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Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden

Holiday Tree Lighting & Celebration in Astoria

Updated w/ Videos & Photos December 15, 2015 / Astoria Neighborhood / Astoria History / Queens Buzz.

bohemian hall & beer garden astoria bohemian hall beer gardens queensOn Friday night the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria celebrated the advent of Christmas with its traditional Christmas Party. The holiday event was favored with unusually warm weather, somewhere in the high 50’s.

As I approached the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden I could easily see it from a distance, as it was festively adorned with hundreds of lights. There was a holiday market along the beer garden wall, which among other things, had Christmas trees of all sizes for sale.

Outside the gate there was a very large snowman and inside the beer garden a big jolly Santa riding high in his big wooden sleigh, behind a tall wooden reindeer. Santa was taking the kids for an imaginary ride into the wild blue yonder … "Ho, Ho, Ho ... Merry Christmas" bellowed the Big Man. The attending parents were provided with plenty of opportunities to take photos of Santa with their children and / or themselves.

A bit further into the beer garden there was a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, which had just been lit for the first time by Bohemian Hall and local government officials who had come to join the celebration. I arrived about a half hour beer gardens queens astoria nycafter the official starting time, so while there was still a good sized crowd present, many of the local officials had departed. I spotted NYC City Councilmember Costa Constantinides relaxing with his family, and I later heard that NYS Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas had also been there.

The Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden had done nothing less than a marvelous job of providing the perfect holiday playground for young and old alike. Of course, this isn’t usually possible in Astoria in early December, because the temperatures are generally about 20 to 30 degrees cooler. But it was warm this year, so the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden took advantage of the weather, and the visiting crowd was quick to adapt to enjoying the warmer clime of the great outdoors.

Click here to read the rest of our report, including a video, of the holiday celebration and tree lighting at the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden - one of the leading beer gardens in Queens.

Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden Astoria Queens NYC

Holiday Tree Lighting & Celebration in Astoria

Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society nycUpdated Videos & Photos December 14, 2015 / Astoria Neighborhood / Astoria History / Queens Buzz. Continued.

There was a manger set on what is normally the stage for visiting bands during the summer. The manger was populated with statues of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Three Kings - all figures from the biblical story surrounding the night of Jesus’s birth.

After taking in the festive ambiance of the beer garden I made my way indoors to the bar and Main Hall. The bar was full of life, some of which spilled into the downstairs café and some of which led upstairs into the Main Hall. In the Main Hall they were preparing to serve dinner for members and guests. I met several members of the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden, from whom I obtained permission to shoot and webcast the video below.

Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society Astoria, Queens NYC

Prior to dinner, the children were to sing Christmas Carols. They had been taking Czech and Slovak song and dance classes through the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society Astoria. The instruction is one of several programs designed to teach the children about their European cultural heritage, and it reminded me of my grade school days when my brother and I would perform in a holiday school plays for our parents and family. We enjoyed these events, which were full of comraderie and good cheer, and it also gave us a break from our school work. Watching the children enjoy themselves as they performed for their parents evoked some of these fond childhood memories. Perhaps you'll catch a bit of that yourself by watching the video.

Astoria History: The Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden History

The Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden was founded in 1892 by immigrants from the former state of Austria-Hungary. The Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society Astoria was created to foster and maintain schools, lectures, dramatics and libraries to czech language classes slovak languages classes queens nycpreserve some measure of Czech and Slovak cultures within the American culture. It was named Bohemia after the western state of Austria-Hungary which today is mostly a part of the present day Czech Republic.

In 1910 the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society Astoria raised funds and purchased two lots of an Astoria farm to build the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden. The Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden was built in three phases, with the first section representing what is today the main entrance and bar. The Sokol Gym or Main Hall was soon added, and by 1919 the outside bar and garden were completed.

In January 1919 the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed prohibiting the manufacture, sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages with more than 2.5% alcohol. The law took effect in 1920, a full year after it was passed, and the period that followed became known as the Prohibition.

Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden – The Real Thing

According to the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden website, in the early part of the 20th century there were over 800 beer gardens in New York City, with three of them in Astoria. Due to the Prohibition, most beer gardens closed. Illegal speakeasies arose to fill the void. But the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden survived the Prohibition as it was run by the Bohemian Citizens’ bhbg astoria queens nycBenevolent Society, and hence was far more than a bar, restaurant and beer garden, but also a general gathering place and cultural center.

In December 1933, after a long period of general law breaking, during which there was a huge surge in organized crime (made possible in part by the Prohibition), the 21st Amendment was passed repealing the 18th Amendment. Thus the 21st Amendment once again allowed for the lawful manufacture, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages of all sorts.

The Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden is an important historical site and cultural center in the Astoria community. The Czechs and Slovak families that created the society began immigrating here in the early 1800’s. The 240 families that currently comprise the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society, include families with century(ies) old as well as far shorter American heritage. While all immigrants adapt to their new homeland, most long to preserve some measure of their native cultural heritage and traditions.

Czech & Slovak Events in Astoria, Queens & NYC

The Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society Astoria attempts to provide Czech and Slovak descendants with access to learning about their cultural heritage, while simultaneously providing the broader bohemian hall astoria queens nyccommunity with access to the Czech and Slovak cultural performances as well. The performance I saw on this night was an example of that. The Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden welcomed all of the community to their Christmas Tree Lighting event, and it was accompanied by songs in the Czech, Slovak and English languages, providing a small taste of Bohemian culture. You can view this, as well as some of the activities in the Beer Garden described in the introduction to this story, in the video below.

In addition to the Christmas celebration the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden hosts a Czech and Slovak Festival around the Memorial Day Weekend and an Oktoberfest in late September - both of which are open to the general public. The Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden complex also includes a bar, Bohemian style beer garden, and restaurant that serves American and Bohemian [?] food year round. Periodically there are live musical performances at the Bohemian Hall in the Beer Garden during the summer months. The proceeds from the bar, restaurant and beer garden, as well as gifts and grants, provide funding for some of the cultural activities associated with Bohemian Hall.

Astoria: Czeck & Slovak Language Classes, Dance Classes & Trips

beer gardens astoria queens nycThe Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society Astoria also runs the Czech and Slovak Cultural Center in Astoria within the same complex. The cultural center offers after-school Czech and Slovak language classes for children which meet on Friday evening and Saturday morning for2 1/2 hour sessions. There is also a children's folk dance group called Limboracik, which meets for its rehearsals after the classes. 

A number of events and performances are scheduled in tandem with the children's program that runs from September through June. The children participate in several singing performances at Bohemian Hall (Spring Concert, Czech and Slovak Festival, Tree Lighting, St. Nicholas Day) as well as at other cultural venues in the tri-state area such as the Czech Consulate General, Jan Nepomucene Church, the Slovak Festival, and the Christmas Market in Asbury Park in New Jersey. In addition to the music, dance and language classes; the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society organizes school trips, singing competitions, students presentations and ice-skating get-togethers.

The Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society Astoria [BCBSA] also offers Czech and Slovak language classes for adults on Saturdays and Monday evenings, as many Czech and Slovak adults were born or grew up in America and hence may not have full command of the Czech or Slovak language. The members and class students come not just from Queens, but from the surrounding tri-state area.

Czech & Slovak Events at the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden Queens

beer gardens queensFrequently BCBSA member family events are organized in tandem with some of the children's performances such as the performance given this day. Christmas Dinner, Christmas parties, Masopust / Fasiangy (the American equivalent is Mardi Gras) and Summer Picnic represent some of the bigger gathering events generally wherein the children perform and some of them like Masopus / Fasiangy are reserved for members only in part due to Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden capacity limitations.

The Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society Astoria also sponsors a hockey team (Bohemka), a softball team, and they are planning to assemble an adult folk dance group (Limbora) and a language class for toddlers. So, as you can see, there's far more to the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden than meets the eye.

Sit back, relax and enjoy the show. The singing is done in the Slovak, Czech and English languages by the children enrolled in the classes of the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society Astoria.

And Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

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