Monday, December 7, 2009

Bia Beer Garden

154 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side is an inauspicious Vietnamese noodle shop in the garden level of an old stone building. Entering down a short flight of stairs, visitors are greeted by a small counter with a noodle kitchen behind it and a walk-in refrigerator next to it. I was looking for a beer garden, so when I got there for the first time I almost left, assuming I was in the wrong place.

The woman behind the counter recognized my confusion and pointed me toward the refrigerator, so I opened the door and found myself in an cooled hallway lined with Asian beers. At the opposite end of the walk-through refrigerator was a second door that opened up to the beer garden I had read about. It's the type of place that only exists in New York: a "secret-door" beer garden that serves only Asian beers.

Bia is more garden than beer and far from the Beer Gardens that make the phrase "beer garden" famous. There's no lederhosen, no heavy beer mugs and no German beer. There's Bambo trees, hanging plants, garden boxes and small wooden tables. To the old guard of beer drinkers, Bia is better described as an Asian garden cafe with an decent selection of Asian beer and excellent Vietnamese food.

The beers are served in pay-for-what-you-drink buckets of ice that give a backyard feel and the selection covers much of Asia.* You'll be happy to find a few of my personal favorites including Chang, Tiger, Beer Lao and Sapporo.

While it's not a beer drinker's paradise and fails to carry a large selection of truly exotic beers (most of the beers can be found in local Asian grocery stores) the setting is unique and an interesting break from your everyday beer consumption. It also allows New York to flex some international muscle and remind us beer gardens aren't the same the world around.

Bia is worth at least an evening of your time, especially with out of town guests. The refrigerator hidden door thing is pretty cool - especially if you don't frequent the speakeasy scene.

A few of the beers:

Taj Mahal
Beer Lao
Beer Lao Dark

(*Bia Garden doesn't have a website, but keeps an active Facebook page. There is one review on the Facebook page that, unfortunately, trashes the place. While I agree with Dee Chow that the Asian beer selection could have been more interesting, his excessive negativity is unfortunate and actually entertaining. We proved the mix bucket is totally acceptable.)

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