Date Night: Old World German at Gottscheer Hall in Ridgewood, Queens
When you enter Gottscheer Hall, a restaurant, bar, and event space in Ridgewood, Queens, be sure to look up. Portraits of "Miss Gottschee" line the entryway. Hairstyles and poses have changed since the first photo, taken in 1964, but the smiles—warm and genuine on each young woman—remain the same. The hall, home to one of the largest Gottschee organizations in the world, dates to 1924 and appears unchanged since the Eisenhower administration. (There's still an illuminated sign for the hat check.) But as the string of Miss Gottschees running to the present suggests, the past doesn't merely persist here: it thrives.
Once a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, these days Gottschee is a region in Slovenia. If you're confused about the location, you can take a look at the large map that adorns the wood-paneled Tap Room; you'll understand even more if you can read the inscriptions in German. When we visited, two televisions were tuned to a football game and a soccer game, respectively, and the piano was covered with a cloth. No one would play today. In addition to the map, there were fliers for youth groups, plaques for "best sharpshooter" (Werner Klun is the man to beat, winning the title in 2010 and 2011), and oversize stockings, ready for Santa. Small steins stuffed with fake carnations decorated the high tables.
The goulash and spätzle ($11.50) featured hunks of beef in a peppery sauce. A long time in lard had rendered the beef tender. There were no mushrooms, no peppers, and no tomatoes. It was simplicity in stew form. We mixed the goulash with the side of spätzle, skinny strips of soft egg noodles that took to the sauce like cats take to patches of sunlight, lolling and soaking it all in.
We also tried the krainerwurst with sauerkraut ($6), the Old World German version of meat and one veg. Gottscheer Hall truly put the sour in sauerkraut; its version had all the pungency and puckering of kimchi served with a side of vinegar. But the sauerkraut undercut the salty pork-and-beef sausage, which resembled a hotdog on steroids. The rest of the menu is similarly straightforward: bratwurst, sauerbraten, apple strudel, and so on.
Since we were sitting in a tap room, we ordered a pint of Spaten, a light lager, bypassing the Budweiser. Older men wandered in and out, looking for their monthly meeting about Gottschee culture and other matters. Upstairs, the ballroom holds weddings and receptions. Some nights Gottscheer Hall features dancing, and people come from all around to waltz or polka, often in traditional clothes. Other nights the Queens Artists' Resource Collective takes over, with DJs and karaoke, but so far Gottscheer Hall has remained an irony-free zone. It's best for: a guileless date.