A Celebration of Beer Gardens Around the World

By Kai Bates – IMCL Urban Design Consultant

A recent report on the Landscape Architects Network about a beautiful pop-up beer garden in Philadelphia and a healthy dose of spring weather got us thinking about all of the wonderful beer gardens we have seen around the world. So, we thought it would be fun to put together a little celebration of beer gardens, including their history, some of the best examples, and what their key design elements and benefits are.

Pop-up beer garden on Broad Street in Philadelphia, PA. Photo: Groundswell Design

Beer Gardens – A Very Brief History

Sometime in the late 18th century, brewers in the southern region of Germany known as Bavaria decided to start to sell beer directly out of the cellars they had built to store beer for the summer months. These cellars were located along the Isar River, primarily in cities like Munich, and were often covered with chestnut trees to keep them cool, creating a nice garden atmosphere. All they had to do was add some benches and tables and the beer garden (Biergarten in German) was born, and it became an instant hit.

Initially, food was served in the beer gardens around Munich, but this was banned by the Bavarian King in 1910. As a result, people were encouraged to bring their own food instead, a practice that is permitted in some beer gardens in Germany to this day.

Beer Gardens – Some Great Examples

Over time, even though the best beer gardens are arguably still in Germany (there are tons of them in Munich alone), they have spread throughout the world. Here are some of the best examples:

The Hirschgarten (1791) in Munich, Germany, is the largest beer garden in the world, providing seating for 8,000 people. Photo: Hirschgarten

 

The Viktualienmarkt (1807) in Munich, Germany, includes a farmer’s market, food stalls, and this beer garden. Photo: Kai Bates

 

The beer garden next to the Chinese Tower (1790 – rebuilt 1952) in Munich’s Englischer Garten seats 7,000 people, making it the second largest in the city. Photo: Kai Bates

 

Every summer, a huge beer garden is setup in Sapporo, Japan’s Odori Park. Photo: MIKI Yoshihito

 

Scholtz Garten (1866) in Austin, TX, is the oldest operating business in the city. Photo: Scout

 

Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden (1910) in Astoria, NY, is the oldest beer garden in New York City. Photo: wallyg

 

The Augustiner Bräu Bräustübl in Salzburg, Austria, is the largest beer garden in Austria, with seats for 1,500 people. Photo: Augustiner Bräu

 

Letna Beer Garden in Prague, Czech Republic, has a fantastic view of Old Town Prague. Photo: Robert Zverina

Beer Gardens – Key Design Elements & Benefits

As you can see from the examples above, beer gardens share a number of interesting design characteristics. Traditionally, beer gardens consisted of rectangular wooden tables and benches sitting in long rows on gravel and shaded by chestnut trees. You never know who you may meet, sitting together with strangers. These beer gardens also often include play areas for children and stages for local folk music bands. In addition, lights are often strung between the trees to illuminate the gardens at night.

Beer gardens are never simply places to drink beer. There is always a choice of hearty local traditional food – in Germany, roast chicken, pork, beef, salads, dumplings, and pretzels satisfy the appetite. More contemporary beer gardens tend to be connected to restaurants and breweries. They often include large umbrellas, a variety of paving materials and ground cover, and various types of seating arranged in a variety of ways. And beer gardens do not have to be big: small beer gardens serving a local population in cities, neighborhoods, and small towns may consist of a shady courtyard, umbrellas, and a handful of tables, benches, and chairs.

Prost! (2009) in Portland, OR, is a good example of small, neighborhood beer garden. Photo: Prost!

Since the creation of a comfortable social atmosphere is key to the success of a beer garden, it is essential that the surrounding area provides an appropriate amount of enclosure either with plantings around the edges or the location of buildings. If buildings are used, they shouldn’t be taller than the width of the beer garden. It is also crucial that shade is provided to enhance comfort. Finally, the beer garden needs to be well-designed and laid out to make sure that it is functional and attractive for everyone.

We hope we shall see more beer gardens appearing in American cities, featuring local micro-brews, local food, local folk music, and each reflecting their own local culture. When a beer garden is designed well, the community reaps the benefits of having a wonderful communal gathering space where people can interact, have fun, and be entertained.