On a Friday night, Gottscheer Hall is popping.
The over-90-year-old establishment has bore the storm of two world wars and the construction of multiple condos with the ease of Moby Dick, apathetic to Ahab. Announcing itself with a nondescript awning at the crest of Fairview Avenue, it feels older than time; there may well be ivy wrapped arounds its bliss-white bricks.
Google has saw fit to honor this history by labeling the location a “longtime taproom with German bar bites,” but this does the work of its busy kitchen a disservice. There is a one-page menu packed to the margins: you can order a plate of pierogies that quiver in your mouth, brats surrounded by a stew of sauerkraut and potato salad.
The pretzels are probably the most famous of these offerings—a large and indigestible replica hangs over the bar—and they are baked with leisurely warmth and taste as soft and loving as bread. Other bar bites worth considering include their potato pancakes—large, rich and somehow both soft and crunchy at once and which come with a cup of applesauce—and, this month, a kind of krainerwurst-stuffed egg roll, a lively bit of experimentation that you’ll soon wish they sold on street carts. Dishes feel casually put together, the egg roll feels especially like a combination thought of at the last moment, but the time they take to arrive attests to the unseen touch of quality and the performance of a skill attuned over collective lifetimes.
Pleasing also is the presence of Schöfferhofer on tap, a kind of low-alcohol, grapefruit-flavored beer from Germany. It tastes like Fanta mixed with cough syrup and more bars should have it because its pleasing strangeness is miles more interesting than the most bitter IPA you’ve ever tasted. The more adventurous can ask for a shot of Kleiner Feigling, a brand of fizzy fig liquor that comes in a 20-millimeter bottle that Gottscheer’s bartender will instruct you to stamp on the bar table before tearing it open, which makes the lid almost bubble off. She also mentions that more than one prior customer has kept the bottle to store an apartment’s struggling succulents.
This month is October, which means Oktober for some, which means there is a contest happening in one of the bar’s massive backs rooms where a large smiling crowd attempt to hold the stems of their 1-liter beer steins for as long as they can. Joe Morscher, one of the bar’s managers and the longtime referee of the contest, says he can tell the newbies from the seasoned professionals, the ones who do this every year and who know to turn away from and ignore their unsteady hands. The celebrations will continue next Friday, where lederhosen will most likely be worn and those attending will enjoy a performance by Marty G and the G Men, a band of three whose “vocal talents have been compared to some of the great groups of the 50’s and 60’s.”
There is an upstairs as well, which at least one writer for the Gothamist claims is haunted (Morscher denies this), and back room which has more recently become home to the Gott Market. It just resumed holding its monthly bazar of vintage clothing, crafts, soaps and assorted kitsch this month. The next occurs November 18th.
Like the songs of Marty G, Gottscheer is a hall outside of history, a lunch counter rolled inside the space of a tavern. The choices of the nearby jukebox jostle in between “Born to Run” and “Come Together.” The hard binaries of how a bar should look and feel—beer or cocktail, dive or “dive”— feel like foreign inventions. Nothing changes, and yet. A while back Gottscheer had become something a hipster totem, a signifier for how far and deep the reach of Williamsburg’s shadow had become.
The articles about the Hall during this time are a quiet and contemplative literature of the early 2010s, populated by shrugging yuppies telling local websites things like “I guess you could say I’m being a cultural tourist” while eating sausage. The wall of photographs, of pale women adorned with Miss Gottscheer sashes, became vintage store kitschy and business nervously boomed.
And yet. The unchanging presence of Gottscheer Hall is a stabilizing beacon to those city newcomers who have managed to no longer feel so new and suddenly it becomes a reminder that the room you grew up in will remain there when you fly back for the holidays. It is memory, it is a home, the people feel nicer and less nervous about existing.
Cover photo courtesy of Yelp