Beer gardens are becoming increasingly popular, especially during the warmer seasons. In San Francisco, it takes a fine assortment of food and drink, as well as a strategic location, to lure folks outside to drink their ale in the fog. But a few establishments across town are proving they can pack them in, especially on sunny afternoons and balmy evenings.
The beer garden concept originated in Southern Germany and developed in the kingdom of Bavaria in the 19th century, during which dark lager beer was predominant. The king’s law dictated that beer could not be brewed during the summer because the fermentation process emanated extreme heat that could cause fires in hot weather. To provide beer during the warm months, large breweries dug cellars in the banks of the River Iskar, and then covered the spots with gravel and shady chestnut trees. Inside these cool cellars the beer was stored, and soon patrons were welcomed inside to sample them. The brewers set up simple tables and benches among the trees, creating popular gathering spots called biergärtens. Some of the proprietors eventually began selling traditional fare such as radi (radish), hax’n (pork knuckle) and steckerlfisch (grilled fish), to accompany their brews.
Today, these open-air spaces are either freestanding or, more likely, attached to a German-style pub or a more Americanized brew pub. They are social spots where folks can enjoy a pint, some casual supper, and one another’s company. Here are four beer gardens that are thriving in San Francisco.
Beer and brats
The German-style restaurant Suppenküche opened Biergarten (424 Octavia Street, www.biergar
tensf.com), in 2011 as part of the Hayes Valley Proxy project, a temporary, two-block commercial and cultural space. The 99-seat alfresco beer garden and eatery enjoys a great location next to trend-setting vendors Ritual coffee and Smitten ice cream.
Open Wednesday through Sunday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., Biergarten is a great people-watching spot that is packed on sunny days. Enjoy one of six rotating German imports on tap, served up in steins by the liter and half-liter, while sitting at an imported Regensburg picnic table. For food, the place offers a slightly modern twist on traditional Bavarian fare, from pretzel-knot sandwiches and potato and beet salad, to beer-poached bratwurst. Or go for the 100-percent grass-fed, half-pound Prather Ranch burger with weekly rotating toppings, a relatively guilt-free way to indulge your hamburger-and-beer craving.
San Francisco treat
Owing its name to the railroad line that ran down Harrison Street in the early 1900s, Southern Pacific Brewing (620 Treat Avenue, 415-341-0152, www.southernpacific
brewing.com) is a Mission district warehouse that’s been converted into an amazingly relaxed and spacious brewpub. Several indoor rooms and a huge, lively outdoor patio are great for people watching and celebrating special events. Brewmaster Andy French offers more than 21 beers on tap, featuring specialties that are house-produced with a 15-barrel brew system, as well as a full bar and creative specialty cocktails.
Head chef Corey Walsh’s beer-inspired pub fare gives the brews a run for their money. Mouth-watering options include a selection of house-cured meats, gourmet pizza, and bar bites like crispy Brussels sprouts and sage fries. But it’s the fine assortment of house beers and the rustic urban décor, featuring high-top chairs by San Francisco-made Ohio Design and a bar built of ancient wood from owner Chris Lawrence’s family barn in Sonoma County that will keep you intrigued and excited.
An outpost of the Rogue Nation chain, Rogue Ales Public House (673 Union Street, 415-362-7880, www.rouge.com) boasts a terrific location across from Washington Square Park. It offers 22 Rogue ales on tap, plus an eclectic selection of guest beers (both draft and bottled), a full bar, and the classic Rogue pub menu with salads, sandwiches, burgers (including Kobe beef), fish and chips, and desserts. Customers rave about the beer flights that allow you to choose your own assortment of brews.
The roomy, brick-walled bar is well laid out and attracts a laid-back crowd with its large TV screens and sports-bar feel. On sunny evenings, the large outdoor beer garden, peppered with cozy picnic tables and fenced in to block the wind, is the real draw for both lively people watching and drinking.
Several consumer magazines have ranked it one of America’s best beer gardens. And with its punk-rock jukebox and its own official cycling team, Mission district favorite Zeitgeist (199 Valencia Street, 415-255-7505, www.zeitgeistsf.com) is an edgier option than other beer-drinking establishments. But it has a lot of other things going for it. It’s open every day from 9 a.m. until 2 a.m. It offers 48 beers on tap, including a sweet assortment of American craft beers. And it’s almost as famous for its spicy, award-winning Bloody Mary.
Zeitgeist’s large, fenced-in outdoor patio has the comfortable feel of a traditional beer garden. It features plentiful seating, quirky murals, wooden picnic tables, and a pretty eucalyptus tree. As for the bar menu, you’ll find not only the usual suspects, like grass-fed burgers and grilled cheese, but also kielbasa and bratwurst, barbecue offerings, and some special treats whenever the legendary “tamale lady” makes an appearance with her cooler of $6 pork, chicken, and vegetarian options.