Hoboken man hang

Saturday morning’s rooftop farm visit was followed by a great nap and, later, a rare “man hang” as my brother, Jeff, likes to call it. Our friend Ryan came by the apartment after teaching guitar lessons. We originally had family-friendly picnic plans for Central Park, which morphed into a trip to Hudson River Park with a gang of nine. Besides Ryan and me, neighbor Elena and her daughters (Isalia and Isabella) joined Jeff, Choi and the two boys.

After keeping everyone together on the trains, transfers and stairs, we stopped briefly at Fat Cat, where Choi showed off a boisterous Kyle to the manager where her string quartet plays. We arrived at the river too late for free kayaking tours offered that day–probably a good thing, considering the size and age of our crowd and the gusty weather. However, there was plenty of time to enjoy the breeze and beautiful views.

Sailboats struggled to reach upstream in a current that ripped seaward. Lower Manhattan’s high-rises glistened in the late afternoon light. Farther south, Lady Liberty stood before Staten Island and the Verranzano-Narrows Bridge. We watched an intrepid waterman plying the chop and current on a stand-up paddle board, making faster headway than the sailors.

I had evening plans to join friends Chris and Adrienne at a beer garden in Hoboken. I figured Jeff would be required to return with the large pack of kids, but Choi, Elena and her eldest daughter, Isabella, stepped up in a big way, allowing him and Ryan to join me. (Big thanks, ladies!)

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Our man hang adventure commenced on the Hudson and was soon underwater, as we took the PATH train from NYC to New Jersey. There was a different look and vibe of people and place, despite being so close together. Like NYC, Hoboken has a beautiful strip of parks on the waterfront. However, it’s far more manicured and predictable. So seemed a surprising number of people with big hair, loud shoes and personas to match.

Hoboken has a great view of Manhattan and I wonder if that’s what makes the place seem so overtly self-conscious. (NYC is image-conscious, too, but it comes off as more diverse and less contrived.) We came upon a public skate park full of teens and ‘tweens. How cool would it be to grind with Manhattan’s skyline across the river? I noticed a guy about my age taking his turn on the ramps, wearing an old pair of gym shorts. Apparently, so did the logo-clad kids, one of whom said condescendingly, “What is he doing here? He’s, like, 30.”

Despite the occasional teen-catering, mall-like character of the waterfront, our man hang would not be derailed. We had a good time catching up as we walked to the Pilsner Haus. Ryan is the kind of friend who feels like a brother. He personifies “cool,” with his easy smile and casual yet sincere demeanor. He and Jeff both have a knack for delivering stories of personal misfortunes as if they were jokes. Bad news is easier to stomach when you can find ways to laugh about it.

Pilsner Haus was packed. Chris and Adrienne scored space on a long table shared with another half dozen patrons. I scanned the beer menu and decided on Steigl, which included this temping description: “magnificent head and pleasant…finish.” Interpret as you wish.

Steigl was sold out, so I ordered a liter of Pilsner Urquell. The food was fantastic, including the softest pretzel I’ve ever tried. When the long line for the grill abated, we stepped up to order corn and bratwurst with delicious sour kraut and a variety of mustards.

Our hedonistic feast took place in an awesome space, clearly an old industrial warehouse, repurposed perfectly. The Pilsner Haus website has a great gallery, but unfortunately no history. Doing a little searching, I stumbled on the the architect’s project description, including this excerpt:

This handsome but neglected five-story industrial structure is situated on a 10,000 square foot lot with gross ground and second floor areas of 5,986 square feet each…. The ground floor main space, set almost three feet below grade, created an opportunity for a grand entry stair while the construction of masonry bearing heavy timber girders and columns provided a fabulous back drop and image on which to develop a warm and welcoming interior.

Agreed. I also found interesting commentary by hoboken411 on the beer garden’s evolution and its purveyors’ resistance to Hoboken’s apparent TV addiction, which might help explain the cultural gulf I experienced.

If Pilsner Haus is the exception in Hoboken, I wish it could be the rule for beer gardens. Besides phenomenal food, the ambiance was perfect and conducive to great conversation. (So much so that I neglected to take many photographs.) Indeed, it filled the void of my expectations, which were not met by a much-hyped-in-advance visit to Astoria’s Bohemian Hall near the beginning of my NYC stay.

Maybe Jeff and I went to the latter on a bad night? It was rainy and late, and I got the distinct feeling that the staff just wanted to go home. Still, I’m willing to give it another shot. Who’s up for Slivovitz?

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