Beer garden (a loan translation from the German “Biergarten”) is an open-air area where beer, other drinks and local food (see German cuisine) are served. The concept originates from and is most common in Southern Germany (especially Bavaria). It is usually attached to a drinking establishment such as a public house or a beer hall.
Based on the above definitions Vung Tau has a number of beer gardens, mostly domestic in form; ‘bia’ and ‘vuon’ (minus accents) translates directly as ‘beer’ and ‘garden’ although that’s an expression Vietnamese are unlikely to use (bia hoi—minus accents—may be more common) even if many of their drinking establishments—particularly cafes—are very garden-like in nature.
If it’s a biergarten you want then the Imperial’s Bavarian Beer Garden is the closest such facsimile. Located at Back Beach alongside Thuy Van Road it is across the street from the Imperial Hotel and bears surprising similarities to the beer gardens you might find in Europe.
The Bavarian Beer Garden is modelled after the Hofbräuhaus brewery’s beer garden (Hofbräuhaus am Platzl) in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. Established in 1589 and operating to this day it also licenses Hofbräuhaus beer gardens around the world including New York City, Miami, Las Vegas, Houston, Melbourne, Seoul, Shanghai and Dubai (whether or not Vung Tau’s version is officially licensed isn’t entirely clear considering Vietnam’s—and Asia’s in general—tendency to liberally borrow trademarks and copyrights).
Of course the key ingredient of any beer garden is beer and no German beer garden would be complete without a Bavarian beer conforming to the ‘Bavarian Beer Purity Law’ of 1516. This is the law that greatly reduces your chances of a hangover by stating that only natural ingredients be used in the brewing process (it also saved Bavaria from being sacked and burned, but that’s another story…).
Happily the Bavarian Beer Garden delivers, in quality and quantity; you can lose yourself in a Dunkel Muncher Weisse (yellow) or Dunkel Schwarze Weisse (black) ranging in sizes from .3 litre to a very German 1 litre. The latter size being the one often seen—in multiples!—in the hands of busty barmaids during Oktoberfest.
Dunkel—or dunkles—is a dark German beer; quite literally ‘dunkel beer’ translates as ‘dark beer’ and they range from amber to a dark reddish brown; their taste is malty and smooth. The yellow Muncher Weisse is a fruity and sweet wheat beer which is darker than the more common hefeweizen wheat beer.
If it’s a more solid taste of Germany that you crave (or require after all the litre mugs of dunkel) the menu boasts some traditional dishes as well; from pretzels and potato salad to bratwurst (pork sausage that is typically fried or grilled) and schnitzel (thin slice of veal or other light meat, coated in breadcrumbs and fried). It may not be quite as convincing as that found in a Munich rathskeller (Rahm-champignon sauce, anyone?) but it’s much more reasonable than airfare.
In my opinion the biggest disappointment at the Bavarian Beer Garden is the music; it’s neither Eastern European (Oom-Pah), nor European generally speaking (aside from the odd cover song from ABBA or such). Sometimes (weekends, I think) there is a live band playing the cover songs heard and, apparently, loved throughout Vung Tau or else it is canned music playing much the same.
Sources: Imperial Hotel, Hofbräuhaus.de, Wikipedia.org
Article and photographs: Yuri Doric — yuridoric.tumblr.com