A short drive to Belleville will transport you to Bavaria by way of a massive fortress (literally). Hofbrauhaus (123 St. Eugene Drive, Belleville, IL; 618-800-2337), the 30,000-square-foot German beer hall and restaurant that opened two weeks ago, looks like a mirage, sitting alone in what’s meant to be a 33-acre commercial development.
As Paulo Pacheco, VP of Oak Tree Management Services, explains, “This is phase one of four; the next phases will include a hotel, several more restaurants and a convention center.” The colossal brewhouse will serve as the cornerstone, which answers the question “Why Belleville?” for a restaurant of this magnitude. “There is a large German population over here, so there is also a huge opportunity,” Pacheco says. “We all head to St. Louis for food and entertainment, and this is the start of something special on this side of the river.”
St. Louisans might not realize the concept is actually part of a small franchise started in the early 2000s, with initial openings in Cincinnati and Las Vegas. The Belleville location is the eighth in the Hofbrauhaus family, but don’t let that turn you off. Despite being a chain, every location is unique. Belleville’s interior design is totally custom, with arched blue and white ceilings modeled after the original Bavarian location, which opened in 1589. The massive space holds a brew house, a 450-seat main dining hall, a patio that seats an additional 225 people, and a private room for banquets and parties called the Ludwig Room, which houses up to 250. That all brings the total occupancy to just about 1,000 diners.
At the back of the main dining hall is a small stage that hosts a rotation of German and Austrian bands flown in monthly by the restaurant, giving you the true Bavarian drinking experience. The restaurant’s slogan holds that at Hofbrauhaus, it’s always Oktoberfest. If you’re into German drinking traditions, whether it’s standing on your bench seat with a liter of beer and yelling “prost!” or learning a new German dance move, they’re here to teach. Same goes for the kiddos — this place is totally family friendly.
The food menu is comprised of traditional German dishes, ranging from house-made pretzels to schnitzel with spätzle, plus more sausages than you can count. The cuisine is all authentic to Bavaria, made with strict guidelines and recipes from the old country. Don’t skimp on desserts either; the traditional Black Forest cake and apple strudel are the perfect end to a long day of drinking, eating, and drinking.
Speaking of, let’s get to the drinking, since that’s what you’re here for anyway. Hofbrauhaus has five beers available at any given time, with three being staples: lager, hefe weizen and dunkel, plus two seasonal brews. The hefe weizen is the ‘can’t miss’ brew, and is literally like nothing you’ve had in the US. Hofbrauhaus imports a yeast strain from Munich that’s exclusive to the restaurant. As head brewmaster Ben Patrick Zollenkopf (yes, he’s also imported from Munich, in case you were still doubting the authenticity of this place) explains, “It’s a special beer, and you will find a hint of banana in the after taste.” And before you can ask the question “which beer is closest to Bud Light?” I’ll save you the trouble: Go for the lager. It’s light, smooth, and won’t have you missing the local brew.
German classics comprise the menu.
No preview of this institution would be complete without mentioning its “take a shot, get a swat” deal. Anyone who buys a shot can opt to have a waitress spank them with a board on the backside (seriously). Actual waitstaff training goes into this tradition, so pucker up for some fireball and prepare for a spanking from one of the waitress dressed as Heidi.
Find your best friend who doesn’t drink and load up the car for the trek out to Belleville — it’s worth it. I mean, who hasn’t always wanted to visit an actual castle full of beer?
Ellen Prinzi is our bar and nightlife writer; she likes strong drinks and has strong opinions. You can catch more of her writing via Olio City, a city guide app she started last year.
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