Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden is the sole survivor of the once hundreds of beer gardens in the New York City area. Founded by Czech and Slovak immigrants in the late 1800's, it has been a staple for outdoor drinkers in the city.
Now there is a new kid in town. Studio Square boasts a youthful S2 moniker that resembles an action movie sequel more than a drinking establishment. In essence, S2 is a high-budget follow-up to the already popular Bohemian Beer Garden.
"The demand is necessary," explains Frank Laruffa, a beer garden frequenter. "Bohemian gets way too crowded, maybe this will clear out some of the people."
Now people have a choice, but which beer garden is best for you? I spent all day Saturday drowning my well being in copious amounts of beer and grilled meats to find where these two gardens of drinking (and eating) differ.
Both beer gardens are filled with large communal picnic tables that invite intermingling between their patrons. Studio Square pumps music throughout the garden, while Bohemian is a sea of conversation with the only music coming from a small boom box located behind one of its bars.
The shade provided by large, full-grown trees reflects the historic vibe of Bohemian. Its floor is not made of 200 tons of authentic Belgium stone blocks like S2, nor does it include a rectangular stone fire pit, but what it lacks in flair, it makes up for in charisma.
Likewise, S2's trees are newly planted and offer little relief from the sun. They rely mainly on the surrounding brick walls and high rises for shade. It's state-of-the-art tap system, stone bar surface, and flat screen televisions are a few of the characteristics that make Studio Square a modern masterpiece.
Down to Brass Tacks: How Much?
The Bohemian Beer Garden has a more extensive menu of traditional Czech dishes and sides. These main courses range from $12 to $16. Items from the grill, like keilbasa, bratwurst, turkey sausage, and burgers are between $6 and $8. Waitresses take orders from the tables. Credit cards can be used for kitchen orders, but the bar is cash only.
S2's menu is much simpler. The self-service, cash-only kitchen provides the same traditional grilled sausages from Queens' local meat supplier, Schaller and Weber, along with burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, and soulvaki, all for $8. Sides like jumbo pretzels and fries are $3.
Both bars offer a wide variety of almost 20 draft beers. Bohemian carries Czech beers like Krusovice and Czechvar, while S2 ranges from German favorites like Spaten Oktoberfest to regional standouts like Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA from Delaware.
Draft beer is $15 a pitcher and $5 a mug at Bohemian. At S2, half-liters are $7, liters are $13, and pitchers are $18. Studio Square partner Taso Pavlou explains, "our beers may seem a little more expensive, but our serving sizes are larger."
There are alternatives to beer. Both bars are full service. Bohemian makes classic Czech cocktails along with popular mojitos and sangria for $7 a glass and $28 a pitcher. S2 sells a variety of wine and spirits and features homemade sangria, which is served on tap through an impressive cooling and storage system.
I'm done eating, now what?
Playing cards and board games are customary accessories. The older beer garden posted signs prohibiting drinking games such as beer pong and flip cup. Hired security strolled the area keeping the patrons off the picnic tables and ensuring good behavior.
Studio Squares does not discourage drinking games. Pavlou says, "as long as it does not take up tables that could be used for dining, I'm fine with it. We want people to come here and have a good time."
They also have security on premises; however, they are in S2 shirts, not full uniforms.
Taking a break
Not a problem. The Bohemian Beer Garden has recently renovated bathrooms, and S2 has a beautifully constructed personal lavatory system. I did not have to wait once at either one.
What about the kids?
Both beer gardens are kid friendly. The Bohemian Beer Garden is an older institution, so it generally has an older following and more families. That does not mean that they do not attract a young age group, nor does it imply that Studio Square is only for 20- and 30-somethings.
The dating scene
I met great people at both beer gardens. Bohemian tended to be larger groups of friends who were there to enjoy each other's company. S2 catered more towards social networking.
Both are open late, S2 stays open until 4 a.m. every night if you need more time to mingle. Bohemian closes at 2 a.m. Monday through Wednesday and 3 a.m. the rest of the week.
I would recommend frequenting both of these establishments. While they are both considered beer gardens, they are very different. Bohemian Hall resembles a low-key backyard barbeque. Even though ownership has spent money on renovations it still maintains a rustic atmosphere.
Studio Square is more contemporary. Everything is brand new and beautiful. While it lacks that "broken in" feeling that Bohemian has developed over the years, it is exceedingly inviting.
"I would bring my parents to Bohemian Beer Garden and my friends here (S2)," says Astoria native Stefanie Faber. "But both are great and different."
Both of these beer gardens are gearing up for a busy summer. They also host festivals and special events. Studio Square includes an enormous private events space that is both in and outdoor with a private bar and great view. Capacity is very high which should ease past overcrowding from Bohemian.
When telling a manager at S2 the name of my article, he proclaimed jokingly, "I don't want to battle anybody. We just want people to come here and have a good time."
I can't argue with that.