Friday, May 27, 2011

Beer Gardens Everywhere

There are some who thought, prematurely, that 2010 was New York’s summer of the beer garden, what with the World Cup and the opening of a half-dozen outdoor, German-style drinking establishments. But not unlike some genetically altered superweed, these ale-and-oompah joints have continued even this year to crop up everywhere you look. They have grown so thick, so fast, that certain neighborhoods (Astoria in Queens and Williamsburg in Brooklyn come to mind) could, with the proper vantage and the help of several pilsners, be mistaken for Bavaria.

It would seem that last summer’s sprouting of beer gardens is about to turn into this summer’s beer garden jungle.

There are now no fewer than 54 beer gardens in the city, according to Beer Gardens NYC, a nine-month-old iPhone application dedicated to tracking the phenomenon, and that does not include some that have been announced but are not yet open.

There are classic beer gardens (Hallo Berlin), hipster beer gardens (Radegast Hall), beer gardens catering to frat boys (Studio Square) and a beer garden in a former Brooklyn auto-body shop (Mission Dolores). There are also temporary beer gardens, like the one that Colicchio & Sons plans to run this summer on the High Line in Chelsea, and another that will soon supplant the riverside bar at the South Street Seaport’s Water Taxi Beach.

Beer gardens have achieved such cultural ascendancy that even grand masters are getting into the act. Recently, Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali announced the opening of La Birreria, an outdoor Italian-style drinking establishment, on the roof of Eataly, their Italian food megamall on 23rd Street. The beer garden offers an Alps-influenced menu and craft beers seasoned with fresh thyme picked, by hand, from the hills outside Rome.

All of which demands a question: How many beer gardens can one city — even a fiercely pro-beer-garden city like New York — possibly have?

“Basically, this is too much,” said Larry Spacek, manager of the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden in Astoria, the 100-year-old paterfamilias of the New York beer garden world. “Everybody sees our success and is copycatting us. I don’t know if it is progress, but probably we are reaching an era of beer gardens.”

According to Mr. Spacek — he pronounces his name SPAH-check (“I am not related to Sissy”) — a successful beer garden requires both the beer and the garden, and if there also happen to be bratwurst, schnitzels and enough communal tables to, as he put it, “sit around with 600 other fellows singing karaoke,” that’s all to the good. The problem, he suggested, resides with those beer gardens lacking foliage. It is true, he acknowledged, that some of these less-than-green newcomers have cut into the Bohemian Hall’s business. “But sooner or later,” he said, “the fact that we are in a real park, with real trees, will bring people back. This is very important.”

Michael Momm, meanwhile, who helped open Zum Schneider on Avenue C in 2000 and now owns two Loreley beer gardens (one in Brooklyn, the other on the Lower East Side), claimed to be unbothered by the current beer-garden glut, competition being the natural outgrowth of capitalism. Mr. Momm said, somewhat shockingly, that in the recent past some of his rivals have spied on his establishments (“We’ve had people come in, talking to the staff, like where did you get your furniture and so forth”). But he chalked this up to the constant search for a tactical advantage in the dog-eat-dog beer garden trade.

“That’s how it goes,” he said. “I don’t necessarily see it as a threat.”

It is difficult to trace the precise genealogy of the city’s beer gardens — the first of which was said to be Castle Garden, which opened on July 3, 1824, in a former Army fort in Manhattan’s Battery Park. (It later preceded Ellis Island as New York’s primary immigrant processing center.) In the early 20th century, German sections of the city —Yorkville on the Upper East Side, for one — had several beer gardens, but they eventually suffered from anti-Teutonic sentiment during the two world wars.

Of the city’s extant beer gardens, the Bohemian Hall, owned and operated by the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society of Astoria, stands in a class by itself. Under it are the middle-aged beer gardens: Hallo Berlin on 10th Avenue (“New York’s wurst restaurant”); Killmeyer’s on Arthur Kill Road in Staten Island (sauerbraten, 57 different bottles of German beer); and Zum Schneider (fake trees, pretzels, St. Pauli Girl waitresses). Then, of course, there are the arrivistes: places like Berry Park in Williamsburg, with its D.J. booth and Tuesday night poker games, and Studio Square in Astoria, with — Was ist das? — sushi and panko-crusted chicken schnitzel fingers.

There is no doubt, however, that Mr. Batali’s La Birreria — which, its brew master said, will be the first beer garden in America to employ firkins, nine-gallon, old-English-style carbonation casks — represents the epitome of an increasingly baroque, gourmetized trend. One of its ales will be bolstered by ground Italian chestnut powder. Talk of the establishment is said to have begun six years ago at a “slow food” conference in Turin. “I hear beer garden and it connotes oompah bands and picnic tables,” said the brew master, Sam Castiglione, the founder of the Dogfish Head brewery. “But La Birreria will be a place for super-rustic, unfiltered, naturally carbonated beers accompanied by super-rustic, fresh-ingredient, Alps-inspired food.” Not to mention, he added, “The view is just epic.”

How did this come to pass?

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that New York’s drinking zeitgeist has passed, in succession, from the Belle Epoque-ish wine bar to the pre-crash Jazz Age cocktail lounge, to the Weimar-flavored biergarten, with its whiffs of hyperinflation and the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Of course, it is also true that people like beer and will tend to drink it in large amounts, while sitting outside at long, communal tables in the sun.

“It’s a recession-friendly outing,” said Hope Tarr, who runs Beer Gardens NYC with her partner, Raj Moorjani. “If you take a date out in Park Slope or Manhattan, even to a modest restaurant, it’s a not inconsequential amount of money. But at a beer garden, you can get good beer for two to three dollars and, once the season starts, most have a grill menu, too. There’s probably still room for the market to grow. I don’t think we’ve reached the saturation point.”

That may seem like a difficult draft to swallow when — aside from the 8,000 square feet La Birreria takes up and the 3,500 square feet occupied by Bierhaus NYC near Grand Central Terminal and the 6,000 square feet currently consumed by Spritzenhaus, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn — there is Local West, another 6,000-square-footer, which will open next month at 1 Penn Plaza, near Madison Square Garden.

“People think that if they do this, they can get success,” Mr. Spacek said. “But they forget: It is not just about big wood benches and selling beer. It is about the environment you create — and how you feel.”

US put pressure on Saudi Arabia to let women drive, leaked cables reveal

The Obama administration has been quietly putting pressure on Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive, according to leaked US embassy cables. But the jailing of a woman protester, Manal al-Sharif, after she posted online a video of herself at the wheel of a car in Khobar reveals the extent of the US diplomatic failure.

The cables, part of the treasure trove allegedly given to WikiLeaks by the US soldier Bradley Manning, reveal previously unreported clashes over women's rights.

Dispatches from Riyadh describe Saudi Arabia as "the world's largest women's prison". Those words are a quote from Wajeha al-Huwaider, a female campaigner with whom US diplomats have been in contact. She posted a video on YouTube in 2008 of herself driving. Claiming millions of Saudi women were prisoners in their homes, she challenged male control over work and travel.

She regularly tried to take a taxi to neighbouring Bahrain. According to the cables, "al-Huwaider is divorced which means under Saudi law her ex-husband or her father or a brother would need to give her permission to leave the country. Although she holds a valid passport, every time she tries to leave ... she is stopped at the border to Bahrain and turned around."

The billionaire tycoon Prince Waleed, a Saudi royal, assured a visiting Democratic congressman in July 2009 that King Abdullah did support women's rights, the embassy noted optimistically. The driving ban was reportedly about to be overturned.

Speaking at his 99-storey Kingdom Tower in Riyadh, Waleed said the ban was merely a "demeaning" tribal custom and that he "relished relating his run-ins with the kingdom's religious conservatives. He was involved with the first public showings of films in the kingdom in many years. His wife has openly requested that women be allowed to drive. He supports French president Sarkozy's campaign against women wearing coverings hiding their faces."

Abdullah appointed the country's first woman deputy minister in 2009 and opened "with much fanfare" a mixed-sex science university, in front of foreign dignitaries including Prince Andrew.

The embassy noted approvingly "several subtle, symbolic gestures ... Saudi men and women, many of whom did not wear the face-covering niqab, mingled freely with international attendees throughout the ceremony. Male and female students stood side by side on stage for an emotive reading of a poem. The ceremony was interspaced with a movie showing (uncovered) young girls and boys studying together."

But there was an immediate backlash. Saad Nasser al-Shithri, a cleric from the council of senior scholars, appeared on the Saudi religious TV channel to defy the king. He denounced "mixing of the sexes" and "the teaching of deviant ideas such as evolution".

Abdullah was forced to sack him, but embassy contacts warned privately that Shithri was being regarded as a hero by unemployed young Saudis, who resented foreign students getting advantages, and by reactionary clerics, who feared a plot to impose western values.

Another cleric, Sheikh Salman al-Duwaysh, publicly attacked "mixing with women on the basis of claiming to educate them and to open the field for them to undertake jobs for which they were not created". He said such women had "abandoned their basic duties such as housekeeping, bringing up children ... and replaced this by beautifying themselves and wantonness".

The embassy was refused consent for a US "rhythm and oratory duo" called Teasley and Williams to play to a mixed audience at the university.

But the duo did appear at the Riyadh literary society before "an unprecedented mixed-gender audience (mixed by Saudi standards – the handful of women who attended sat in a screened-off block of seats across the aisle from the men). Nonetheless, the fact that women were even invited to a musical performance with men in Riyadh is remarkable".

Obama's envoy, Richard Erdman, privately scolded Saudi ministers to little effect. He "pointedly" told the notoriously reactionary interior minister, Prince Naif, that "no nation could prosper without the intellectual contributions and talent of all its citizens ... (ie women)". He said the same to the deputy foreign minister, who responded wryly that "customs were a hard nut to crack".

In a dispatch headed "Women need not apply", US diplomats recorded that US-educated Prince Mansur, the minister of municipal affairs, firmly rejected the notion that political development required the participation of women, saying issues such as women driving were "not fundamental to our society".

According to the US diplomats, the driving ban is in fact something of a charade which "dates from a 1991 fatwa issued by the late grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Baz. The grand mufti claimed that allowing women to drive would result in public 'mixing' of men and women, put women into dangerous situations because they could be alone in cars, and therefore result in social chaos."

The cable continued: "Women drive anyway: there are, in fact, many instances in which Saudi women defy the prohibition.

"Women drive on private property such as desert farms or residential compounds beyond reach of police.

"Embassy contacts and media report that in rural areas women routinely drive out of necessity, without being stopped.

Tension Marks Clinton’s Visit to Pakistan


Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Pakistan on Friday in what officials described as an effort to measure Pakistan’s commitment to fighting Islamic extremism after the killing of Osama bin Laden badly strained relations with the United States. It did not appear to go well.

The atmosphere of her initial meetings — visibly frosty — underscored the tensions between the two countries, which have threatened to lurch into open confrontation since Navy Seals found and killed Bin Laden on May 2 in a military garrison town only 35 miles from here. Mrs. Clinton, the highest ranking American official to visit Pakistan, was joined by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who arrived separately as part of a carefully orchestrated diplomatic encounter.

In contrast to the usual diplomatic pleasantries, however, Mrs. Clinton and Admiral Mullen appeared awkward and unsmiling at a meeting in the presidential palace with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the chief of the Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Otherwise the officials did not appear together or make a joint statement, and Mr. Zardari’s office limited access of journalists traveling with Mrs. Clinton even to the photo opportunity and did not allow it to be recorded.

In brief remarks directed at Mr. Zardari, Mrs. Clinton said the Obama administration recognized “the sacrifice that is made every single day by the men and women of your military and the citizens of your country,” according to a video of the encounter. Mr. Zardari’s response was inaudible because his staff had barred microphones.

Mrs. Clinton and Admiral Mullen appeared later at the American Embassy with no Pakistanis present and addressed the stress in the relationship. She joked about tense opening of the talks but made it clear in her remarks that the conversations were sharp.

“There is always a lot to talk about but this was an especially important meeting because we have reached a turning point. Osama bin Laden is dead but Al Qaeda and its syndicate of terror remain a threat to us both,” Mrs. Clinton said. She said the Pakistanis had agreed on “some very specific actions” they will take alone and with the United States but she did not elaborate.

“We both recognize that there is still much more work required and it is urgent,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton and Admiral Mullen referred to the recent strains but emphasized that Friday’s talks were frank and constructive. Admiral Mullen acknowledged that trust between the two nations’ militaries “still needs to be rebuilt” but said it was in the interest of both countries to work together.

“Now is not the time for retreat or for recrimination. Now is the time for action and closer cooperation, not less,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton and other officials have said there was no evidence that Pakistan’s senior civilian and military leaders knew Bin Laden was hiding for years in Abbottobad, the garrison town north of here. But they have vowed to press Pakistan to investigate whether any other lower-level officials were complicit in his ability to elude detection and for reassurances of a shared commitment to fighting extremist groups resident in Pakistan.

“We do have a set of expectations that we are looking for the Pakistani government to meet,” Mrs. Clinton said in Paris on Thursday before flying here overnight. When pressed, she added that those expectations involved issues “across the board.”

Mrs. Clinton postponed a visit to Pakistan earlier this month as the Obama administration gauged Pakistan’s reactions to the raid, which a senior administration official traveling with her noted created “a real risk of precipitous action.” Her visit with Admiral Mullen was unannounced because of security concerns, and lasted only a matter of hours.

In addition to a flurry of anti-American statements from senior government officials, Pakistan has taken deliberate steps to undercut security cooperation since Bin Laden’s death. Those steps included leaking the name of the station chief of the Central Intelligence Agency here and asking the Pentagon to withdraw some of the military advisers who have worked with the country’s security forces for years.

At the same time, though, the Pakistanis agreed to allow the C.I.A. to scour the walled compound where Bin Laden hid and to interview the wives who lived there with him. The military also returned the wreckage of the helicopter that the Seals destroyed after it crashed during the raid. “We’ve had some positive actions,” a second senior administration aboard the secretary’s plane said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mrs. Clinton clearly hoped the meeting would be a step toward mending the relationship. In Paris on Thursday, she stressed the enduring importance of close cooperation with the Pakistanis in the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. She said it was in the national interest of the United States to have “a comprehensive, long-term partnership” with Pakistan.

“There have been times we’ve had disagreements; there have been times when we’ve wanted them to push harder and for various reasons they have not,” she said at a news conference in Paris.

“Those differences are real,” she went on. “They will continue. But the fact of the matter is the international community has been able to kill more terrorists on Pakistani soil than any other place in the world. We could not have done that without Pakistani cooperation.”

The raid that killed Bin Laden, however, was so secretive that American officials did not notify Pakistan’s leaders in advance, which many in Pakistan have viewed as an affront to the country’s sovereignty and pride.

“They had no idea we could or we would do what we did,” the second senior administration official said. “That has changed their perspective in ways that we’re still evaluating and they’re still trying to come to grips with.”

The political fury over the raid has lingered in both countries.

Lawmakers here have called for a re-evaluation of ties with the United States, even as legislators in Washington — and some administration officials — have called for reconsidering the billions of dollars in economic and security aid the United States has given Pakistan annually since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“There are a lot of important choices that have to be made,” another administration official said. “The Pakistanis really have to make decisions themselves about what kind of country they want to live in.”

US, Pakistan need to redouble efforts to counter terrorism: Clinton

Acknowledging Pakistan’s sacrifices the United States said on Friday that both the countries needed to “redouble efforts” to counter extremism and terrorism. Terming the “al-Qaida syndicate” still a threat after the killing of its leader Osama bin Laden, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “The United States and Pakistan have worked together to kill and capture many terrorists on the Pakistani soil.” She said it could not have been possible without the close cooperation between the two governments.
Secretary Clinton, who was on a day-long whirlwind trip to Pakistan following the May 2 military operation by the US troops to kill the top al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, also acknowledged the sacrifices the country had made in the “war against terror.”
“No nation has suffered more than the Pakistanis,” said Secretary Clinton, who was flanked by Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.
The two were talking to newsmen at the US Embassy here at the end of meetings with the top Pakistani civil and military leadership.
She assured full support of the United States to Pakistan in “the long haul”.
“We will continue to support Pakistan’s sovereignty, civilian elected government and its people, ... but Pakistan has to solve its problems itself,” she said.
She said her country desired a strong, democratic and stable Pakistan but pointed out that it was important for the people of Pakistan to choose what type of country they wish to live in. “Hard choices” need to be made for a better future, she added.
“We have to disrupt, dismantle, defeat and destroy al-Qaeda from Pakistan and the region.”
“We will do our part and look to Pakistan for decisive steps in the days ahead,” Secretary Clinton said.