The term German beer hall conjures up, for me at least, images of lederhosen-clad waitstaff, accordion waltzes and cartoonishly big beer steins all coming together in a fun and playful atmosphere.
Harlan Haus, the new German beer hall in downtown Bridgeport from the team behind Harlan Social in Stamford and Harlan Publick in Norwalk, is a decidedly different beast. It’s kept the fun and the cartoonishly big steins, but that kitschy schtick is nowhere to be found.
Housed inside the historic former People’s Bank building on State Street, the 7,000-square-foot space is open and lofty with ceilings just over 40 feet high and white tile walls. Multicolored lights shine from a 20-foot, stage-lighting rig and iron chandeliers hang from the ceiling, casting a glow over a lively bar area with long wooden communal tables.
Altogether the space has a feel that is both retro and modern; it’s the type of place you can imagine a German heavy metal band performing or that could serve as a setting in a spy film set in Europe.
The food is also a bit different from what you might expect at a standard German beer hall. Modern twists have been added to classic cuisine without taking away its comfort-food roots.
Bigger than a frisbee, the Bavarian pretzel is a beer-hall dream come true. Thick, soft, warm and doughy, this house-baked pretzel comes brushed in fresh clarified butter and is topped with high-quality sea salt.
The heart of the menu comes from the Wurst Bar, a striking wooden counter in one corner of the restaurant. We tried the knockwurst and kielbasa, both fun and enjoyable and even more so when paired with sides (each comes with two) such as pickled jalapeños and sauerkraut.
There is also a section of the menu devoted to what the restaurant terms “Craft Wursts.” These cross-culture varieties include spicy Italian pork, duck and foie gras, and chorizo. All the wursts can be ordered from your server or a la carte from the Wurst Bar.
As the craft wurst options make clear, this restaurant is inspired, but not bound, by Germany.
“The menu is all over Europe,” says chef and owner Stephen Lewandowski. In a nod to Lewandowski’s Polish heritage, pierogies are offered, and because it’s a bar in America, you’ll find dishes such as dry-rubbed, smoked chicken wings.
Hungarian pork goulash served over pappardelle pasta impressed. Lewandowski adds more vegetables than traditional goulash calls for. The result is a rich and earthy slow-cooked stew that goes well over the pasta with a side of sour cream.
The spit-roasted half-chicken, brined in dunkel beer and served with sauerkraut and baby beet salad, was solid if somewhat standard.
If you’re looking for something sweet after your meal, the two dessert options — dipped ice cream sandwich and the warm apple strudel — do the trick.
Though my party ate until we could not eat anymore, we left with much of the menu unexplored, which is a testament to the wide-ranging options and generous portions.
“We really, really wanted to be price sensitive, and make it more about the environment and bringing people together,” Lewandowski says.
Our party of three was not shy in its eating and drinking, and the bill was $89.87 before tip, far lower than the tally for most of our reviews.
Speaking of drinking, instead of the selection of American craft beer from Connecticut and beyond, the focus here is on classic German varieties including the Weihenstephaner hefeweizen and helles. There are also a few local options. Captain Lawrence Brewing Co., out of Elmsford, New York, brews a house pilsner for the bar, and there is a tapline devoted to the nearby Two Roads Brewing Co. in Stratford. All these beers are offered in German glassware of various sizes. The 0.3-liter “pour” is $5, the half-liter pint is $7, the 1-liter “Mas” is $12, and the 2-liter, best-to-share-with-friends “Das Boot” is $21.
While the vibe is upscale enough for a date, Harlan Haus also maintains a family-friendly atmosphere complete with game room where kids can play while their parents eat.
A small downside to the lofty space is that voices don’t carry far and I had trouble hearing a dining companion two seats away. But, all told, the space is great to meet friends or family for a drink and something to eat.
Harlan Haus joins a growing number of downtown Bridgeport establishments, including the recently opened ramen and pho spot Eat Noodle, and the Stress Factory comedy club, which is scheduled to open next door to Harlan Haus and feature the beer hall’s food.
“We’re excited and happy to be a part of downtown Bridgeport,” Lewandowski says. “You’re seeing a lot happening down here.”
This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine.
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