Southern California has long enjoyed a good number of German-themed bars and restaurants where beer lovers can get their fix of authentic German brews and brats (and not just during Oktoberfest), including Anaheim’s Bierstube, Silver Lake’s Red Lion, Torrance’s Alpine Village Inn and Huntington Beach’s Rathskeller.
But lately a new breed of late-night destinations is sweeping into Los Angeles catering to a younger crowd that associates late-night cool, clubbing and great food with cities such as Berlin.
Last month, Angelenos saw the debut of nighttime hangs SteingartenLA and Berlin Currywurst, and in the coming months at least two more spots serving up German-themed late-night thrills — Kai Loebach’s Currywurst on Fairfax and Wurstkuche Venice — are rushing to meet the demand for “drunk” (for the drinker) food and imported craft beers. Those are all coming on the heels of an only-in-L.A. German-Korean hybrid pub called Biergarten that opened last year in Koreatown.
And later this year, two of L.A.'s hottest bar owners, Mark and Johnny Houston, (La Descarga, Harvard & Stone) are opening a beer garden-themed bar that pays homage to a former tenant, Vienna Hofbrau, on Sunset Boulevard.
Wurstkuche’s downtown location is believed to have kicked off L.A’s newfound clamor for all things Deutsch in 2008. Since the popular late-night European-inspired sausage sanctuary opened its doors three years ago, it has been a runaway hit — attracting regular customers from as far away as Redlands and Thousand Oaks.
“The goal wasn’t to be an authentic German beer hall, but we hit it pretty close,” said Wurstkuche co-owner Joseph Pitruzzelli. The spot serves bockwurst alongside more exotic American fare and authentic German beers.
“It started as a love of the natural pairing of beer and sausage,” he said. Wurstkuche’s new Venice location is set for a summer launch at the former site of Air Conditioned Supper Club lounge. Pitruzzelli hopes more young Angelenos on the Westside will soon crave a night out Berlin-style — where conversations with strangers take place at communal tables over knackwurst and maybe a Köstritzer Schwarzbier beer.
Curiously, the Angeleno behind L.A.'s latest lounge for Teutonophiles, SteinegartenLA, is from nowhere near Germany (he’s originally from Tehran).
“I always wanted to open a concept like this,” said Abraham Berookhim late last month at a garden table behind his smart-looking modern German pub & restaurant on West Pico Boulevard.
SteingartenLA, open under a month, is already proving popular with college students and media types from Fox’s studio lot nearby with its mix of German food, beer and good times. The menu focuses on German and Belgian offerings (Berookhim lived in Hamburg and Liège when he worked for Hilton in the 1970s and 1980s).
“When you call yourself ‘Steingarten,’ you cannot go out of certain parameters,” he said between sips of a Belgian ale. “The name dictates what we serve.
“The market is looking for not only sausage, but real German food like pretzels, schnitzel, cabbage and potato salad.”
Steingarten offers not only a small beer garden in the back, but a large retractable skylight inside the bar over a long wooden communal table that gives the place a partially outdoor, European feel.
Cozy communal tables are also a feature at new Silver Lake hotspot Berlin Currywurst. The Sunset Boulevard hang serves Berlin street food, but is still working on its liquor license. The owners, who are from Germany, are discussing a legal arrangement that would allow customers to bring their own bottles to the place. By summer, they are also planning to extend their hours on weekends to capture late-night pedestrian traffic on their way home from bars.
By May, another restaurant catering to fans of Berlin’s popular late-night snack will debut on Fairfax, closing at 11 p.m. on weeknights and much later on weekend evenings.
“People are already going to be drunk when they come in here,” says Kai Loebach, the Westphalia-born owner of the forthcoming Currywurst on Fairfax. It is not related to the Berlin Currywurst in Silver Lake.
“I was born and raised on currywurst and I’ve always craved the quick fix satisfaction of eating it after midnight in L.A.,” he said.
So what’s behind the sudden hunger for Berlin-style currywurst and beers in a city nearly 6,000 miles away from Deutschland’s capital of cool?
According to Stefan Kloo, a media representative for the Los Angeles branch of the Goethe Institut, it’s all about Los Angeles wanting what it doesn’t have.
“The whole pedestrian culture doesn’t exist here for currywurst or sausage really, so we need new bars and restaurants for that,” he said from his office on Wilshire Boulevard.
“The combination of currywurst and beer is a very German thing,” he adds. “It’s like a recharge and it gives you the best of both worlds. I’m glad to see we have that going now in L.A.”
Don’t, however, expect to see the kitschy Bavarian décor of days past. These owners know that the path to success lies in diversified beer and food menus that reflect not the old Germany, but the new. Think modern art, not beer steins.
“We had to update the concept,” said Berookhim of his Steingarten. “People don’t want to go to an old place, they want a modern place that respects traditions.”