The only Paulaner Bräuhaus in the western hemisphere recently landed in New York City. It occupies a building on the Bowery that once housed Sammy's Bowery Follies, a raucous spot known for its cabaret show.
In proper beer hall fashion, the place is generously oversized, with a cavernous bar area flanking a dining room of school-cafeteria proportions. "Bräuhaus," if my limited German serves me, tells us that the draught beers are brewed on the premises. (The massive fermentation tanks are another clue.) Recently I snatched a seat at the bar to soak up as much Gemütlichkeit as I could get. And some beer, too.
One thing you'll notice right away at the Paulaner Bräuhaus is that these Germans like to keep their bars on the bright side. The bartop itself, easily the length of a bowling alley, is dressed in light brown wood and punctuated by elaborate copper tap stations. The lighting is fairly cranked, leading to an ambiance that can be a little jarring at first but gets cheerier as you settle in.
Three beers are currently on tap: a lager, a hefeweizen, and a dark. A winter bock, coming soon, will add a fourth option. The lager (half liter $9) is mild and approachable, a beer you can easily stick with for your entire evening. The benefits of on-site brewing seem to really shine through in the lager; it tastes noticeably fresh. It possesses almost no bitter bite, just a sweet aroma and a clean finish. Paulaner's lager ages for 20 days and is left unfiltered, hence the hazy appearance. These are by no means challenging suds, nor are they meant to be. In that sense, the limited selection and honest, uncomplicated flavors are pretty refreshing.
The bartender who served me was delightful and attentive, quick with a smile and a sample of beer. For a snack, she steered me toward the currywurst ($11), consisting of a Schaller & Weber sausage on a bed of French fries, drizzled with curry ketchup.
The pork sausage had a peppery seasoning that reminded me of meatloaf. I wish it had been a little punchier. The crispy, well-salted fries made up for it, though. So did the bright, tangy curry sauce. You may as well ask for extra when you place your order.
After sampling the hefeweizen and picking up on a soapy taste, I opted next for the Paulaner dark (half liter $9). Even if you're normally averse to dark beers, this one is worth a try. Aged 30 days, it's much lighter on the palate than you might expect—more caramel candy than rich chocolate bar.
The beer hall was fairly subdued on my visit, and only a handful of bar stools were occupied. It was oddly peaceful—a sharp departure from the full-tilt polka-paloozas I recall from my travels through Munich's famous communal-drinking dens. So at least for now, the Paulaner Bräuhaus is an appealing outlier for the Bowery: friendly, accessible, and decidedly un-hip but okay with that.
About the Author: Roger Kamholz is a food journalist living in New York City. Before moving to NYC he covered the Chicago food and drinks scene for four years. In addition to Serious Eats, Roger's writing and photography has appeared in TimeOut Chicago, Refinery 29, Grub Street, and Chicagoist. Check out more of his work at rogerkamholz.com.