Early-evening sun is streaming through small casement windows framed by regiments of collectible plates and wainscotting, which on closer inspection turns out to be a clever job with brown paint. A small bust of Ludwig — less fierce than some of his likenesses — stares impassively over the sea of red-checkered tablecloths that fill the room. It’s 6:30 on a Tuesday, and the dozen-plus stools at the wooden bar in the Beethoven Maennerchor’s Club Room are supporting patrons, and a handful of the tables are occupied, too, cold beer glasses sweating in the June humidity despite the AC’s consistent hum. In quintessential German-American-social-club style, the place feels like a converted dining room, circa Milwaukee 1950, a mammoth flat-screen TV in the corner only slightly marring the sensation that a church potluck or bingo game has just adjourned. Opposite the telly, a glass case is half-filled with crystal.
The Club Room is open to the public, even on Tuesday member night, when happy-hour prices are in effect and the Maennerchor (men’s choir), Damenchor (women’s choir), and Kinderchor practice (“A great night to come,” the manager says, “to really get a sense of what the place is all about.”) My prior association with the Halle und Garten, which lie on Pereida just off South Alamo, has been during Fiesta and Oktoberfest, when the organization promotes German culture with prodigious, beer-soaked displays of Kraut singing and dancing (including small children and lederhosen). They’ve recently extended this proselytizing to First Friday, offering fatigued art viewers cold beer and hot bratwurst, and on July 7, a “Patriotic Program.”
Beethoven Maennerchor Halle und Garten
Price range: $3.50 pint $2 US longnecks
Drinking companion has quit the firewater, so it’s up to me to sample the array of German beers served by the barkeep (German wines are also available, and domestic and non-German imports, but when in Deutschland ). For a gal who considers Sierra Nevada Pale Ale the summit of summertime sipping? A gentleman (wisely perched near the beer pulls) who knows his hops recommends Spaten, offered on tap alongside Bitburger, Pilsner Urquell, and Beck’s.
Pouring the suds today is artist Lloyd Walsh, who is back behind the bar for summer Tuesdays by popular demand. Fellow artist Jesse Amado stops in for a drink; years ago he worked as a pin-boy at the club’s bowling alley. We reminisce a little and I head to the bathroom, where a jumbled stack of yellowing Jean Sibelius musical scores in neatly labeled green folders lies forlornly on the vanity.
When I return, drinking companion is nonplussed that the neighboring table has been discussing the posterior anatomy of a certain ethnic group. I turn the topic back to business — a friend of a friend who’s having some architectural trouble. “You know Randy?” our next-door drinker and amateur ethnologist pipes up. “Do you like him?” my date cautiously replies. “He’s a good guy,” says the large, bearded man, turning back to his beer. Even as the Alamo City sprouts new homes and businesses daily, the Beethoven preserves small-town San Antonio culture, for better and ill, as much as that of the Motherland.