The tension in the air was palpable. Walking through the dark interior of the bar out into the bright light of the noonday sun, one could see a number of patrons milling about in pairs or small enclaves, each indifferent to the next, but all with a furtive look on their faces as though something was about to happen. And indeed it was: in the summer of 2009, Hans’ Bier Haus hosted its first Bocce Ball Tournament, open to all, with the modest $30 entry fee going to the Shriners Hospital and two complimentary t-shirts. Team “Balls Deep” entered on a whim, though possessing an amateurish affinity for the game, and we grew somewhat nervous about the perceived skill levels of our potential opponents, having nothing more, however, by which to judge the books than their covers. Whether it was the will of the gods or mere happenstance, we found ourselves victorious after two games and even, dare I say, a favorite¹. In the semi-finals though, the fates that had thus far carried us were no match for the intake of beer over the course of the afternoon, despite our best efforts to stave off its effects with chili dogs for sale next to the outside bar. We lost², taking 3rd out of 16. While each participant would have you believe the stakes were no less than life and death, the spirit of competition was friendly and jovial, with erstwhile strangers chatting gaily over their ales by the end of the day. And that is perhaps one of Hans’ Bier Haus’ best traits.
George Orwell once wrote an essay about his favorite pub in all of London, The Moon Under Water. In it, he enumerates the characteristics that place it first in his estimation. By the end, we learn that The Moon Under Water does not, in fact, exist – the qualities listed are those of his ideal pub. Taking certain things into consideration, and distilling these properties of 1946 London for 2012 Houston, there is essentially a list of ten things a great public house should possess. I shall hereafter make reference to these potential 10 “Moons” when discussing bars and pubs.
1. Located on a side-street so “drunks and rowdies” don’t seem to find their way there.
2. Regulars and patrons who come as much for the conversation as for the beer.
3. The atmosphere of the place, the “architecture and fittings.”
4. Games are located separately, so you can avoid ducking the errant dart.
5. Quiet enough to talk.
6. They sell cigarettes.
7. They don’t serve dinner, but they do have snacks, and lunch during the week.
8. They serve a good draft stout.
9. They are particular about their drinking vessels.
10. They have a large garden area, good for sitting out under the trees of a summer evening.
Orwell stated that he was unaware of a single bar that met all of these conditions, though there was perhaps one that had eight. Hans Bier Haus is just such a place. I had this metric in mind when I first visited, but never fully expounded upon it. Hans’ is located on Quenby St., far enough away from the Village proper that you don’t get a lot of obnoxious drunkards. You’ll generally find an affable crowd conversing amongst themselves or with the personable bartenders. The bar is situated in a quaint old “haus” with a lot of character, with separate rooms for games such as darts – so no worries about a perforated skull. Though they do have an internet jukebox, as do most bars these days, it is still generally quiet enough to talk normally, especially out back. The bartenders will sell you cigarettes at the counter, but they don’t have food, aside from a few bags of chips or other small bar snacks (there is a Subway nearby, and you can certainly bring food with you if you want to eat.) If you’re looking for liquor, you won’t find it here – the Bier Haus lives up to its name, serving over 60 bottled and 70 draft beers – and they definitely have stout. While Orwell might be disappointed to receive a pint draft in a handleless glass, or the lack of china or pewter mugs, the staff does take care to serve draft beers in appropriate vessels: a branded goblet for the Maredsous, for example. Finally, perhaps most importantly, and as Orwell wrote, “the garden is its best feature.” He cited the fact that entire families could visit the pub, and therefore mom wouldn’t be stuck at home with the kids while dad went out boozing. Today, children would obviously not be allowed in bars, at least at night, but as evidenced that Saturday at the tournament, wives could certainly sit on the patio with a baby in the pram while their husbands played bocce ball. And the full size bocce ball court, one of only two or three in Houston, is certainly a distinguishing and much loved feature of the rather large backyard area of Hans’ Bier Haus, perfect for summer evenings under the arboreal shade.
It’s somewhat hidden, situated between much taller buildings, but Hans’ Bier Haus is certainly a gem, and earns: 8 Moons out of 10
¹At one point, a well-lubed spectator told us he had $100 riding on us.