The Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall in Astoria, Queens, seems unassuming at first glance. It looks like many other New York City bars. At further inspection, it’s so much more.
Inside there is a cozy feel, perhaps amplified by the modest Christmas decorations lining the walls. The bar’s only serving a couple of patrons conversing over a drink.
The bartender recommends a Bernard lager, made by Bernard Brewery, a Czech family brewery founded in 1597. Roman Dejmal, now in his mid 30’s, came to the United States when he was 21. He has no intention of going back home to the Czech Republic where his parents still live. “I like the freedom people have here,” Dejmal said.
He points to the coat of arms of the Czech Republic lining the wall above the entrance. Frames and plaques of Czech beer brands and old artwork decorate the walls.
There’s a large wooden door adjacent to the main entrance that resembles traditional Czech architecture, almost medieval in appearance. The seasonal outside bar is closed during winter months and appears eerie. A performing stage in the heart of the bar’s courtyard now houses a nativity scene for the holiday season.
Down a few steps from the main bar is a floor set up like a casual restaurant, well-lit with a pool table in the corner and a Ms. Pac-Man arcade cabinet next to a juke-box. Playing pool is four people visiting from Santa Cruz, California for the first time. Their friend lives in the area. The group came to the bar upon a recommendation from a friend. The Beer Garden at Bohemia Hall has a strong reputation among locals and non-locals alike.
The Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society of Astoria built the bar in 1910 and added the main hall and outside bar in 1919. Founded in 1892, BCBSA was formed to preserve Czech culture and tradition. During the summer the main hall mostly hosts party events, but tonight there was a gymnastics class for young children. Two women sit at the bar chatting, enjoying a beer while they wait for their kids to get out of the course.
In some ways, the bar could be considered a community center. It is an engaging place to learn about Czech culture and history. Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall is defined by much more than its selection of beers.