For a few weeks each fall, the mother of all beer festivals unfolds in Bavaria — a shindig involving six million people clinking massive beer steins while belting out songs under beer tents in Munich. At least, that’s the way it’s been for decades.
Today, a live webcam shows an almost-deserted fairground and the official Oktoberfest website holds a stark message: "Canceled: Oktoberfest 2020 cannot take place," next to a cartoon of a sobbing, mustachioed figure holding an Alpine bowler in apparent grief.
Understandably, millions of people swilling beer elbow-to-elbow is probably a bad idea in a pandemic year. Yet for a tradition that has grown in size and velocity ever since the beer-fueled wedding party of Ludwig I and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810, Oktoberfest is not relinquished so lightly. On Long Island, where bars, breweries, hamlets and even churches take part each fall, many Oktoberfest celebrations have been canceled, but a few are still happening in altered form.
Here are a few places on Long Island where you can clang steins, either in person or virtually.
Plattduetsche Park Beer Hall and Garden
1132 Hempstead Tpke., Franklin Square
At Plattduetsche, arguably the epicenter of Long Island’s passionate Oktoberfest, thousands of people normally flow through every day of the weekslong bash, which has been celebrated each fall since 1901. They dodge oompah bands, nibble on bratwurst and dance with strangers, refilling cups of beer at a string of outdoor bars. It’s a party so epic that the team begins planning the next one almost as soon as the current one wraps.
This year, the format had to be tweaked. Instead of a sprawl of tables, tents and bars, Plattduetsche’s beer garden has been divided into 82 individual "boxes," widely spaced and with room for 6 to 10 guests in each. Instead of sidling up to bars — a definite no-go this year — it is table service only from masked and face-shielded servers, and an a la carte menu of schnitzel, sauerbraten and other German staples. Tables are first-come, first-served and guests have their temperature checked upon arrival. Dancing en masse is verboten this year, but live bands deliver ambience weekends through the month.
"It was obviously devastating for everyone is involved to have to downshift several gears," said general manager Matthew Buck. The annual Oktoberfest generally draws thousands of people in a day; now that number has been slashed to a few hundred. "Of course it’s disappointing, but we’re still able to carry on the tradition and celebrate our heritage in a safe manner."
And the supply of German beer, from pilsner to marzen, is unbroken, said Buck. A bedrock of Oktoberfest is the malty, amber lager called marzen brewed for the fall festival. These are full-bodied counterweights to the current tide of IPAs, and their fleeting appearance every September and October is a hallmark of autumn. Platteduetsche taps Paulaner Oktoberest Marzen, brewed in Munich.
Dates: Through late October
More info: 516-354-3131, parkrestaurant.com
Oktoberfest at Garden Grill
64 N. Country Rd., Smithtown
Spaten on tap, potato pancakes with apple sauce, an outdoor bar and a gravel courtyard decked out with bright fabric awnings and Oktoberfest flags make this a festive yet mellow spot to celebrate Oktoberfest.
The German menu, offered on the weekends through the end of October, is rich with grilled brats, giant Bavarian pretzels (with beer cheese sauce), beef goulash over egg noodles and sauerbraten with braised cabbage and mashed potatoes. Owner Fred Marsilio said early half of the food leaving the kitchen each weekend is from the Oktoberfest menu.
"We give you freezing-cold mugs for the beer," he said, and there is pumpkin pie with pumpkin ice cream for dessert. Heat lamps keep the chill at bay, and there's live music every weekend.
Dates: Through Oct. 31
More info: 631-265-8771, thegardengrill.com
Virtual Oktoberfest with T.J. Finley’s Public House
42 E. Main St., Bay Shore
In Bay Shore, T.J. Finley’s also has their version of a virtual Oktoberfest, an event they’ve held in the flesh for 12 years. "Given the current circumstances, we’re not going be able to do it the same way," said co-owner Drew Dvorkin. "Instead of scrapping it, we had to find a workaround."
Each Saturday into mid-October, the restaurant is putting together packages of varying sizes for an at-home Oktoberfest, with bratwurst from Karl Ehmer, Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier, giant pretzels and signature glass beer steins, which Dvorkin said Oktoberfest devotees collect from year to year. The packages are available via pre-order only. "To keep everyone safe, we’re doing it over four weekends, spacing it out so everyone doesn’t come at once and we can keep everybody safe as possible," he said.
Packages are designed for two, four or six people, and are picked up from the restaurant. They cost $38 to $96, and must be preordered.
Dates: Pickup on Saturdays through Oct. 10
More info: 631-647-4856. tjfinleys.com
Virtual Zümfest from Blue Point Brewing Co.
225 W. Main St., Patchogue
Blue Point’s plan for a tented Oktoberfest in their parking lot was also a nonstarter this year, but the brewery spun those lemons into lemonade — creating a monthlong experiential and totally virtual Oktoberfest by piecing together online "tents" where visitors can listen to polka music, learn to cook German food or how to carve a pumpkin, or even decorate their beards. Ideally, they’ll also sip one of Blue Point’s fall beers, such as Mother Pumpkin Ale, and can also partake in Zoom-based socializing and tastings. "It will be an evolving event. You can come back in mid-October and we’ll still be updating it," said Shelby Poole, Blue Point’s communications specialist.
As for the beer, Blue Point collaborated with Spaten Franziskaner Bräu, an iconic Munich brewery, to brew a rye-based marzen called Zümfest. In the tenor of 2020, though, the collaboration was virtual. "Our original plan was for our brewers to go to Germany to brew the beer," Poole said. With that trip kiboshed due to COVID-19, the collaboration was instead honed over Zoom calls, and the beer was eventually aged in oak before the August release. (Blue Point is sold out of Zümfest, but pockets of it remain at Long Island retailers; the brewery has also released a suite of other fall beers, including an Oktoberfest).
It’s not just all beer and pretzels, though — the virtual business "tent" has info on "collaboration in times of COVID," and the website is a study in partnerships between a brewery and artists, creators and small business.
Dates: Through Oct. 31
More info: 631-627-8292, zumfest.online