Preview: Hofbräuhaus Cleveland, Opening Thursday, October 9

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“Wow, this has come together really fast,” says Andrea Mueller, Marketing and Sales Manager for Hofbräuhaus Cleveland.

Those are my thoughts exactly as we wander the grounds of the labyrinthine 24,000-square-foot complex in Playhouse Square. Just weeks prior, this plot of land on Chester Avenue between E. 15th and 17th streets was little more than a dusty construction site. Today, it’s an anthill of activity, with workers planting trees, hanging signs, hoisting lights, laying cable and whatever else it takes to ready this behemoth for opening day, which takes place Thursday, October 9.

The weather is lovely, so we begin our tour outdoors in the beer garden, which fronts the structure and wraps around the main building. Like the biergartens of Germany, this one will be self-serve, with patrons grabbing their food and drink at an outdoor pavilion before sitting down at a communal picnic table. Fully occupied, the seasonal beer garden will hold 1,000 people.

The beer garden is connected to the main beer hall by tall glass doors, which link the indoor and outdoor spaces when open. The gymnasium-size room features 30-foot ceilings, a chandelier the size and shape of the center circle on an NBA basketball court, and seating for 440 guests. Like the beer garden outdoors, the beer hall will be self-seating at communal tables. But here, customers will be waited on by servers.

At the far end of the cavernous room, two shiny copper brew kettles anchor the space, their twin exhaust vents rising clear to the ceiling. Behind the scenes, rows of stainless fermentation and bright tanks await the fresh-brewed beer. Brewmaster Josh Jones, formerly of Great Lakes Brewing, will be producing authentic Hofbräuhaus beer using original recipes that date back to 1589. Those recipes adhere to Reinheitsgebot, or the German Beer Purity Law, which permit the use of just four ingredients: water, barley, hops and yeast.

Just a handful of classic Bavarian-style beers — light, dark, wheat, seasonal — will be served at any given point, and zero outside suds will be sold here. Beers will be sold by the liter and half-liter.

“We’re only going to be brewing five beers, but we’re going to be doing it right,” says Mueller.

As for the food, diners can expect a menu filled with Bavarian-style pretzels, potato pancakes, grilled sausages, breaded schnitzel, sauerbraten and house specialties like the schweinshaxe, slow-roasted pork shank with crackling-crisp skin.

Like the original in Munich, Hofbräuhaus Cleveland promises to be a raucous, rowdy and kitschy affair. Servers will be outfitted in dirndls and lederhosen. “Pretzel girls” will prowl the hall in search of rubes — wooden paddle in hand. A live band will play nightly. And it won’t be uncommon to see tipsy patrons dancing and singing atop tables.

“We want this to be an all-around entertainment experience,” adds Mueller. “Instead of just going to a bar or restaurant for dinner and then that’s that, coming here will be a night out on the town. It will be Oktoberfest every day.”

The Cleveland location joins just a handful of sanctioned franchises in the United States, including those in Newport, Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Chicago. Hofbräuhaus Columbus is on target to open in late October. With locations as nearby as Pittsburgh and Columbus, is management confident they’ll keep the Cleveland shop buzzing?

“These are such destination places that people will come out no matter what,” notes Mueller. “Even if they’ve been to the one in Pittsburgh, they like to travel to others to check them out. Each has its own look and feel.”

True enough, the Cleveland build-out incorporated the existing home of the Hermit Club, a 100-year-old private club for amateur performing artists. For the first time, nonmembers can explore the architecturally captivating Jacobean style structure built in 1928. The dark, cramped and cigar-stained barroom makes an ideal bierstube.

The fun starts at 5 p.m. Thursday, October 9.

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