Contributing editor Becky Cheang just got back from drinking her body weight in bier (and other select libations) in Münich. In between nursing beers and/or a massive hangover, she kept notes on her favorite bars and local breweries in the Bavarian capital.
MÜNICH — Once upon a time, the Bavarian capital was filled with monks (München translates to Monk Town). During the Lenten period — when the monks were fasting — a few ingenious monks came together to create a more substantial drink than merely (often unclean) water to keep them going through the day. Thus, Münich bier was born.
Today, the city is littered with biergartens. You really can’t go wrong with any biergarten, but skip the touristy Hofbräuhaus am Platzl. Though if you do make it there, make sure to avoid the Sammtisch tables lest you offend a local. Stammtisch tables are reserved for the regulars. It’s such a tradition that Stammtisch rights are passed down through generations. (Select locals also earn a much-coveted spot in the beer mug safe where the restaurant will help store your liter mug under lock and key.)
Besides the old guards (the oldest and original Münich breweries that now supply the world: Augustiner, Löwenbräu, Hofbräu to name a few), a new crop of indie breweries and bars are bringing fresh vibes to a city steeped in tradition. Here’s a working list of my favorite spots around the city for a happy hour any time of day.
The Vicktualienmarkt beer garden can get touristy, but it’s still well worth a trip; the crowds only add to the experience. Thanks to a decree signed by the first Bavarian king in the early 1800s, most outdoor beer gardens allow you to bring in your own food — perfect for a beer garden right in the middle of the city’s central market. Divide and conquer for a perfect afternoon break. Pick up a platter of fantastic cured meats and cheeses from surrounding stalls — don’t forget pretzels. Get in line to get pints (they do have half-pints available, but you will be low-key judged) of whatever they have on tap that day. Have someone help save your party a table — it gets crowded, and you’ll learn to share quickly. Sit, imbibe, feast. If you still have space after that, end with a healthy beet juice shot from the fruit stand on your way out.
Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower)
Nestled inside the delightful and sprawling English Garden is a five-story wooden pagoda-style tower, home to the city’s second-largest beer garden. The Chinese Tower biergarten is a perfect stop to refuel if you’re on a bike tour around the city.
You can bring your own food, or pick up some traditional fare from the food stalls on site. There’s a charming accordion player nearby on most days, or catch the live brass band on weekends. Post bier, follow the river a few feet south to see the wildest, and possibly most dangerous, man-made river surf spot.
On the east side of Isar river lies Nockherberg, where a monastery used the stand. Today, it’s one of the city's largest places to get a pint. There are multiple indoor and outdoor benches, a full restaurant inside, and a cellar for more private events, peeking into an on-site brewery. When in doubt, just ask for a flight of the house beers. The Nockherberger is a lager brewed twice, and the Faustus was inspired by Goethe. If you’re lucky, they sometimes also have a special brew on tap called Vladmir, or — more affectionately — the Fake Russian. Named because it supposedly tastes like a Radler but is 100-percent beer. The food here is also excellent; go for the burger or the more classic Bavarian pork knuckles or roast chicken.
The city’s first hops brewery is in the backyard of a popular craft beer bar/butchery. As you walk through the space, you might get a waft of fresh flour, suggesting the space’s bakery past. However, you’re more likely to smell the grains in the brewery out back. If the owner (Frank) is in town, he’d be happy to bring you for a tour through the whole process. The Roter Munchner is my favorite, but you should also try the Kill Bill; their version of a Radler with a delicious bergamot taste. They also have a cannabis-infused white beer for those looking to get mellow. Pro-tip: If you’re planning your own bar crawl, start here. Das Meisterstück up front has an excellent menu of all kinds of wursts and roasted meats. Your stomach will thank you.
Wolf’s Farmacy and nearby Zum Wolf
For a break from the hops, stop by Wolf’s Farmacy in the Gärtnerplatz neighborhood. Open since 2001, the cocktail bar specializes in whiskey/bourbon libations. The drinks menu feels like a throwback to the old-school soda shops, with long lists of sugary concoctions (except this time infused with spirits). See if you can try some their homespun lemon-infused bourbon. Fun fact: There is a working barbershop in the back. Why anyone would ever want a shave while imbibing, I’m not sure. But it’s sure fun to take pictures in the vintage barber chair. Head around the block to the related, and equally cool, Zum Wolf. The lights are dim, the décor is kitschy chic, and the bar is always packed; easily four levels deep. Try their take on the classic Negroni using bourbon instead of gin. It’s a perfect way to end the night.