Participants at Club Room in San Antonio lift steins, songs
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Remember “Cheers,” the TV sitcom about the bar where everybody knows your name?
The Club Room of the Beethoven Maennerchor, the storied German singing society headquartered in King William, does that cozy concept one better.
“Here, everybody knows your name — and your stein,” David Uhler, the choral group’s vice president, said as he lifted his own mug of frosty brew to his lips.
At the Club Room — don’t dare call it a bar — members of the Maennerchor and Damenchor, the women’s singing group, gather on Tuesday nights before rehearsal to enjoy $1-off pitchers and pints of German beer, or bier.
And when they do, bar manager Stephen Vidales, 43, knows exactly which stein out of the dozens lining the shelves and cabinets behind the counter to grab and fill, just by matching face and name to ceramic or glass flagon.
“I even know which beer to pour, unless they throw me a curve and change it up,” said Vidales, who has been serving lager, pilsner and kolsch to the choral group’s 50 or so singers for almost three years.
Add in the non-singing associate members and the number of steins zooms even higher.
Not every member attends on Tuesday, but typically 70 or so do, Vidales said. He’s like a mother penguin who can distinguish her offspring out of a sea of black and white.
“I like history and this is like that — memorizing names and faces and steins,” he said. “It’s all about memory and repetition.”
A perusal of the steins behind the counter reveals a whimsical array of comely German maidens and lads, dressed in lederhosen, wooing each other. Steins bearing a Germanic menagerie of wolves, boars and stags. Steins encircled with lots of fancy German script. Huge steins and modest steins and steins from hallowed German restaurants. This is just the tip of the stein iceberg.
“We have lots more in the back,” Vidales said.
Some members drive to New Braunfels to find a bona fide German container for their suds. Uhler procured his round, blue stein from a German restaurant in Milwaukee after ordering it off eBay. Some members have two steins: Expensive ones for inside the club, cheaper ones for tippling brew on the expansive outdoor patio, or Garten, in case of breakage.
Presiding over all this stein-laden merriment is Claus Heide, a jovial man with sparkling eyes who has served as president for the Beethoven Maennerchor for 35 years. He drinks his draught out of a commemorative stein that was produced in Germany two years ago, in honor of the choral group’s 150th anniversary. Ceramic and ornate, it’s guaranteed to keep the beer cold.
“You don’t need a koozie with a stein,” said Heide in a thick German accent. Yes, but why do German beer steins have lids?
“In the old days, they drank under the trees,” he said with an impish grin. What? “You know, the birds.”
What becomes clear after spending a few moments, even a few sober moments, at the Club Room is that — steins notwithstanding — the true, ahem, draw of the place is the camaraderie, the sense of being connected to something authentic.
Under high ceilings, men and a smattering of women sit around tables and converse, giving the club a distinct familial vibe. In addition to the usual tropes (big-screen TV, bar stools), the well-lit place holds assorted German touches — white lace curtains; a German flag on the wall; tables covered by black, yellow and red plastic cloths (the colors of the German flag); German posters.
One wall holds framed, black-and-white photos of past Maennerchor board members and leaders; a high shelf holds the steins of board members who’ve gone on to that great Biergarten in the sky.
Founded in 1867, the Beethoven Maennerchor is one of the oldest German singing clubs in Texas, a nonprofit with the mission to preserve German song, music and language. The group performs at the club and at dozens of events throughout the year, including First Fridays, Oktoberfest and Fiesta.
Since the 1920s, it has been located on a sprawling compound in Southtown, a staunchly old-world German enclave surrounded by encroaching millennial hipsterism. Standing outside under the stars on the huge patio, full of picnic tables, twinkling strung lights and the aroma of members’ cigar smoke, it’s easy to feel transported to some peaceful Bavarian idyll.
Everybody is funny at the Beethoven Maennerchor Club House. Or maybe that’s just the bier talking.
“I only drink water if it’s been purified through the brewing process,” quips Heide, quoting from a sign that used to hang on the club’s wall.
It’s strictly German or German-adjacent beer on tap, from pale to dark. A few apostates could be seen quaffing Bud Lite from a bottle, but no one gets hassled for their choice. Uhler drinks Miller Lite most of time, he confessed.
“German beer has more alcohol and more calories,” he said. “You drink it all the time, you get round.”
Even the guy who sips only dry white wine from a thin-stemmed glass escapes ridicule.
“It’s the Type 2 diabetes,” said Allan Mueller. “Everyone knows I have it. Beer has too many carbs.”
Club Room membership is open to anyone — dues are $60 a year for men, $30 for women. And you don’t even have to be German to join. Members Derrick Godfrey, who’s Canadian, and Steve Alpin, a Brit, claim membership in the club’s “international contingent.”
They say they’re drawn by a feeling best expressed by the German word gemütlichkeit — a sense of warmth and happiness and good cheer.
“You can’t beat this group of friends,” said Godfrey, who moved to San Antonio a year ago and found out about the Club Room because he lives in the neighborhood. Now he’s a regular at Member Night and volunteers in the food preparation line at the group’s events. “We’re like family, we help each other.”
Who wouldn’t drink to that?
Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com