If it seems like cigar smokers are getting pushed to the outer limits of the community then Zeppelin Hall will serve to confirm your perception—but this beirgarten in the Garden State proves that the outer limits can be a sweet respite.
On the New Jersey side of the Hudson River across from Manhattan is Jersey City. Like a lot of the surrounding area, Jersey City is a once industrial town that is making the transition into complete and total yuppiedom—home to upscale brownstones and soaring glass corporate centers located on the water and looking at downtown New York City. Its northern neighbor, Hoboken, birthplace of Frank Sinatra, the Blimpie Sub sandwiches and Marlon Brando's On the Waterfront, is already there, transformed by an influx of recent college grads and middle aged urbanites owning jobs on the island across the river and in downtown J.C.
Within this hotbed of development is a long celebrated institution of the Europeans—the beirgarten. Located on Liberty Harbor, a new community on the waterfront that is still tough to find on maps and triangulate through GPS devices, Zeppelin Hall houses a beer selection and menu that would make Count Von Zeppelin, the German visionary behind the eponymously named floating air ship for which the establishment was named, shed a tear. In addition to the amazing malted beverage selection, a menu packed with an assortment of Bavarian delights, a congenial atmosphere and giant projection screens for your sports entertainment, there is an expansive outdoor lounging area big enough for 800 swilling patrons and a few devoted cigar smokers. This is why we are here—cigar smokers have found it and are adding the waft of smoke to the assortment of pleasant aromas floating through the air.
I went down on an October Saturday with a few friends and a few premium sticks to take in some college football action. Fortunately, it was a beautiful fall day with crisp chilled air and clear blue skies. No need for a sport coat and polished loafers—this is a casual affair where jeans and a sweater suffice.
Walking in through Zeppelin's front entrance, you find yourself in a room where polished wood dominates the scene under towering ceilings lit up by the sun shining through large arching windows lining the walls. The complete inner sanctum can seat 250 comfortably, says the restaurant, but looking around I knew I could fit a lot more. Continue through this room, past the large bar constituting the entire left side of the space and the giant television screen occupying the right, and you arrive at the outdoor area in back.
It sprawls out in front of you. People congregate throughout at long trestle tables for communal seating. The outdoor section could comprise about 75 yards of a football field. Dotting the area are trees and beer-branded umbrellas. At the center is a high, wood-top bar where tenders, barely visible behind a wall of tap handles (38 to be exact), busy themselves serving beer in heavy glass steins, available in pint, mug or liter size. Beer varieties range from the decidedly German, such as, Houfbrau Original, Franziskaner Weissbier, and Späten Oktoberfest, to other European offerings, such as, Staropramen from the Czech Republic and Tennent's Scottish Ale from the United Kingdom and on to more American selections such as River Horse Double Wit from Lambertville, New Jersey, and Abita Purple Haze from New Orleans. New beer offerings are supplied frequently and seasonal showings are always embraced. At this time you'll find multiple Oktoberfest offerings such as those from Beck's and Samuel Adams, among others.
Fences surrounding the area stand about 10-feet high and obstruct the adjacent Liberty State Park, a grassy marshland that forms a Garden State backdrop to the Statue of Liberty. The top of the New Jersey Transit Light Rail, the above ground train that connects Jersey City and Hoboken, can be seen peeking over the fence as it travels by to stop a short walk up the road (a nice form of transportation for the beirgarten imbiber, which can be picked up at the Hoboken PATH terminal from Manhattan). Zeppelin revelers have been known to cheer as the train travels past about every twenty minutes—I'm not sure why, but don't question the collateral effects of 32 ounce mugs of strong German beer.
For those looking forward to a cigar, pick a table along the fence on the outer edges for maximum comfort. From the menu order the sausage sampler which features a choice of andolline , chicken or lamb sausage, kielbasa, bratwurst, and frankfurter. The platters come with pickles, sauerkraut and fries. Orders are taken cafeteria style at a central post where thickly accented girls take orders and shout them back to the cooks who slide them out to you on plastic trays across a stainless steel counter. Don't forget the spicy mustard for dipping before you leave. There are other items on the menu, such as Sauerbraten (marinated sliced beef roast in ginger gravy), Kassler Rippchen (thick-cut smoked pork chop with spatzel and sauerkraut), Rouladen (marinated beef strips wrapped around pickle, onion, spicy mustard and bacon) and a host of Schnitzels. You may think about bringing a Zantac or two. If you're up for something on the lighter side, get the three pretzels and mustard plate for $5. All are hefty portions and soak up liters of beer quite aptly.
After devouring the hearty fair and washing it down, you may feel more than ever like a smoke. I lit up a La Riqueza No. 4, a hearty Nicaraguan robusto with a maduro wrapper, and kicked back in comfort with my friends. There were no disgusted or even uneasy looks in the direction of our table. There were plenty of smokers there, though we were the only ones puffing on cigars at the time. The place does tend to draw a diverse and tolerant crowd, which means couples with babies in strollers often hang out alongside frat boys sharing a beer with old men in feather-pin hats, but this and everything else is what makes this place great and worth the journey to the edge of town.
88 Liberty View Drive
Jersey City, NJ 07305
Mon-Fri 4 p.m.- 2 a.m.
Sat & Sun 12 p.m. - 2 a.m.
Photos by Ryan Nugent