversee the entire beer garden.
Classes are offered to children for free. In the cultural center they can learn the Czech language, as well as learn about Czech and Slovak arts, culture and history. This is open to children between the ages of 6 and 13.
The group continues to maintain ties to the Czech Republic through the use of Czech beers and tie-ins to Czech cultural events, such as the recent Rangers game held in Prague mentioned above. It’s also worth noting that former Czech Republic president, Vaclav Havel visited in the year 2000. It is believed that the BHBG is the oldest surviving beer garden in the New York metro area.
Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden Astoria NY - Related Links
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