By Chuck Strouse
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Walking into the shoebox-size Abbey Brewing Co. (1115 16th St., Miami Beach) for an Oktoberfest bash, I found it difficult not to notice the burly man-mass. The stained-T-shirt-clad brotherhood was comfortably crammed into the bar's limited wooden booths. Fifty or so dudes pounded foamy beers while peering at various muted sporting events on small, clunky, circa-1995 TV sets.
The only thing remotely German about this event was that it was a full-on sausagefest.
Oh, and there were steins.
"Excuse me," I said to a balding guy with glazed eyes, holding a beast of a mug. "Why does your glass have all these circles engraved into it?"
Raymond, the owner of The Abbey, examined it and then looked at me. "To give the illusion of ice," he said with a smirk. "That way, no matter how drunk you are, you always think your beer is cold."
My kind of guy.
I had to ask Raymond, though: What does this special — all-you-can-drink drafts from 1:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. — have to do with Oktoberfest? Just another excuse for everyone to get drunk?
"Well, we've been grilling sausage out back," he said, trying really hard not to stare at my chest.
"Out back?" I asked, a little shocked. "This place has a kitchen?"
"Nah," he said, "we've been grilling in the alley."
Out in the alley, or rather, in the parking lot of a neighboring McDonald's, I gazed down at a cold grill surrounded by condiment-smeared paper plates. After whiffing the nearby Dumpster, I craved the aroma of the great unwashed partying inside. So I maneuvered around some muddy puddles and began to head back into the pub.
I soon became distracted. A large man with gray whiskers who looked like James Earl Jones — if he were playing a garbage man — stood next to a large silver keg. He was eager for eye contact. I was eager for ale contact.
"Hey, is the beer in that keg any good?" I asked.
"It's real good," he replied enthusiastically and then pronounced the beer's German name, which I definitely can't remember. Or say. Or ever spell.
I gave the tap a few pumps, and my new friend cautioned me to stop. "How long have you been here today?" I asked, impatiently watching the beer creep into my plastic mug.
"Since 3:00, but I didn't start drinking right away," he replied.
"What time did you start?" I asked as the amber elixir finally topped the rim, head-free.
Back inside, I noticed Buddy, age 39, sporting an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, leaning on the bar.
"Hey," I said, "do you know where Bavaria is?"
He looked at me in a state of bewilderment and asked, "Is that somewhere on the Beach?"
This was no Oktoberfest. Interesting perhaps, but not Deutsch enough even for this Latin-loving berg. So I headed over to Fritz and Franz Bierhaus (60 Merrick Way, Coral Gables), where I was greeted by a hefty German band rocking out Baltic-style to an accordion-heavy version of "Tequila."
On the makeshift dance floor in front of a stage, fathers swayed with babies in their arms and drafts in their hands. Toddlers spun in circles at their papas' feet as if preparing for future beer buzzes. On the perimeter, bar staff had set up white tents where brew, bratwurst, and cigars were being sold. The tents had a non-moneymaking purpose: to prevent meatheads wearing gold Mardi Gras-style Oktoberfest beads from stumbling into the street. A flustered waitress — hair pulled back in braids, breasts bound in a dirndl, and a face that was becoming leathery as a pair of lederhosen — squeezed through the narrow aisles among the long blue-and-white-checkered tables, where hundreds of people were stuffing strudel into their mouths.
Then I spotted a curvaceous Latina with long, dark hair and pale, freckled skin. She was holding a Pepsi over her head and chanting something loud and incomprehensible. Claudia, in her late twenties, said she was originally from Venezuela, where she attended a German school. "That's why I know all the Oktoberfest cheers and some of the pop songs," she said in a thick Spanish accent. Girlfriend even knew the festival originated in the 19th Century with a great horse race to commemorate the marriage between Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. I wondered if she knew that since 1810, the festival has been called off twice because of cholera epidemics.
Then I spotted an animated fellow with a tribal tattoo around his bicep and icy blue eyes that I could've sworn were Prussian.
"Anything else you like about Germans?" I asked.
"That's about it. Oh, and the music's pretty good too," he said.
And as a musician onstage began to play an instrument constructed entirely of pint glasses, Daniel topped off my Oktoberfest experience by performing the chicken dance, which, to me, was better than watching Milli Vanilli lip-sync a Hasselhoff song.