Die Koelner Bierhalle: Too Big For Its Own Good

01/16/2013 4:00 AM |

Die Koelner Bierhalle
84 St. Marks Place, Park Slope
3 L’s

Authenticity is tricky. For this massive bar housed in an old warehouse, the gimmick is that it’s a German beer hall, replete with more than 150 German beers on draft and in bottles. Die Koelner is fashioned after the bierhallen in Cologne, Germany, according to the staff, which is surprising given the Bavarian food menu and Oktoberfest-y tent-like interior. But perhaps the owners chose Cologne (or “Köln”) as the bar’s namesake for its vibrant cultural scene steeped in history, wondrous architecture, and artistic endeavor. Maybe that’s why Brooklyn was chosen to house this replica of the Köln experience, as authentic as one can find in the borough.

The bar, which opened roughly four months ago just like the nearby Barclays Center, is on a small residential block, just away from major foot traffic. The unassuming location renders the tall ceilings and vast room of long tables a little hollow-feeling, as it’s hard to fill them up completely. Those not intimidated by the spaciousness tend to sit at the bar, which overlooks a small-theater-sized screen hanging from the ceiling showing sports. The concrete walls are decked out with traditional German motifs, and the bathrooms boast rustic wooden facades. It all looks convincingly old-fashioned for its newness, aside from that screen. And in case you were wondering—the bartenders are not girls with pigtails and bosoms spilling over pinched blouses; they’re just a few guys in normal clothes.

Both beer and food menus are impressive in scope and German authenticity. But their execution leaves you wishing that perhaps they’d get scaled back. The nights I visited, a couple of the draft beers I and my fellow drinkers asked about had run dry. And some of the food options, which include an exhaustive list of German sausages, some sandwiches, and sides like sauerkraut and potato salad, were sold out as well.

The bar prides itself on serving some hard-to-find-outside-of-Germany beers, with some of the drafts not available anywhere else in the US. Highlights include Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, a rich caramel lager from the esteemed Bavarian brewery ($7 for .4 liter), and the Schlenkerla Helles, a unique style from the historic brewpub famed for its rauchbier, or smoked beer ($9 for .5 liter, $17 for 1 liter). There are appropriately a few kolsch-style brews on the menu, the signature style of Cologne: Zunf Kolsch and Sion Kolsch on draft (both $3 for .2 liter, $6 for .4 liter, and $14 for 1 liter), and in bottles, Gaffel Kolsch, Sunner Kolsch and Reisdorff Kolsch, the city’s Bud Lite. The bartenders were kind enough to talk and taste my party through the options, but understandably had some difficulty conveying much experience with the beers beyond their own taste impressions. With more than 100 beers with hundreds of years of history, it’s a lot for a (Brooklyn) bartender to learn. Their mentoring typically ended at, “Tell us what types of beers you usually like, and we’ll find something that fits.”

The Bavarian pretzels with mustard and butter, which come in two sizes, are fitting bar snacks for the communal atmosphere: the larger can be shared between four friends. A swath of pan-German sausages—everything from currywurst to weisswurst and an atypical spicy chicken wurst—come in a roll with sauerkraut. Beyond these beerhall-staples, however, the kitchen is less adept: two options of spaetzle, one with bacon and one with cheese, were so underseasoned that we poured mustard over them. Their impressive size should have been a bonus but instead proved a big disappointment. And that ultimately underscores much of the experience at Die
Koelner Bierhalle.