Month: June 2015

It’s always Oktober with N.J.’s biergartens

No matter if you live in Sayreville or San Diego, every city has a local watering hole where the bartenders know all of the regulars’ names and a clinging of glasses gives neighbors the chance to catch up.

However, in many parts of Europe, this local watering hole isn’t a bar — it’s a biergarten, or an open, casual space full of long communal tables where people sit next to strangers and drink liters of beer and eat tasty food.

Andy Ivanov of Long Valley, who is from the Czech Republic, grew up with his own friendly neighborhood biergarten, but in the States, he noticed a definitive lack of the drinking spaces. This led him to co-own and co-found Pilsener Haus and Biergarten of Hoboken in 2011 and Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten of Asbury Park in February of this year, some of the first biergartens in the area.

Asbury Festhalle opened in Asbury Park in February of this year. (Photo: Courtesy of Suzanne Spitaletta)

Asbury Festhalle opened in Asbury Park in February of this year.
(Photo: Courtesy of Suzanne Spitaletta)

“We grew up drinking beer in Europe and that’s just the culture there. We haven’t discovered the beer — we just built the biergarten and people are responding really positively,” he said. “I kind of discovered the concept for Americans and people jumped in. They love it.”

For hundreds of years, Europeans have headed to local biergartens that range from small activity centers to large-capacity stadiums, where visitors could have a laid-back meal in a simple setting.

“It’s an uncomplicated approach with a social and communal aspect in an open space under a sky full of stars,” said Ivanov.

The biergartens mostly stick to the traditional beers of Europe, with 80 percent of their selection being Belgian beers, Czech beers and other central European options. (Photo: Courtesy of Andreas Prandelli)

The biergartens mostly stick to the traditional beers of Europe, with 80 percent of their selection being Belgian beers, Czech beers and other central European options. (Photo: Courtesy of Andreas Prandelli)

Judging by the constant line down the block awaiting entrance to Pilsener Haus and Biergarten and Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten, they certainly do love it.

According to Ladislav Sebestyan, business partner of Ivanov and co-owner and co-founder of Pilsener Haus and Biergarten and Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten, biergartens have been growing “like mushrooms.”

“The growth of the biergarten is phenomenal and unprecedented because there are so many people that this appeals to,” he said.

“In terms of popularity, it goes beer, prezels then bratwurst,” said Jennifer Lampert, co-owner of Asbury Festhalle. (Photo: Courtesy of Asbury Festhalle)

“In terms of popularity, it goes beer, prezels then bratwurst,” said Jennifer Lampert, co-owner of Asbury Festhalle. (Photo: Courtesy of Asbury Festhalle)

The concept of the biergarten, and beer, certainly is universal — people from 21 to 91 love their beer. However, the simplicity of the biergarten, a factor in its widespread popularity, is more (or maybe less) than a few tables and taps.

Walking into any bar, it’s immediately evident that a good chunk of visitors are busy texting, tweeting or watching TV — which is why Ivanov’s biergartens don’t have any WiFi or televisions.

“A European-style biergarten is something we are starved for in many places because we are very digital now and we are so head-down in our iPhones,” said Jennifer Lampert, co-owner and managing partner of Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten. “The art of conversation is being lost, but when you have to sit next to people you don’t know, there is a different kind of style and service.”

The concept of the biergarten, and beer, is universal – people from 21 to 91 love their beer. (Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Horn)

The concept of the biergarten, and beer, is universal – people from 21 to 91 love their beer. (Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Horn)

Plus, a biergarten is self-serving for both beer and food, which encourages walking around the spacious establishments. “It’s not a private place for couples, no, not us,” said Sebestyan. “It’s about getting to know people who are neighboring at the same table. It’s kind of coming back to people.”

Biergartens are also much more family friendly than bars as children are welcome and there is room for them to move around. For Hoboken and Asbury Park, two towns that revolve around nightlife, the biergarten provides an outlet for every age in the family.

In order to stay loyal to the classic biergarten concept, establishments also need to stick with the European décor. Ivanov said that presentation and keeping an American biergarten authentic is more than half the game, and his biergartens accomplish that by using authentic signs and hand-painted décor as well as quality food and beer in an old-world, open-air setting.

Traditional dishes are offered such as schnitzels, strudels, goulash, huge Bavarian pretzels, sausages and bratwursts. (Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Horn)

Traditional dishes are offered such as schnitzels, strudels, goulash, huge Bavarian pretzels, sausages and bratwursts. (Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Horn)

“There is a tendency for restaurants to want to call themselves biergartens because they have outdoor space,” Lampert said. “Beer garden, maybe, but to me, the whole execution, in the true sense, you would have main import beers and a menu that reflects the concept as well as traditional dishes. That’s what makes us different.”

At Pilsener Haus and Biergarten, in a 10,000-square-foot 1920s-era building, sunlight pours through the floor-to-ceiling iron-worked windows onto the 15-foot wooden tables, surrounded by oversized vintage photographs and two grills constantly ruminating with the scents of sizzling meats.

Asbury Festhalle, with a 6,000-square-foot indoor bier hall and 9,000-square-foot rooftop biergarten, offers similar authentic décor as well as views of Wesley Lake and Ocean Grove.

Asbury Festhalle, with a 6,000-square foot indoor bier hall and 9,000-square foot rooftop biergarten, offers authentic central European décor. (Photo: Courtesy of Mary Ann Murphy)

Asbury Festhalle, with a 6,000-square foot indoor bier hall and 9,000-square foot rooftop biergarten, offers authentic central European décor. (Photo: Courtesy of Mary Ann Murphy)

There are some differences between Ivanov’s biergartens and classic European biergartens, however. Historically, people brought their own food to their local biergartens, but Ivanov’s in New Jersey offer traditional dishes, such as schnitzels, strudels, goulash, huge Bavarian pretzels, sausages and bratwursts.

The biergartens also mostly stick to the traditional beers of Europe, with 80 percent of their selection being Belgian beers, Czech beers and other central European options.

“In terms of popularity, it goes beer, prezels then bratwurst,” said Lampert.

Ivanov said that presentation and keeping an American biergarten authentic is more than half the game and his biergartens accomplish that by using authentic signs and hand-painted décor as well as quality food and beer in an old-world, open-air setting. (Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Horn)

Ivanov said that presentation and keeping an American biergarten authentic is more than half the game and his biergartens accomplish that by using authentic signs and hand-painted décor as well as quality food and beer in an old-world, open-air setting. (Photo: Courtesy of Melissa Horn)

For the time being, Americans are flocking to biergartens and they can’t get enough of this new-to-them trend, where they can unplug, meet new people and enjoy quality brews. However, will it last?

“It’s a proven concept that hasn’t stopped in Europe and I don’t think it would ever change. It’s a timeless concept,” said Lampert. “It’s not brand new, but it is coming to America now. We haven’t done anything else besides copy a timeless concept. We’re just figuring it out.”

NEW JERSEY’S BIERGARTENS

Pilsener Haus and Biergarten: 1422 Grand St., Hoboken. 201-683-5465; pilsenerhaus.com

Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten: 527 Lake Ave., Asbury Park. 732-997-8767; asburybiergarten.com

Zeppelin Restaurant and Biergarten: 88 Liberty View Drive, Jersey City. 201-721-8888; zeppelinhall.com

What you need to know as an airline passenger

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

Laughing over lunch at the Savannah International Airport with my friend, Dona, after our vacation in Bluffton, South Carolina, my heart suddenly dropped when I checked my email and realized I had received the message that travelers lose sleep over:

“United has changed the departure date, arrival date and arrival time of your flight.”

Scrolling down, I silently prayed that I would only be committed to the tiny airport for a few more hours, but instead, I was rerouted from Savannah to Chicago to Newark — 24 hours later.

Although I get on around 10 flights a year, remarkably, my flights have rarely been delayed or canceled. Which was also why I was left panicking this time around, wondering if I could find another flight, another airline, lodging or compensation.

Unfortunately, many passengers who are left stranded with flight changes find themselves in similar circumstances, even though the Department of Transportation (DOT) provides consumer guidelines at dot.gov/consumer and airlines provide their own on their websites under headlines such as “travel information” “contract of carriage” or “customer service.”

“As a result of DOT initiatives in recent years, more and more passengers are aware of their rights,” Caitlin Harvey, public affairs specialist at the DOT, said. “DOT has improved consumers’ access to information about their rights via the website, enhanced online publications and constant liaison with the news media.”

Maryann Foley of Anchorage, Alaska, and formerly of Long Island, who flies about once a month and has flown over 600,000 miles with Alaska Airlines, says that she now generally understands her rights as a passenger while flying, but she can’t say the same for everyone else.

“I have been on planes where people think they have some rights that they should know they don’t have if they fly regularly,” she said.

If you fly often, it’s important to be aware of DOT standards when it comes to flight cancellations or delays, overbookings and lost luggage so you know what you’re getting into when you step back into that customer service line.

If you fly often, it’s important to be aware of DOT standards when it comes to flight cancellations or delays, overbookings and lost luggage so you know just what you’re getting into when you step back into that customer service line. (Photo: ~File photo)

If you fly often, it’s important to be aware of DOT standards when it comes to flight cancellations or delays, overbookings and lost luggage so you know just what you’re getting into when you step back into that customer service line.
(Photo: ~File photo)

Delayed or canceled flights

According to DOT, 21 percent of flights have failed to arrive on time in the U.S. from January through March of this year. It is these delayed and canceled flights that seem to cause the most confusion among passengers.

Harvey said that one of the most common misconceptions of passengers is that they are entitled to compensation or to be rerouted on another airline if their flight is delayed or canceled. Airlines also will rarely pay passengers for financial losses resulting from a delayed flight.

Even though it’s not required by law, however, many airlines will choose to endorse a passenger’s ticket on another carrier in the event of a delay or cancelation. It’s good practice to do your own research on other carriers to see if they have seats on a similar, on-time flight.

As airline policies differ, passengers can also ask airline staff if the carrier will pay for meals. Some discount airlines may not provide any amenities for delayed passengers and others also may not if the delay is caused by something out of the airline’s control, such as poor weather.

Lost baggage

Although 3.42 out of every 1000 total passengers who did not carry on their baggage lost their bags from January through March of this year, many are found in only a matter of hours and returned to their owners.

In order to ensure that yours are found in the event that they are lost, report your loss to airline personnel before you leave the airport and insist on having a report created as well as a copy made for you to take home.

Unfortunately, you can’t assume that the airline will deliver your bag without a charge when it is found, so make sure that you find out the protocol from the airline while at the airport.

Foley has had her share of airport mishaps, including when her dog, a Husky-German Shepherd mix, got lost in transit from Seattle to New York.

“When I arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the dog wasn’t there, and neither was the luggage of many other passengers. My dog was somewhere over South Dakota and wasn’t scheduled to arrive to J.F.K. until 3 a.m.,” she said.

The airline did not explain to Foley what happened, nor did it provide compensation. In some cases, airlines choose to absorb reasonable expenses incurred as they search for passengers’ missing luggage.

Bumped from an overbooked flight

Although it can be frustrating for passengers, most airlines overbook their flights purposely to compensate for travelers who don’t show up, which can result in some getting “bumped” from a flight.

When passengers are bumped due to overbooking, however, they are usually entitled to compensation, with few exceptions, if no other passengers agree to give up their seats voluntarily in exchange for compensation.

Getting a credit for volunteering your flight seat may seem like a great deal, but be sure to first ask the airline when your seat can be confirmed because if you’re placed on another full flight, you could be stranded once again. You should also inquire if the airline can offer you meals, lodging or transportation to your next flight if needed, or else you could be stuck paying out of your own pocket.

When deciding who will be bumped from a flight, an airline may choose passengers who paid the lowest fare or checked in the latest, even if that check-in met the flight’s deadline.

It is only with the understanding of passenger rights that air travelers can make the best out of bad travel situations, including delayed or canceled flights, lost luggage and overbooked flights.

Lowcountry goes luxe at Palmetto Bluff

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

With some of the best beaches in the country, combined with a laid-back, classic Lowcountry vibe, it’s no surprise that 2.5 million sun-hungry visitors flock to Hilton Head Island every year.

What many of these tourists don’t realize, however, is that there is a much friendlier and alluring hidden gem of a town less than 10 miles away.

Bluffton, South Carolina, on the banks of the May River, is filled with pre-Civil War homes, ancestral churches, locally owned restaurants and one resort community that has been rolling in praise while remaining understated.

Many resort communities have an aura of tackiness, filled with obnoxious colors, loud music and crowds. However, the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage resort, which contains an inn, cottages, cottage suites, vacation homes, a church, restaurants and a plethora of outdoor life bounded by the May, Cooper and New rivers, sets itself apart in a reposition of functioning as its own village.

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Winding, quiet streets in a centuries-old maritime forest filled with live oaks and red cedars, the classic Southern homes in the Inn at Palmetto Bluff operate as a neighborhood with amenities and activities.

Palmetto Bluff certainly hasn’t gone without recognition. It was ranked in 2014 as the No. 1 hotel in South Carolina and No. 2 in the country by the U.S. News and World Report, as well as Conde Nast Traveler’s No. 1 resort in the U.S. and No. 11 resort in the world in 2013, among many other awards.

The accommodations, which feature touches such as vaulted ceilings, fireplaces and verandas with views of the surrounding Lowcountry, are priced from $1 million to $3 million for purchase and from $425 for a cottage stay that sleeps four to $1,170 a night for a village home stay that sleeps eight for rent.

Although this does price out many visitors, you don’t need to be a Palmetto Bluff guest to enjoy some of the resort features.

The accomodation at Palmetto Bluff include an inn, cottages, cottage suites and vacation homes. (Photo: Courtesy of the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage Resort)

The accomodation at Palmetto Bluff include an inn, cottages, cottage suites and vacation homes. (Photo: Courtesy of the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage Resort)

Buffalo’s, a corner café open for breakfast and lunch across from the community chapel in Wilson Village, sits parallel to the May River, with a menu offering salads, sandwiches, pastries and bar items.

Other restaurants in the community include RT’s Market, a neighborhood general store, and the River House Restaurant, a farm-fresh eatery with a deep Southern feel.

Perhaps the biggest draw of Palmetto Bluff, however, isn’t what visitors can find indoors but what they can find outdoors in the 20,000 acres of the property. By hopping on a bike, horse or by foot, tourists can explore the Bluff trails or waterways by kayak, canoe or paddleboard.

While on the water, fishermen can drop a line for largemouth bass and bream, as well as saltwater fishing for tarpon, cobia, redfish and sea trout.

While on the water, fishermen can drop a line for largemouth bass and bream, as well as saltwater fishing for tarpon, cobia, redfish and sea trout. (Photo: Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo)

While on the water, fishermen can drop a line for largemouth bass and bream, as well as saltwater fishing for tarpon, cobia, redfish and sea trout. (Photo: Jenna Intersimone/Staff Photo)

Palmetto Bluff also houses a 1913 60-foot antique motor yacht that is one of the last remaining pre-World War I gas-powered yachts, restored and available for tours and private charter at any time.

Back on land, Longfield Stables is home to the community’s equestrian facility, a 173-acre farm surrounded by 15 miles of trails.

Besides getting a workout outdoors, visitors can also check out the Bluff’s fitness centers, movement studio, heated horizon lap pools overlooking the May River and award-winning day spa.

No resort community is complete without a golf club, and May River Golf Club, a par-72 course, holds sand from Ohio at Jack Nicklaus Signature Course along 7,200 yards running on the banks of the May River. Golfers of all skill levels in a state-of-the-art practice facility can play at the Bluff’s course, consistently ranked among the best in South Carolina.

Bluffton, South Carolina, right on the banks of the May River, is filled with pre-Civil War homes, ancestral churches, locally owned restaurants and one resort community that has been rolling in praise while remaining peaceful. (Photo: Courtesy of the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage Resort)

Bluffton, South Carolina, right on the banks of the May River, is filled with pre-Civil War homes, ancestral churches, locally owned restaurants and one resort community that has been rolling in praise while remaining peaceful. (Photo: Courtesy of the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, a Montage Resort)

However, it’s not all about taking from the land — it’s about giving to it, too. The Palmetto Bluff Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that protects the natural resources of the property, funded by every home sale on the site.

To showcase and protect other forms of community beauty such as local artists, public art shows are also routinely held on the property in a medium that allows visitors to interact with artists, as well as blues, jazz, Southern rock, Lowcountry stomp and bluegrass artists and performers.

Although tourists looking for the laid-back, timeless feel of South Carolina tend to head to Hilton Head Island, a more genuine Southern experience can be found just a few miles away in Bluffton — and thanks to Palmetto Bluff, the same resort element of luxury found on the island can be found in the small town, too.

Palmetto Bluff

Where: 476 Mount Pelia Rd. in Bluffton, South Carolina, about eight miles from Hilton Head Island

Rates: Accommodations currently are priced from $1 million to $3 million for purchase and from $425 for a cottage stay that sleeps four to $1,170 a night for a village home stay that sleeps eight

Contact: montagehotels.com/palmettobluff/ or 843 -706-6500