A touch of Germany at Downtown’s Der Biergarten
As a member of the German Navy and a NATO employee, Wolfgang Hartert traveled the world, but no matter where he was living, he would say to his wife, Laura, “Now what we really need here is a German restaurant.” But it was a voyage to the North Pole that that led Hartert to enter the restaurant business in Atlanta.
During a stop in Oslo, Norway, Hartert encountered four Chinese men struggling to read the signs at the train station. He gave the men directions and realized they were traveling on the same ship. Over the course of a 30-day voyage, their friendship developed, and it was one of these men who would introduce Hartert to David Marvin of Legacy Restaurant Partners. Hartert remembers, “I told him, ‘I’m from Atlanta,’ and he said, ‘I know many good people in Atlanta’, like David Marvin.”
Not long after Hartert was introduced to Marvin, “the Chinese, the Americans, and the Germans” traveled from South to North Germany in a hired mini-van. On the last day of their trip, Marvin and Hartert discussed becoming business partners. In 2010, they opened Der Biergarten in Downtown’s Luckie Marietta District.
The sense of international partnership that contributed to their friendship has carried over to the restaurant’s policies. Management aims to have a staff that speaks a combined five languages to accommodate Downtown’s large volume of international visitors.
Recognized by delish.com as one of the top ten biergartens in the country, Der Biergarten is Atlanta’s only authentic German restaurant based on the traditions of 19th century Bavarian biergartens. Historically, they developed as a practical way to keep beer cool during the summer months. Bavarian breweries dug beer cellars in the banks of the Rivar Isar, covered them with gravel and planted chestnut trees for shade. Simple tables and benches were set up and these beer gardens became popular venues for the residents of Munich to buy beer and find shade.
“Firm tables, good food, good German beer . . . and benches, so we attract groups of people . . . not too big, not too expensive,” is how Hartert describes what he originally had in mind for the restaurant.
The menu offers an array of authentic dishes including German meats, cheeses, and appetizers. Items such as potato pancakes served with warm applesauce, giant pretzels, and brats are perfect snacks for beer drinkers, while wiener schnitzel, spaetzle, and jager schnitzel will satisfy German food enthusiasts. Der Biergarten strives to maintain authenticity, which includes baking their pretzels fresh from dough that arrives by airplane from Germany and purchasing meat and bread from local German vendors. The schweinshaxe, which is a large, smoked pork knuckle, must be smoked for five hours before it is ready to serve, and is a menu item sells out nearly every night.
While Hartert did not compromise on authenticity with the food, he allowed some American influences into the bar areas. “The TVs. I was totally against TVs. Then we compromised… No sound. They told me, Wofgang, you cannot open a restaurant without TVs.”
He also made a compromise with the music, understanding that most patrons do not want to hear “oompa-pa music” all of the time. A blend of Bavarian and popular American music streams through speakers, but occasionally live German bands are hired to perform on the patio.
The restaurant is divided into sections that separate the bar from a formal dining area, with a few tables of foosball and shuffleboard in-between. Seating in the bar area is exclusively at long picnic tables that encourage patrons to socialize with each other. Large flat screens, with the volume turned off and the sub-titles turned on, hang in the bar and patio areas. A vivid mural depicts a traditional Bavarian landscape, and glass garage doors open to connect the bar with an outdoor patio that offers a rooftop view of Marietta Street. The Bavarian mural and wooden picnic tables are unique commissions from local artisans.
During our interview, Hartert emphasizes the good work of Der Biergarten employees. He is proud to have a passionate staff and “brilliant management” with low employee turnover. The majority of Der Biergarten’s employees have been working there since the opening and are very knowledgeable about the food and beverage menu. One part-time waiter voluntarily purchased his own authentic lederhosen to wear, and he has visited all of the German brew houses from which the restaurant’s beer is purchased.
On Saturday, May 19, Der Biergarten will become the first venue in Atlanta to offer Bitburger beer on draft. Bitburger is Germany’s top-selling beer and has only recently become available in America. They will be celebrating from noon to midnight with $8 liters, a live DJ and patio games.
The addition of Bitburger brings the beer menu up to 19 drafts, with many more in bottles. Selections include a range of lagers, pilsners, and wheats, including Weihenstephner, Hacker-Pschorr, Krombacher, Spaten, and Warsteiner, available by the liter or ½ liter pour. For only $15, regulars can join the Stein Club, which provides members with a boot-shaped stein mug, discounted re-fills at every visit and exclusive member events.
Summer is the ideal time of year to experience the German tradition at Der Biergarten and sample brews that you won’t find anywhere else in Atlanta.
For more information about Der Biergarten and its upcoming events, visit Derbiergarten.com.