Before we get down to drinking, a little history: In the early 19th century, Bavarians fermented their beer in barrels in giant cellars. To keep those vats of liquid gold cold during the summer months, the cellars were covered with gravel and shady trees -- and with the addition of a few benches, the grounds became the perfect spot to drink the libations that were brewed on site. By those standards, none of the so-called beer gardens in the city really qualifies. But since they're one of the best places to while away a summer afternoon, we're willing to bend the rules a little bit. Here's where to go.
The granddaddy, of course, is Astoria's 102-year-old Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden (29-19 24th Ave.), the last remaining beer garden from a time when there were hundreds of Central European-style halls around the city. Grab a seat at a communal table in the shady yard for Czech beer and grilled kielbasa. Nearby, Studio Square (35-33 36th St.) offers a more modern garden with live music, pitchers of beer, pretzels and all manner of fried snacks. Up in the Bronx, Nicky's BBQ & Beer Garden (3392 E. Tremont Ave.) has an outdoor barbecue pit and a 200-inch projector screen showing movies and sports.
Williamsburg's Radegast Hall & Biergarten (113 N. 3rd St.), with a roof that closes in inclement weather, offers a baker's dozen beers on tap. Through the modern front room of Greenpoint's TBD (224 Franklin St.) is a surprisingly charming, rocky beer garden. Stop by when the grill is fired for burgers and grilled corn. After a day at the Brooklyn Museum, cool off in the spacious backyard of Franklin Park (618 St. John's Place). In Park Slope, Mission Dolores (249 4th Ave.), a bar made mostly of reclaimed materials, offers an open courtyard and an ever-changing selection of obscure craft beers. On Staten Island, try Killmeyer's Old Bavaria Inn's (4254 Kill Arthur Rd.) pig roast BBQ ($30 or $45 with an open bar) in the beer garden or grab a seat in the main room, which dates back to the 1800s.
In Manhattan, Cologne-style beer hall Loreley Restaurant & Biergarden (7 Rivington St.) serves German beers in a suitably chic Lower East Side environment. Along with their selection of sausages, unconventional menu items include wurst kebabs and wurst tacos with spicy guacamole. La Birreria (200 Fifth Ave.) actually brews beer on site and offers cask ale: unfiltered, unpasturized beers served hand-pumped at room temperature. Not to be left out, Jersey City has its own beer garden, Zeppelin Hall (88 Liberty View Dr.), with a backyard, beer flights (four five-ounce tasters) and a rollicking Oktoberfest band on Saturday nights. And a quick ferry ride away, the Water Taxi Beach (1 Carder Rd.) on Governor's Island offers New York state beers and a sandy lawn with views of lower Manhattan. Beekman Beer Garden Beach Club (89 South St.) is the best spot for throwing back pints with off-duty Wall Streeters in a sandy waterfront expanse. And finally, Beer Authority (300 W. 40th St.), right across the street from Port Authority, is a good place to stop for a drink on the roof if you're about to hop a bus out of town.