I went to the New York City Oktoberfest said to be the best outside of Munich, and I was not disappointed

Festival attendees in front of the East River in New York City.

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Festival attendees in front of the East River in New York City.
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Ian Burke

Munich on the East River is known as the most authentic Oktoberfest this side of Bavaria. Organized by the owners of East Village biergarten Zum Schneider, the annual festival takes place by the river at the intersection of East 23rd St. and FDR Drive.

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A large Zum Schneider sign hung on the administration trailer.
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Brooke Rethwill

The festival runs from September 27 through October 6, and includes a fully decorated, traditional Oktoberfest tent with original furniture, food and drink tents, and a live band. This year, around 8,000 people walked through the doors over the course of the festival.

I showed up on the last day, at around 2:30 p.m., to see what it was all about.


When you walk in, it feels like you’ve been transported to southern Germany — so long as you ignore the apartment buildings.

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The outdoor tents were sandwiched in-between the FDR and the East River.
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Ian Burke

The first thing you see when you walk in are the outdoor tents, filled with vendors selling beer and food. The FDR sign in the background reminded you that you were still in Manhattan.

I could also hear shouting, singing, and polka music coming from the main tent.


There were plenty of food stalls outside, including one stand where whole fish were grilling on iron rods over hot coals.

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Whole fish were being grilled outside all day.
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Brooke Rethwill

The first food stall I checked out was a vendor grilling up some whole fish, called Steckerlfish in German. The fish, which are whole mackerel, are actually grilled from the inside out, as the coals heat up the iron rods that the fish are impaled upon.


I knew I was going to have a good time when the cook expressed concern over my lack of beer.

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I was greeted with a warm welcome and beer at Oktoberfest.
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Brooke Rethwill

“Where’s your beer?” the vendor asked me. When I replied that I didn’t have one, he grabbed a traditional German beer stein from behind the grill and handed it to me. We clinked glasses with a “Prost!” – the German word for cheers – and after a few good slugs, he clapped me on the back.

“Welcome to Oktoberfest!” he said.


Many festival attendees were dressed in traditional Bavarian lederhosen and dirndls, while others were decked out in semi-German attire and American streetwear.

Festival attendees in front of the East River in New York City.

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Partiers were dressed in all sorts of festive clothing.
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Ian Burke

As I walked around, I took stock of the crowd. There were lots of young people dressed in traditional Bavarian garb, parents with their kids, and older folks hanging out – all of them seemed to be enjoying the festival in their own ways.

However, it was tough to get people on record, as everyone was really enjoying the beer. But, after some cajoling, I convinced a few festivalgoers to take a picture.


When I walked into the giant blue-and-white tent, I was shocked at how large it was.

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The main tent at Munich on the East River looks a lot like the real thing.
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Ian Burke

The massive tent had rows and rows of long, handmade tables that were first-come-first-serve communal style. There was also a VIP area and a stage for the polka band.


Once I found a table, more beer was, of course, in order.

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The beers were heavy, but somehow I managed.
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Ian Burke

Before I began my journalistic coverage of the event, I had to immerse myself in the festival. That meant sampling a few of the massive, one-liter beers they were selling on tap for $21 a pop.

While that price might shock you, it’s important to remember that one liter is roughly 39 ounces. A standard American pint is 16 ounces, so a liter of beer works out to be around 2.4 pints. That’s around $8.75 per pint, which – for an NYC festival – is a pretty good price.


The band, a polka group called The Ja Ja Jas, played sets all day, and is led by frontman — and owner of Zum Schneider — Sylvester Schneider.

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The Ja Ja Jas played a mix of polka music and rock onstage.
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Ian Burke

“The band is very special,” said Volker Detering, communications director for Zum Schneider. “The Ja Ja Jas started as a four member band that Sylvester founded in 2000, and a few of them members are still in the band.”

The music was mostly polka – which is standard at Bavarian festivals – but they also snuck in a few Journey and Queen songs to cater to the New York audience.


I sat down with Schneider and the band, who told me that this year’s festival is the best yet.

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Two of the members of The Ja Ja Jas, pictured here, dressed for the occasion.
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Ian Burke

“I need a beer first before we start,” said Detering.

After he got his beer, he told Insider about his band, The Ja Ja Jas, which started as a four-member band that Sylvester founded in 2000, and said that a few of the members are still in the band.

Detering explained that every part of Oktoberfest fits together: the food, the beer, the music, the atmosphere, and the decorations.

“It’s like a wedding for some people when they come here,” he explained. “They’re so determined to have a good time, which translates into the energy of the event and fuels the entertainers.”


The festival also had accessible outdoor bathrooms in the form of a series of Porta Potties with two handwashing stations in the middle.

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The Porta Potties made it feel like a real festival.
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Ian Burke

And as far as Porta Potties go, they were pretty clean.


As I went back inside the tent, I noticed that the festival was selling festive German cakes, further adding to the Bavarian charm.

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Festive, decorated cakes were being sold inside the main tent.
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Ian Burke

“One has to be careful with calling yourself authentic,” Schneider explained, “As it quickly turns into bragging. I usually don’t do that.”

“I could do it for you!” Detering chimed in. He explained that lots of fall beer festivals call themselves “Oktoberfest” as soon as they have an Oktoberfest beer on tap, which isn’t really the case.

“Well, the other Oktoberfests in New York are for certain nowhere as close to traditional as we are,” Schneider said, sheepishly. “It starts with the one liter beer mugs, which we use exclusively. None of that plastic s—.”

Schneider said that he met someone had just come from Munich who told him that Munich on the East River was “on par” with the festival in Germany.

“It’s really the biggest compliment we could have hoped for,” he said.


Commemorative t-shirts were also available for purchase, but Schneider said he’s not in it for the money.

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T-shirts were on sale inside the main tent.
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Ian Burke

“Oktoberfest is our bread and butter, yes, but I don’t really care about the money,” the Bavarian native told Insider.

He said that he has been running Zum Schneider for 20 years, and that he does it out of passion.

“It’s important to me as a cultural thing – as a way to communicate our culture to the people of New York. I like doing it,” he said. “I like performing on stage, and it’s nice to make people happy.”


Detering and Schneider explained that dancing and standing on tables is encouraged — as is letting loose.

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Festival attendees were drinking and dancing on tables.
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Ian Burke

Detering also works as the DJ at Munich on the East River, and said his favorite part of the festival was seeing people let loose.

“I love seeing adults do super silly things that adults usually don’t do,” he told Insider. “I’ve seen plenty of adults dancing on tables to the ‘Macarena.’ It’s like a wedding. You’re not going to sit at the table at a wedding when people dance. You must party.”


Schneider told me that it wasn’t always easy to get people to really enjoy themselves.

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Partying is encouraged during Oktoberfest.
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Ian Burke

“We’ve been doing this at the restaurant for close to 20 years. I remember the days when it was super hard to get the people going on certain songs,” he said. “Now, all I have to do is sing one word and boom! Everyone’s dancing.”


I was starting to feel the beer, so I figured I should get some food to soak up the alcohol and maintain some semblance of journalistic integrity.

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Up first was a classic German pretzel ($5) and potato salad ($7).
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Ian Burke

When I asked Detering and Schneider which beers to pair with the food, they told me that they were all perfect.

“At the restaurant we have 14 beers on tap,” Schneider said. “Here we have three. That’s all you need.”

In Munich, each Oktoberfest tent traditionally only serves one type of beer.

“Its very traditional,” Detering explained. “Our favorites are the Traunstein and Andechs. That’s part of why our operation is special – you can’t get those beers anywhere else.”


The second course was roasted chicken that came with sliced tomato, radish, and pickle ($17).

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The roasted chicken at Munich on the East River was moist
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Ian Burke

The pretzel and potato salad were a good starter snack, but to me the chicken was everything food at Oktoberfest should be.


The chicken was moist and perfectly cooked, with delicious skin that had just the right amount of crunch.

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Me, digging into some chicken.
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Brooke Rethwill

The chicken paired perfectly with the crisp lager, and felt like the ultimate drinking food.


Next up was the grilled whole fish — or Steckerlfish — that I saw when I first entered the festival ($18).

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For a beer festival, there is more food than you’d expect at Oktoberfest.
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Brooke Rethwill

This dish came with pickles, radish, tomatoes, and a slice of bread.


The meat was tender and juicy, while the skin was crispy and perfectly charred.

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Some of the best meat in the fish is located in the cheeks.
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Brooke Rethwill

The Steckerlfisch lived up to the hype, as several partiers told me it was their favorite thing on the menu.


This was certainly the highlight of the meal.

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Me, finishing off what was once a fish.
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Brooke Rethwill

The fish came bone-in, so make sure you’re ready to get your hands dirty before digging into one of these guys. But, trust me – it’s worth it.


Last was dessert: a traditional apple strudel in a vanilla sauce. This strudel rocked — and it wasn’t the beer talking.

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The sweet treat was the perfect cap to the meal.
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Brooke Rethwill

The layered pastry and chunks of caramelized apple were the perfect amount of sweet to finish out the meal.


I met back up with Detering to talk about the logistics of this year’s festival.

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Detering and I shared more beers.
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Brooke Rethwill

“This year, we actually sold a lot more food,” Detering said. “That’s always a tricky part of the operation, to calculate how much food we’ll need.”

When I asked about how much beer they sold, however, he couldn’t give me a straight answer.

“That’s a business secret,” he said, smiling. “Other festivals that want to recreate what we’re doing have no idea how many kegs to buy, but we’ve got it down.”

As a rough estimate, if each of the 8,000 participants had only one liter of beer, that would roughly translate to around 160 kegs, as a standard keg usually holds around 50 liters.


I decided to have another beer, to really nail down the flavor profile.

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At Oktoberfest, enjoying a beer is a must.
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Brooke Rethwill

The three festbiers, or beers brewed specifically for Oktoberfest, were Hofbräu Traunstein Festbier and Andechs Festbier (both brewed exclusively for Zum Schneider in NYC) and Weihenstephaner Festbier. Schneider said he actually traveled to the breweries in Bavaria to convince the owners to export to the United States.

They were all Bavarian-style lagers, which are characterized by their golden color, crisp and refreshing taste, and malty aromas.


At this point, I was following Schneider’s instructions to enjoy myself.

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I’m really feeling part of the festival at this point.
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Brooke Rethwill

The party was picking up around 4 p.m., as people started to dance and sing along to the polka music, which – after a few liters of beer – started to sound incredible.


At this point, I must admit, the beers were working their magic on me and my photographer.

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My photographer was also feeling it.
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Brooke Rethwill

However, nobody cared that I was dancing poorly and screaming polka lyrics that I didn’t know.

“That’s the beauty of Oktoberfest,” Detering said. “You have to let loose a bit. That’s what it’s all about.”


I stepped back outside for some fresh air and chatted with a few servers and members of the security team.

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The waitstaff and security team at Munich on the East River were friendly.
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Ian Burke

I chatted with other members of the friendly staff, who told me they have a blast working the event, but even more fun at the employee-only after-party that starts after the festival closes down for the year.

One of the security guards, a man named Raul, told me he was on the overnight shift, as the tent has to be guarded all night to ensure no one breaks in for free beer.

The event also stimulates the local economy, with around 70 to 80 contracted security, technicians, and waitstaff employees on the clock at any given moment.


As the night goes on, Oktoberfest turns into madness — but a beautiful, beer-tinged madness that makes you feel connected to everyone at the festival.

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Oktoberfest is a beautiful symphony of dancing, drinking, and debauchery.
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Brooke Rethwill

At the risk of sounding existential, I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself at Oktoberfest. The festival is beer-soaked and debaucherous – and that’s okay! Oktoberfest is about enjoying life, beer, and the company of friends.

“Oktoberfest is geared towards getting together and having a good time,” Schneider told me. “It’s for forgetting the woes of our lives and having a moment to celebrate living.”


As the night was coming to a close, I looked around and saw many festivalgoers stumbling around in blissful confusion.

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A staff member and I at Munich on the East River.
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Brooke Rethwill

Even Detering asked me not to follow up with him in the morning.

“Please don’t call me tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll still be drunk!”


After a long day in the tent, I finally understood Oktoberfest. At its essence, the festival is about guzzling beer, having a good time, and not feeling guilty about it in the slightest.

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Me, taking it all in.
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Brooke Rethwill

Until next year, Oktoberfest.