BAR EXAM: Befriend Your Local Beer Hall

Oktoberfest and Hofbräuhaus are a match made in himmel

Lissa Townsend Rodgers

"You're not supposed to take two sausages!"

I look down at my paper plate. A brat and a wurst. So what? "No one stopped me."

My friend, Peter Shovel, and I are at the Blue Diamond Oktoberfest. While Oktoberfest is an increasingly high-profile ethnic holiday/excuse for drinking, we've come to this wee mountain town, driving past wild horses grazing on the baseball field. The community center has been adorned with hastily tacked-up blue and white streamers and we sit at a folding table, surrounded by the senior citizens of the German-American Association—a number of whom are in full Tyrolean peasant drag. Onstage, a 40-ish man and woman with bleached, new-wave haircuts and more suspenders 'n' embroidery are doing an oompah-synth version of "Bad Moon Rising."

Peter sneaks a glance at the family sharing the table with us to see if they've noticed my transgression. "I think the old guy watching the sausages was just hoping you wouldn't hit him."

"Yeah, I'm like Lee Marvin in The Wild One. I just roll in and bust up your Oktoberfest." I take another sip of my Trader Joe's hefeweizen. "Was I not supposed to have two pickles either?"

"Jesus Christ! Did you take their tips, too?!"

At the exact same time down in the Valley, Siegfried was tapping the first keg of Oktoberfestbier at the Las Vegas Hofbräuhaus as several hundred tourists cheered him on. (Or at least we think it was Siegfried—rumor has it there's a salon hairdresser somewhere who works as his doppelgänger, but then again, there's also that rumor that Siegfried died in 1981 and was replaced by a cyborg. Which is why the tiger didn't eat him.) The Hofbräuhaus will be flying kegs in from Germany and having various local celebrities tapping them for the next six weeks.

The Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas is an exact replica of the original in Munich, and even without the patina of 500 years, the flower boxes and Bavarian flags are a contrast to the neighboring Hard Rock Hotel. There was some controversy when it opened last year, with Mayor Oscar Goodman refusing to set foot in it because of the original's association with Nazism. (Once he realized there was a bar, however ...) Hitler held meetings at the original, although it was not the site of his failed Beer Hall Putsch. Still, when yet another magician who looks like a member of the Scorpions starts working the crowd, I start to wish for a Hitler impersonator who would stand on a chair and make an absurd attempt to convert us to Nazism. Then we'd all laugh at him and go back to our beers while he storms out, sputtering with impotent fury. We could maybe even put him in a dunking booth in the lobby afterward.

The homage continues inside the Hofbräuhaus, with everyone sharing long wooden tables in a cavernous room. The Biergarten is actually indoors, a large room bedecked with fake foliage and white Christmas lights. There's a real fountain but the focus is on the giant television burbling Eurosports like Formula One racing, and of course, soccer, which brings in bands of jubilant, British fans, hooting with their murky accents and grinning with their bad teeth.

The menu is full-on Bavarian: weisswürste and weinerwürst and schweinbraten—no ahi tuna or fajitas or concessions to modern cuisine. (Except ranch dressing. The Department of Homeland Security will shut a place down if there's no ranch dressing.) Most of the beers have a malt liquor-level alcohol content and are served in liter-sized glass mugs, the thumping and clinking of which compete with the cranked-up Deutschtunes, usually supplied by a live band in the corner. Between the din echoing off of the arched, flower-stenciled ceiling and the group seating, Oktoberfest at the Hofbräuhaus can be nearly as noisy as a Danzig concert.

While Oktoberfest hasn't attainted the popularity of, say, St. Patrick's Day, many establishments will be tossing the name around next month and making gestures at beer, brauts and accordion music. The Flamingo even has an Oktoberfest by the pool—some poor sucker in lederhosen with a Mr. Microphone standing next to the keg when he's not polka-ing with middle-aged women from Michigan. Who do you forget to blow to wind up with that job anyway?

Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas, 4510 Paradise Road at Harmon Avenue, 853-2337.

Lissa Townsend Rodgers learned to make a martini at age 6. E-mail her at
[email protected].

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