By Adam R. Thomas, Reporter
While not to the same degree as following Barbara Streisand, it must have been tough to host Alpine Village’s annual Oktoberfest celebration this year. This past year was the 50th anniversary of the Alpine Village being built in the unincorporated strip of land next to the 110 Freeway near Torrance. It was a grand affair as one would expect from a golden anniversary, but this year, the event has shrunk. In scale if not in festive atmosphere.
The official reason given by Alpine Village in their marketing materials is that this year is a “Throwback Oktoberfest,” which sees the grand outdoor tents of the “Beer Garden” removed in favor of moving indoors to the Alpine Village restaurant only, much like it was when they started the annual celebration in 1969.
(Yes, that means that this year is the actual 50th anniversary of the Oktoberfest celebration at Alpine Village, but last year was the anniversary of the location being in existence.)
“The rumor has been that maybe they’re selling this place, so maybe they’re scaling back,” said Jennifer Flick, a frequent Oktoberfest-attendee from Torrance. “But I don’t know, I like this. It feels like it’s slightly more intimate. I also feel like it’s definitely secured a little bit more. It seems a bit more mellow this year. Which I’m not gonna lie, I kinda like.”
While Alpine Village’s management would not comment on rumors of any sale of the property, and a “concerned citizens” Facebook group is campaigning to nominate the landmark as a historic site with Los Angeles County on Oct. 25, Flick isn’t wrong. Moving from the grand outdoor tenting of years past to the entirely indoor restaurant has done something to the Torrance tradition. It’s become cozy. Comfortable even.
For within the still rather large property of the restaurant, with its mezzanine above a central dance floor and long series of “bier hall” communal tables, the place fills up fast with people only minutes after opening.
While guests grab food in the cafeteria style back all – mostly traditional German comfort food favorites – they mingle at the festival style benches and the atmosphere is much less raucous than one might expect, at least, at the start of the night.
It’s good, hearty food too. Wonderfully moist sausages and Germanic-fried potatoes give you plenty of savory flavors to well, savor, while the surprisingly sweet sauerkraut provides a wonderful counterbalance to the palate. The pretzels however, while large and with wonderfully warm dough, seem to have more salt than necessary. They are, perhaps, an acquired taste.
Of course, it’s Oktoberfest, so the main event as far as consumables go is the beer which flows freely at multiple bars throughout the restaurant. This year Alpine Village partnered with Hofbräuhaus to bring their centuries of experience making beer all the way from Bavaria with three flavors on tap: the signature Oktoberfest golden lager, a Hefeweizen and the Dunkel.
It’s easy to see why the lager is the biggest hit with most who attend. It not only tastes great, but it’s incredibly smooth and you can find your stein emptier far faster than you’d expect. It might be a bit dangerous for those who are only used to domestic lagers. This lager has a rather high degree of alcohol content at 6.3 percent. The lighter and fruitier Hefeweizen may be a bit too fruity for those that start the night with the seasonal lager, but it stands out well for those who want a touch more sweetness. The Dunkel is beautiful this report has had in years.
Jeramy Duncan, the manager for Hofbräuhaus’ California region, explained that what separates their imported beer from more locally sourced brews is actually simplicity itself.
“We follow the ‘Reinheitsgebot,’ which is the German purity law. Which just says that we’re going to use grain, water, hops, and yeast and that’s it. No adding fruit or adjuncts or barrel aging or anything like that. It’s just … beer.”
It’s not long into the night before the other main event (aside from the brews) appears and takes to the stage: the Oom-Pah-Pah band. Only, this year’s Oom-Pah-Pah band is filled with a much younger set of musicians than in year’s past. The change is even reflected in the band’s name, Haderlumpen: Next Generation, referring to the fact that the group was started by the son of one of the former bands that would come to Alpine Village in years past. This new Oom-Pah-Pah band feature European members trained in jazz music and more than able to belt out traditional tunes on the brass here in the states.
“It’s a great opportunity to come to America and experience the world,” says Rebekka Rebmann, who plays clarinet for Haderlumpen. “Americans are great! Perhaps it’s just coming here, this place, but everyone treats us well.”
Haderlumpen does their job exceedingly well. They start out the night focusing primarily on playing German standards from the stage, but once the crowd is good and sloshed, they pick up the energy and start jumping onto tables and leading contestants in drinking contests and chicken dances. Every few minutes, the band’s leader, Phillip Drenkard, leads the whole venue to toast and drink at once with the familiar chant of, “Zicke zacke, zicke zacke, hoi, hoi, hoi!”
There’s a sense of community in this moment and space, created in part by the band’s engaging in call and response drinking chants, but also created by the seating arrangements which place strangers right next to each other. It is in this space where the magic happens at Alpine Village’s Oktoberfest.
Angelenos spend a lot of time driving alone in their cars, separated but always in competition with one another. We continue the race at school or at work. We continue this isolated competition against our neighbors and online on social media.
You don’t go to Alpine Village to get drunk on the beer – though it is good – you go there to get drunk on the people— people you meet for perhaps just one night, or perhaps will become lifelong friends, but people who live here with you, only you didn’t know it yet.
It would be a tragedy for a such an experience to leave LA, let alone the South Bay. We simply don’t have enough staples of our community like this holding us together anymore.
“It’s great,” said Kathy Montoya, an eight-year veteran said at Oktoberfest on opening night. “It keeps up that tradition. People don’t keep up with tradition anymore.”
Times: 6 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 27
Cost: $10 to $22
Details: 310-327-4384; www.alpinevillagecenter.com/oktoberfest
Venue: Alpine Village, 833 Torrance Blvd., Torrance