Thursday, July 15, 2010

Roll Call: H Street Rolls Out a Barrel of Fun (with Biergarten)

Today's Roll Call has this nice review of DC's most popular new spot, Biergarten Haus (1355 H St).

Mug Shots: H Street Rolls Out a Barrel of Fun
July 15, 2010
By Alison McSherry
Roll Call Staff

Stepping into Biergarten Haus, one of the newest bars to open on the H Street Corridor, is like stepping out of D.C. and into a Bavarian watering hole where people chat quickly and happily, albeit in English rather than German. At the same time, though, it feels less like a vacation in the Alps and more like a trip to the Germany Pavilion at Epcot, thanks to all the strollers.

Animal heads hang high on the wall, while the sprawling back garden is filled with long wooden tables designed for communal drinking and even a few smaller high-top tables made from large beer barrels. After pounding a liter of beer, you may find yourself tapping your foot and yearning to twirl around the room to the sounds of the German band playing in the corner. Between the oom-pa-pa music and the high-quality beer list, this may be the happiest place on H Street.

Biergarten Haus (1355 H St. NE) is the brainchild of Aaron McGovern and Arturas Vorobjovas, owners of the swanky Russia House Restaurant and Lounge at Dupont Circle. The bar opened its doors in 2003 and quickly became a go-to bar for Russian expats — including several members of the Washington Capitals — and the women who love them.

After the success of Russia House, McGovern and Vorobjovas decided to open a second bar with European flair, though this time they opted for a German theme. The beer garden craze took over New York several years ago, but as with most trends it has taken some time to trickle down to D.C.

The two men “decided to do the Biergarten with a traditional German fare restaurant because we both loved the idea and the European feel of these style places,” McGovern says. “Also, D.C. doesn’t really have a place like this.”

The business partners decided on H Street when they found a piece of real estate that would allow for both indoor and outdoor seating. The bar consists of two floors and an enormous back patio area. It is not uncommon to see strangers sharing a brewsky at a communal table or to see young children running around the garden. This sense of community was part of the neighborhood’s appeal.

“We liked the community’s involvement in the neighborhood and its resurrection from its glorious day of the past,” McGovern says, referring to the early 20th century prior to the 1968 race riots, when H Street was a bustling neighborhood filled with shops and restaurants.

The bar opened its doors in June just in time for the World Cup. Opening night featured a packed house and a long line down the block, despite the fact that the Biergarten Haus has more than 300 seats. Would-be customers lined up hoping to grab a liter of German beer and munch on pub fare.

Twelve beers are available on tap and 14 more in bottles. Draft beers come in liter and half-liter mugs and are priced from $6 to $19. While many of the names may not be familiar to the untrained eye, the wait staff is friendly and happy to recommend a beer that tastes like whatever beer you normally drink.

The beer is accompanied by a wide variety of German food. Biergarten Haus offers a small bar menu in addition to a larger main menu. Bavarian pretzel rolls served with slices of cheese and potato pancakes accompanied by applesauce and sour cream are perfect for snacking. The main menu is a bit more substantial, featuring noteworthy German dishes such as Wiener schnitzel, lightly breaded and pan-fried veal, and a variety of sausage platters.

Now that the Biergarten Haus has been open for about a month, McGovern has his eye on the future, though he’s mum about what it may be.

“The wheels are always spinning. Who knows what’s next?” he says. “But I can assure you, whatever it is will certainly lend itself to great fun.”

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