On January 18 my people sounded the Alpine horns of calling from Hofbrauhaus in Rosemont and I answered to sit at the front table and celebrate their sixth anniversary in the style I am accustomed to: surrounded by waitresses in their dirndls, their fists filled with litre steins of dark German bier; men in lederhosen in the deadly reticulation of baby brass tubas marching to the keg; with my own hands holding a giant pretzel, standing on a bench with 500 other people scream singing ZIGGY ZIGGY ZIGGY ZIGGY OI OI OI!
I am not German. My people are stoop-backed miners and landed gentry from the Welsh countryside all the way back to before Shakespeare was a thing. But the Welsh aren’t the people I’m talking about when I say my people. My people are the joyfully inebriated customers at the Hofbrauhaus, my favorite bar.
Now, look, I have a lot of favorite bars. I know I’ve claimed other bars as my favorite so let’s set the record straight: I have categories, alright? I have a favorite dive bar, a favorite upscale snooty lounge, a favorite Irish pub, and favorites in fifty other categories. Hofbrauhaus is the king of the German Bier Hall category and I love it with all my heart.
At some point, the band was between songs and the crowd was all filling their maws with pork sausages and it got quiet for a moment and the room felt suddenly like it was poised, like it was waiting for something and that’s when I saw the German Nick Offerman standing there somehow making lederhosen and a terrible fedora look tough. He was in full beardish splendor staring into the crowd like a grizzled soldier thinking, “You people, you’re not Germaning enough. See this table? I’m going to carve it into a canoe.” I just knew his German dad joke game would be Shatnerian. I was tempted to ask him if he liked woodwork, knowing he’d stare deep into my soul for a full thirty seconds before saying “A whittle bit.”
Then, deep into my third or seventh or millionth liter of bier, I was listening to the band and the drummer hit a murky tone and the accordion player played some kind of minor 9th as the air went out of his instrument and it sounded like Brian Eno on valium and I thought, oh no, this all about to go emo. Then their leader leaps up onto a table, walks its length to jump the gap on a another table nearly in the middle of the hall. He launches into a tune so brightly, mechanically, relentless Germanic its like those terrifying clocktower dolls in Berlin came to life and snorted a gram of good Columbian espresso.
I can’t think of a better supper than their fried pork shank which has a German name so long I can’t type it here. I love their giant pretzels and selection of cheese dip and liverwurst schmear and mustards.
But more than anything else, I love the sheer unbridled goofy mania of the Hofbrauhaus. I love their house band of middle-aged dad rockers in short pants and suspenders somehow getting 500 strangers to lock arms and sing along with classic German bier hall barn burners. I absolutely adore it when they break out of the Germanic song list into their American set: Star Spangled Banner into John Denver into Johnny Cash into Billy Joel. But what brings me back is the raucous full-throated Bohemian-Rhapsody-stadium-crowd-singing-level power of Sweet Caroline. As cranky and curmudgeonly as I am, the opening piano of this song and the resultant cheers of pure enthusiasm from the entire restaurant fill my heart with joy and I stand up on the bench with everyone else and I scream out “Sweet Caroline Buh Buh Buh!” and all is right in the world.