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Top Picks for Oktoberfest

By Kim North Shine

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Whether German is in the heritage or not, Oktoberfest is one time of year to get your German on. Sauerkraut, brats, German potato salad, big, twisted pretzels and, it should go without saying, beer - or bier - come with most any Oktoberfest celebration. Beer, the special brew that is Oktoberfest, is the whole reason the festivals were born after all.

For all the importance that beer is to Oktoberfest, the festivals found in metro Detroit – or for that matter in Munich, where it all began in the 1800s – are about more than throwing back beers. Games, music, dancing - even dachshund racing - round out local celebrations. But pick up your stein anyway and consider one of these five spots for the German-style celebrations that pay homage to Munich, its Hoffbrauhaus and culture. Lederhosen and dirndls optional. Oh and don't forget to raise a glass Crown Prince Ludwig whose marriage in 1810 spawned the Oktoberfest beer and the parties still celebrating it today.

The Dakota Inn Rathskellar

17324 John R. Street
Detroit, MI 48203
(313) 867-9722
Every Fridays and Saturdays from Sept. 16 - Oct. 29.
Hours: Fri and Sat 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

People in the know already have their reservations on the books at this 78-year-old Detroit institution. Even though the regulars have a seat held as much as six months in advance, it's no too late - even if you're a last-minute decision-maker - to find a spot and celebrate as the Germans do.

Step in to this Bavarian style establishment, which is a state historical gem, and soak up suds, music and amazing food in surroundings built by a German immigrant who transformed a Chinese laundry into the rathskellers he remembered from his childhood home in Wikersheim, Germany. Family pictures and trophy animal heads look down on the 145-seat restaurant, where kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes with applesauce) are a must-eat. The Dakota Inn Rathskellar takes Oktoberfest seriously, celebrating every weekend with good beer, German bands and dancing from mid September through the end of October.

Opening night on the Friday Sept. 16 is the ceremonial keg tapping letting the Oktoberfest flow as well as a proclamation-reading to declare the official beginning and commemoration of the two-century old, imported celebration.

If Oktoberfest doesn't work out at the Dakota Inn, keep it in mind for weekend sing-a-longs, including German drinking songs, and piano playing, any time of year.

Inside Detroit Inc. Oktoberfest Bar Tour

Thurs, Sept. 22 - 5:30 to 8:30
Price: $10
Tour stops at three bars:
Jacoby's German Biergarten
Foran's Gran Trunk Pub
Detroit Beer Company

Detroit's ties to a long-gone German neighborhood known as Germantown come through in this three-bar Oktoberfest tour led by Inside Detroit, an organization that promotes and educates the city's history, culture, community and livability through special projects and events. The goal is to spark economic development.

The Oktoberfest Bar Tour, one of several bar hops in Inside Detroit's line-up, encompasses three hours spent walking downtown and getting an insider's look at three bars. The tour starts with Jacoby's German Biergarten, a 100-year-plus German restaurant AKA Detroit's oldest saloon.

The tour continues at another historical spot, a former railway station redone as an Irish pub. Foran's Grand Trunk Pub serves 15 Michigan beers on tap and 50 bottled beers in a setting of 25-foot vaulted ceilings, brass chandeliers, exposed brick walls and hardwood floors, a grand look considering its minimal entrance. Grand Trunk serves many local products as well, including Faygo pop, Avalon baked goods and more.

Detroit Beer Co., which brews its own beer, is the last stop on the tour. The newest of the trio on the tour at eight years old offers up to eight house beers on tap at any time as well as bottled beers. The tanks fermenting and holding the beer are within view of visitors and a kitchen there churns out a mix of typical foods. Pizza is your best bet. Here, it's really about the brewski, some of it award-winning, and the science behind it.

Oktoberfest bar tourists get an inside scoop on cool things going on in the D and talk with beer experts during their visits. The tour finishes with the distribution of a checklist of 125-plus bars and restaurants in downtown Detroit.


Heritage Park
601 Weiss street
Frankenmuth, MI
(800) 386-3378
Also at restaurants and shops around town
Hours: Fri to Sun - Sept. 15 to 18, noon to midnight
Price: $8 per adult. Children 12 and under free. Sunday is free for everyone; A traditional German buffet runs $11

Detroiters and Michiganders from across the state head to the Oktoberfest festivities held now for 22 years in the city of Frankenmuth. Frankenmuth is a German lookalike all year long anyway, but it really shows off its German connections come Oktoberfest. Frankenmuth claims to be the only Oktoberfest outside of Germany to be sanctioned by Munich, Germany, a distinction made by a visiting Munich official in 1996. In addition to calling itself one of the largest Oktoberfest outside of that German city, Frankenmuth is also said to be the first place outside of Germany (now one of four) to sell bier imported by Munich's famed Hofbrauhaus.

During Frankenmuth's Oktoberfest, bands such as Squeeze Box, Fred Ziwich and Sorgenbrecher perform all day long and the the Harvey Kern Community Pavilion is transformed into a German dance hall with a 68-foot-by-60-foot wooden dance floor. Some 5,000 visitors fill the pavilion - a big crowd to be sure, but nothing compared to the 10,000-20,000 that converge on Munich's bier halls. This granddaddy of Michigan Oktoberfest festivals is a 90-minute drive from Detroit and welcomes visitors with some humor in its wiener dog races before plying them with an amazing selection of beer, activities and German dinner buffet that's filling just looking at it.

If the German music, food and fun don't get you in touch with your German side, then a visit to the the Bavarian Clock Haus or the Frankenmuth Clock Company, where cuckoo clocks speak to customers, or a stop at Bavarian Specialties, clothing outfitters and sellers of other German goods, surely will.

Rochester Mills Beer Co.

400 Water St.
Rochester, MI
(248) 650-5080
Hours : Thurs , Sept. 22 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. ; Fri , Sept. 23 - 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sat, Sept. 24 - 1 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Price: Thursday's celebration is inside the restaurant and is free. Friday and Saturday admission to the tent out back is $5. Children 16 and under and accompanied by an adult are free.

Rochester Mills Beer Co. in historic, happening downtown Rochester will host its 13th Annual Oktoberfest for 2 1/2 days in September. The festival gets bigger each year. Opening Night revolves around a ceremonial tapping of Rochester Mills Oktoberfest, a German-style lager, and visits by honorable local mayors - as is done in Munich - and free-flowing beer literally. The beer that's tapped will be free Friday, probably a quarter barrel drunk. Of four batches, or 1,800 gallons, of brew prepared by head brewer Eric Briggeman, including Water Street Wheat, a German-style Hefe-Weizen; and Harvest Lite, an American-style light, about 2/3 will be consumed during Oktoberfest.

Tip: Closing time on Thursday is 1 a.m. unless the party is still going. Then it's 2 a.m.

This celebration is not only about the beer. The family-friendly event features games, German fare, music and more.

New this year is the "Rock"toberfest By Teens/For Teens, a free concert. Performances under the tent behind the old mill turned brewery are by local teens from the School of Rock and JC Drums Music School. There also will be a skateboarding show by South Street Skate Shop. There's no beer served here during the performances, which are held outside under the tent while the ceremonial tapping and imbibing happens indoors. Over the weekend, guests can go rock-climbing wall, jump and slide in bounce houses and get up close to animals at a petting zoo and on pony rides.

All net proceeds go to Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan and the YMCA North Oakland County Waves swim club, both of which provide volunteers to staff the event. This year Make-A-Wish is selling raffle tickets fora 2011 Chevrolet Camaro convertible. The Beer Co., located in the historic Western Knitting Mill, is well worth a visit on its own.

Clarkston Union Bar & Kitchen

54 South Main
Clarkston, MI
(248) 620-6100
Hours: Sept. 24 – 4 p.m. to midnight – or when the party ends
Price: Free

This Okotberfest celebration is 16 years old and gets bigger every year with as many as 2,000 expected this year from across metro Detroit and beyond. The party here, under the ubiquitous white tent, is all about the Kinder early on. The Candy Band – as fun for the adults really – is a group of Detroit moms who put a punk, rock edge on kids' tunes. There also will be face-painting, a moonwalk and games. The party leans to more adult themes as the night goes on (a drive home to a sitter could make a fun night out for the parents). Big Daddy Lackowski & the La Dee Das will perform as beer is poured inside and from a massive and busy beer trailer in the parking lot.

The food is good, not the frozen then fried fair variety, but nice cuts of pork chops served with applesauce. There's spaetzle, bratwurst and other German specialties coming off the grill. Wash it down – or prep your palate – for one of several Oktoberfest and German style beers on the Union Bar's 45 taps. However, don't fill up. If you can swing it have dinner at Union Woodshop, a sister restaurant down the street, will once again impress with its Porktoberfest menu. This is something not to miss as Union Woodshop is the Detroit Free Press restaurant of the year for 2011. The food is creative, fresh and memorable. There are too many dreamy dishes to offer suggestion. It's all good, and there's a gluten-free menu.

Kim North Shine is German on her mother's side and has plans to honor that by hitting each one of these festivals.

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