The U.S. has sports bars. Sports bars are great places to meet up with friends, and they give you lots of choices: beer and football, food and football, just beer, just food, or just football. Plenty of choices.
A beer garden in Munich has less choices. It’s just as it sounds: an outdoor setting where they serve beer in or near a garden. Very large beer in very large and very heavy glasses. A child under age 10 probably couldn’t pick one of these glasses up, even when it’s empty.
There is little chance of getting anything other than beer at a Munich beer garden. There aren’t any other choices. Beer gardens are set up for beer only, and perhaps the rare and occasional giant pretzel. In fact, the selection of beer will likely be very limited, maybe only three different types.
This arrangement leaves room for only drinking and conversation, which ends up being one of the best experiences in Munich.
One of the larger and better known beer gardens in Munich is Englischer Garten (English Garden). Englischer Garden contains the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower), which is a tall pagoda that does not look English at all. You’ll typically find both tourists and locals at Englischer Garten. It is common to see locals in full lederhosen and dirndl here, which will make you a bit jealous that you can’t pull off the traditional German look yourself. Weekends here often include a brass band to make the drinking experience complete.
Another outdoor Garden, the Augustiner Keller, is one of the oldest beer gardens in Munich. It has a bit wider selection of food than just pretzels, but sticks with just the Augustiner beer brand. This place is huge, with seating for about 5,000 folks. Again, beer is served only in huge glasses, which you must grip with a full handshake if you want to maintain control.
Eventually, Munich gets cold and snowy and you need to move indoors for your beer experience. For most new visitors and tourists, that means going to Hofbrauhaus Munchen (Munich). Again, the beer choices are more limited than a U.S. sports bar, but here there are more choices for food and drink when compared to the outdoor gardens.
Hofbrauhaus caters more to the tourist, with a complete gift shop that includes t-shirts and the famous giant beer glasses. However, you’ll find plenty of locals here as well, and often a younger crowd from the nearby university. Seating at Hofbrauhaus consists mostly of long wooden tables in a spacious hall, so you’ll be sitting with some new folks. Don’t worry – the beer makes a great lubricant for conversation. And if that doesn’t work, the house brass band will play a crowd participation anthem every hour. You’ll have most of it memorized by the time you leave.