It’s hard to screw up a beer hall, but Paulaner nearly failed, opening in November 2013 and closing just five months later for “renovations”. Evidently, the original décor “felt too much like an Applebee’s and needed a stylish kick in the pants.”
Successful second acts are rare in the restaurant business, but there are solid names behind the revamp, which opened in May under new management. Wolfgang Ban (of Seäsonal, Edi & the Wolf, and The Third Man) and Stephen Starr vet Markus Tschuschnig are co-owners. The executive chef is Bavarian Daniel Kill, from Kurt Gutenbruner’s chain of Austrian restaurants (Wallsé, Blaue Gans, Café Sabarsky, The Upholstery Store).
I never visited Paulaner v1.0, but the redesign doesn’t seem that dramatic (see the before and after photos on Eater). Still, it is a clear improvement. Photos on the walls have been ditched, leaving bare brick. Tables are now a darker wood. The long center aisle of the dining room is now taken up with communal tables and wooden benches. At the edge of the room, a row of rectangular tables is replaced with half-moon shaped booths.
The restaurant remains affiliated with the German beer of the same name. At the back of the restaurant, there are two huge copper and stainless steel fermenting vats imported from Germany. Beers brewed on-site are served unfiltered and unpasteurized.
The menu is inexpensive, with starters (appetizers, cheeses and sausages) $9–14, entrées $14–23, and side dishes $5–7. Portion sizes are ample, as you’d expect in a German restaurant. There’s a modest wine list (all $10 a glass). Cocktails are $11; beers $5, $7, or $13, depending on the size. When was the last time you saw food and alcohol this cheap, at a place run by a Michelin-starred chef?
Many of the dishes are suitable for sharing. Our party of four sampled a good cross-section of the menu.
A hot pretzel ($11; above left) was served with a selection of mustards (above center) and obazda (above right), a traditional Bavarian spread made with aged soft cheese and paprika. I was quite fond of this, but some members of our party found it too spicy.
The luscious house-made sausages are available individually, or you can order the Sausage Sampler ($29; above left), served on a bed of sauerkraut. The menu recommends this dish as an entrée for two, but four can easily share it as an appetizer. Wiener Schnitzel ($22; above right) was excellent, served with lingonberries and a potato & cucumber salad.
Beef Goulash ($19; above left) was forgettable. We preferred the spätzle that comes with it (also available in a heaping portion for $7 as a side dish). Potato pancakes with applesauce ($10; above right) were superb, perhaps the best specimens we’d ever sampled, the potatoes thin, greaseless, and perfectly crisped.
Business was brisk on a Wednesday evening. It gets a bit loud, as you’d expect; we were grateful to be in one of the half-moon booths, away from the center of the dining room. The restaurant seemed a bit short-staffed, and at times it was hard to flag down a server; but once you had their attention, they were helpful and friendly. There was no staff shortage in the kitchen: the food came out at a brisk pace.
It’s too soon to say whether the new Paulaner will catch on, but it certainly deserves to. The food is inexpensive and mostly terrific. If you like German beer hall cuisine, this is probably as good as it gets in New York.
Paulaner (265 Bowery, North of Houston St., NoLIta)
Food: Inexpensive German beer hall cuisine, given the Michelin star treatment
Service: An understaffed dining room, but helpful and friendly
Ambiance: A German beer hall