If there's one thing that we Americans enjoy doing, it's co-opting other countries' holidays and turning them into giant boozefests for no good reason other than marketing opportunities. Cases in point: St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo (which is not Mexican Independence Day, so stop) and now Oktoberfest. Hell, with Oktoberfest, we can't even manage to celebrate it in the right month: the end of September.
Oktoberfest traditionally starts three-and-a-half weeks before the first Sunday in October, depending upon whether that Sunday is on the first or second of the month. Yes, it's just as confusing as when we hold Thanksgiving and Easter.
But at least with Oktoberfest, we haven't corrupted this Bavarian holiday when it comes to alcohol: The original festival, held in Munich in 1810, was more or less as much about beer as it is today, a five-day-long celebration of the nuptials of Bavarian Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen.
The modern version of the Munich festival drew over six million people last year as it celebrated its 200th anniversary. You see, there's no holding Oktoberfest back. A pair of cholera epidemics in the mid-1800s -- one of which killed 3,000 people -- and even a terrorist bomb in 1980 have done nothing to derail the festivals, unofficial versions of which are now held in more than a dozen countries across the world.
Dozens of Texas towns and cities host their own Oktoberfest celebrations, which is no surprise given the strong German heritage of the state. Galveston's annual Oktoberfest is the closest, but New Braunfels's is our personal favorite.
Read on for more suggestions of how to celebrate Oktoberfest in Houston.
Here's where the big Oktoberfest celebrations will be:
Galveston Oktoberbest: October 15 and 16
More than 15,000 people come to this two-day event at First Lutheran Church each year. More than 40 gallons of sauerkraut and 500 pounds of potatoes are served at its German dinners and other German goodies are for sale in the church's beautifully restored Lyceum. Admission is free.
The Woodlands Oktoberfest: October 14, 15 and 16
This three-day event features a traditional biergarten and music from popular polka band Das Ist Lustig. Tickets are $10 and go to benefit The Woodlands Rotary Club. Special VIP packages are also available.
Here's where you can dine on German dishes:
The boundary-bending cuisine at Charivari features plenty of German food on its menu, and even more during the Oktoberfest season. Chef Johann Schuster is offering a special three-course $35 menu with choices like schweinshaxen, jaeger schnitzel, a German beer sampler with pretzel and an assortment of sausages. The restaurant will also feature live polka music on Tuesday, October 4, and Friday, October 15, from Das Ist Lustig (we told you they were popular!).
Even though it's more Austrian than German, Rudi Lechner's -- and old westside favorite -- celebrates Oktoberfest from September 21 through October 29 starting with an Oktoberfest keg tapping on Wednesday, September 21. A drawing will be held for two plane tickets to Germany, but the big draw is the Wednesday buffets during Oktoberfest: Every Wednesday evening, Bavarian favorites will be available as will live music from Alpenfest. And, of course, Spaten will be on draft.
This new Pearland restaurant is the only Teutonic place in town with an actual biergarten attached; it's all the better to finish your boot in the open air. King's Biergarten also has some of our favorite German sausages, and it will be offering those along with other specialties throughout the entire month of October. It's also promising incentives to come in costume, so break out your dirndls from last Halloween, ladies.
The Old Heidelberg
While we're unsure if The Old Heidelberg is hosting Oktoberfest specials this year (the phone line is always busy or, alternatively, rings off the hook), it doesn't really matter: You can enjoy German food, beer and sweets here all year round.
For the beer-filled side of Oktoberfest, keep reading...
Here's where you can hoist a pint:
Saint Arnold Brewery: October 7 and 8
The guys at Saint Arnold release a wildly popular Oktoberfest brew every year, so it should come as no surprise that they throw a killer Oktoberfest party too. The two-day party runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, featuring free-flowing beer along with a German dinner, pretzel, commemorative mug and music from Das Ist Lustig (what did we tell you?). Tickets are $49 and go fast.
Southern Star Brewery: October 22
Saint Arnold isn't the only brewery in town -- and it's not the only one with an Oktoberfest, either. The one-day-only celebration takes place from 6 to 10 p.m. and includes five beer tokens, a commemorative stein and live music. Be sure to designate a driver as Conroe is a long drive home after five beers, and bring extra cash: Food will be for sale from the Outlaw Kookers. Tickets are $30.
Bar Munich: September 24
Yes, Das Ist Lustig will be providing the music here too. That band must rake it in during every fall. The Midtown beer bar will also be hosting a Masskrugstemmen contest during its Oktoberfest party, a stein-holding competition that looks far simpler than it really is.
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The Ginger Man: October 1
This old-school Rice Village pub specializes in a wide variety of beer on an average day. On a good day, like its Oktoberfest party, that selection gets even better. The bar will be featuring German brews all day long, from noon to midnight, as well as sausages and German "games" -- whatever those may be.