Recently I visited the Estabrook Park beer garden for the first time with an old friend. It was a sunny Sunday, if I recall, and the weather could scarcely have been more comfortable. As we cruised the Estabrook Parkway, our eyes darted east and west, away from the road in front of us. We desired to pinpoint the location of this magical place and wondered thirstily what kind of scene we’d find. Not east but on the west side of the parkway, the beer garden sits, nearly to Hampton Avenue. Estabrook Park lies sort of on the border of Milwaukee proper and Shorewood. It’s an oddly shaped oasis banking the Milwaukee River, and one of the pleasures of visiting the beer garden was the flood of memories that my mind recalled as we hung out there. I’d come through here many times as a kid, riding bikes with friends, tromping around along the river on the many trails, or playing baseball. I was amused to find that one area of the park near the beer garden is still used by skaters. They have a permanent installation for their needs there now, in what used to be a tennis court.
As we spied the place, evident in the presence of gently waving Hofbrau signs, we both gasped at the fleet of vehicles sucking up nearly every inch of parking space in what is a quite unsightly and large parking lot. Luckily we managed to snake through the bustle and find a spot in a timely manner. The place appeared to be busting at the seams from the sight of the autos sitting nearby, but we were happy to find that the line we dealt with at the cozy lodge that oozed smoky smells of bratwurst and pretzels diminished rapidly as folks made up their minds with efficiency regarding the small menu. Only less than an hour later, when we thought about a second round at the fine establishment, did we see what a true line was at the beer garden: 10 times the size of the queue into which we’d originally been fitted. My companion elected for the Hofbrau Dunkel Lager, a ‘rich dark Munich lager’, which I’d felt too heavy and soporific a choice for this divine summer afternoon. I said ‘Give me the Hofbrau Original lager’ and was very very pleased with the result. The Original is a ‘full-bodied light Munich lager with fresh hops aroma’, but what I most assimilated was the robust yet airy quality of the brew. One wonders what kind of donkey would order a Miller Lite at the place, but it’s offered as a local brew. The proper beers here are served in half-liter and full-liter sizes, and I meekly suggested before purchase that I might start with the half-liter; I was quickly convinced of my error and ordered the full liter.
Various propaganda for the beer garden denotes that a deposit is required to utilize glassware. I found no such occurrence.
Being a pretzel junkie, I was nearly salivating on pavement for the freshly baked pretzels, which are as big as your head. Instead I went with the heartier choice of the smoked brat, which may have been the ‘brat of the week’. It was a skinny sausage but no less nourishing than the Usinger’s which represents the standard, for it was twice as long as the other brats, protruding from what was a delicious freshly baked bun and allowing for more surface area to pack into bites of bun, kraut and mustard.
For further pleasure, the Estabrook beer garden features large tables that invite folks to sit with folks they don’t already know. This way in the suspension of inhibitions you just may find that you have a lot in common with another human being. There was an old man playing the accordion nearby on a modest stage, and the soothing sounds were a great accompaniment to the consumption of beer, the sights of children and dogs playing around and laughter in the air. After the rotating set there was a lull between musicians and the accordion sat there, unattended, and I thought to myself, what kind of disturbance to easy discussions could I cause, if I were to be the impromptu operator of those bellows, forcing my wind past the free reeds?