The third Saturday of September marks the beginning of Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer-drinking festival and celebration which has a history dating back more than 200 years to the first event 1810. While Oktoberfest celebrations take place worldwide, few can compare to the original celebration hosted in Munich, which continues to draw the largest Oktoberfest crowds—around 7 million visitors per year. Luckily for New Yorkers, one need not buy a plane ticket to Germany (just yet), as Munich comes to the East River every year.
Oktoberfest events celebrated in New York are often cheesy and cheap; beer halls and German bars, cruise lines and other “wanna be” Oktoberfest events, serve bland tasting beers in plastic cups to be drank in tents as cheap as the Party City lederhosen that visitors wear. For many, Oktoberfest is simply about drinking beer. Mediocre mainstream brews have made their way to these beer halls. Throw in a few stale pretzels, sausages and a fake Dirndl purchased at the Halloween store, and there you have it.
Since 2013, Zum Schneider’s Munich on the East River has brought an Oktoberfest party that goes far beyond the basics of beer, bratwurst, and pretzels. Situated right on the water, the annual party, which will return for its fourth year from September 29 to October 8th, is no watered down affair. At the extravagant tent situated at the Solar One space on the East River, families gather early on the weekends and share Wiesn-Hendl (rotisserie chicken) and Schweinshaxn (crispy pork shank), and other traditional Bavarian plates. Bartenders pour liters from Zum Schneider’s exclusive beers such as Andechs and Hofbräuhaus Traunstein, as well as Weihenstephan, the oldest brewery in the world. A prominently German waitstaff, clad in traditional Oktoberfest garb to match, lug huge Maßkrüge (liter steins) of beer to guests throughout the day, sometimes carrying as many as twelve at once—for efficiency, of course. Live sets of Volksmusik ring throughout the two-block span of the tent grounds, which will include a new outdoor beer garden. As the sun begins to set and the heavy beer drinking continues, the daytime gathering turns into an evening party.
Schneider’s Oktoberfest is driven by tradition, and prides itself on maintaining the accuracy and authenticity of the celebration. At Munich on the East River, there are unspoken rules ingrained into the celebration: no fake Dirndl or Lederhosen, music that includes only polka, waltz and Wiesn hits (modern Oktoberfest hits), and—perhaps most importantly—nobody drinks from anything less than a liter of beer in the traditional Maßkrug. Smaller sizes aren’t sold at Munich on the East River, as is practice in Munich itself.
Aesthetically, it is hard to find a more accurate replica, either. The tent is designed to look just like the tents on the grounds of Munich’s Theresienwiese built by the famous breweries throughout Bavaria. Angela Wendt, a Munich-born set and costume designer, who reached fame for her work in productions of award-winning musical Rent, heads the decoration, using furniture, flags and flourishments imported from Germany.
Sylvester Schneider, a native Bavarian and the owner and mastermind behind the festival, curates the event with all the original traditional celebrations found in Munich which he took part in since he was a child for decades. Sylvester takes the stage as Mösl Franzi, his musical alter ego and the leader of the Ja Ja Ja’s, playing polka and oompah music all day and night. Tradition is nothing new to him—for over seventeen years now, he has led the ship that is Zum Schneider, celebrating Oktoberfest in Alphabet City long before the tent came to the East River. In opening Zum Schneider, Sylvester introduced a new wave of German culture in New York, sparking the popularity and rise of so many beer gardens and halls in the city.
With such great history, so too comes authenticity, and it is unsurprising that so many of the guests who come are German natives and Munich Oktoberfest veterans themselves. They know that outside of this celebration, nothing comes close to the real thing in New York. Being dedicated is the key to success, as Sylvester and his entire team take the tent very seriously, dedicating months of their time in preparation and work. To the people at Zum Schneider—some of whom have worked side-by-side with Sylvester as long as the restaurant has been open—Oktoberfest is the heart and soul of what they do: the celebration is the result of decades of love, fun and dedication, resulting in a high-quality product that avoids the cheesiness and superficiality that other occasions fall victim to.
Zum Schneider returns to the East River on Friday, September 29th through October 8, 2017. Tickets are available starting at $10 for General Admission, as well as a VIP area that runs throughout the festival’s two week run.