Unless you've been to other German-style beer (oh, sorry, "bier") establishments, two things will immediately strike you when you enter Die Koelner Bierhalle on St. Marks Place.
First is the size and style of the place. No booths or small tables here, just rows of long wooden benches too big for all but the largest of groups, and seats at the bar.
Second is a list of beers with names that will twist the tongues of all but those fluent in German beer. So while there's nary a Bud, PBR or IPA in sight, you can indulge in a Sion Kölsch, a Schneider Aventinus, or a Schonramer Gold.
Even the bierhalle's name may seem like a bit of a mouthful for some, but the meaning is really quite straightforward.
"It means 'the beer hall from Cologne,'" explained Andre O. Jordan, one of the managers, investors and public faces for the bierhalle.
"One of the managers here was living in Germany for a while, and as he was describing this concept I said, 'I think I can help you there,'" said Jordan.
"At that point I was working in investment banking for one of the major firms, and eventually I decided to resign from my position and came here full-time, just focusing on how best to raise the capital, and also what type of design we wanted to have in here."
"So a bierhalle wasn't something I chose, it kind of chose me."
Jordan said the variety of beers available were chosen to evoke a specific atmosphere first and foremost.
"In Germany, typically a bierhalle will be indigenous to a city or state it resides in. So if you go to Bavaria you'll typically find beers that were only brewed in Bavaria," said Jordan. "Whereas in this bierhalle we do have beers that are brewed in a number of (cities and states) within Germany. So that's why it's more of a Cologne influence."
"Of course it wouldn't be a Cologne influence if we didn't carry Kölsch — Cologne is known for its Kölsch. As such we carry two Kölsch. There's Sion, and Zumf. And those two Kölsches you will not find them on tap anywhere in the states."
Many of the brands chosen had never been exported from their home breweries before, often due to lack of interest on the part of the brewers.
"A lot of the breweries in Germany they, for lack of a better term, they really don't look to make a profit. They do it for the love of their business, and they're proud of what they do."
"However if you are aware of these breweries you can actually, from time-to-time, encourage them to produce extra batches for export. And with exporting there's a number of rules that you have to deal with, so it's not as simple as saying, 'OK, here is some beer and give us it.' They have to put in the keg, they have to store it correctly, they have to make sure it's transported correctly so that it doesn't go bad."
"I believe personally most places would rather take the standard, whatever is there, that is what they will take. We wanted to differentiate ourselves from everyone in terms of being unique. And being unique meant having products that you would not readily find around the corner, the next block, or the next mile or so."
Spacious, yet intimate
Aside from beer and spirit brands not typically available elsewhere, another thing you won't see at Die Koelner Bierhalle are isolated seating areas for small groups.
"It's where you come to meet with friends, family, and all walks of life. It's probably one of the unique traits within a bierhalle that you will speak perhaps to people you have never spoken to."
The long tables both allow large parties to gather, while encouraging them to intermingle and break down social barriers through the shared activities of drinking and simply talking.
And that's also why you won't see a big-screen TV on one of the spacious walls. Jordan said that having a TV in the room, even if it's off, tends to become the focus of attention and distract patrons from each other. While they do have a projector screen for showing playoffs and other major events, it will remain rolled up and hidden most of the time.
"The idea is to bring people together, to have fun. That is what a bierhalle is all about. You're having fun, you're having a great time. And, you know, you lose yourself in that moment," said Jordan.
"It's just washing away whatever that is, whatever may be troubling you at that point in time. You come here to experience something different, or maybe to have another experience of something that you've had in the past."