BRIDGEPORT — “Prost” is a well-known German word surrounding Oktoberfest celebrations, but some customers at the city’s new beer hall used the phrase Wednesday as they bumped glasses with friends.
Occupying the historic former People’s Bank building, which was built in 1897, the German beer hall — Harlan Haus — sits in the heart of downtown, next to McLevy Green with a shared parking lot behind the building.
The establishment had its public grand opening at 5 p.m. Wednesday. And by 5:30 p.m., the place was packed — the bar seats filled, the extended picnic tables occupied and the tables surrounded by people.
Bridgeport resident Tom Fraher, dressed for the occasion in lederhosen, was the first customer through the doors Wednesday, accompanied by his wife and friends.
Fraher said — though he was Irish — he spent years studying and teaching the German language and culture. He said many German establishments he used to frequent in the past have since closed their doors.
“It’s great,” Fraher said of Harlan Haus. “People, so far, seem to be enjoying it. We’ll definitely be back.”
Lynn Henschel, born and raised in Bridgeport and currently living in Milford, donned a dirndl for the evening as she sipped on beer.
“I love German beer and German food,” said Henschel, a Bridgeport Police detective. She married her husband, who is half German, in November. “Good German food is hard to come by.”
Harlan Haus might just be the much-needed magnet for other businesses in that area of the city.
“It’s great for economic growth in downtown Bridgeport,” said Mayor Joe Ganim in a statement earlier Wednesday. “Harlan Haus ... attracts residents and locals from surrounding towns to bring their family and friends to enjoy an exciting, new location.”
Current dinner hours
Wednesday: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Thursday: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Friday: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Saturday: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Sunday: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The kitchen closes at 11 p.m. each day.
Back in Oct. 2017, the popular Barnum Publick House permanently shut its doors. Many businesses have come and gone in downtown, but the city is hoping that will change soon, officials said.
New apartments overlooking McLevy Green were unveiled in September 2017.
Harlan Haus owner and head chef Stephen Lewandowski said opening the beer garden in downtown Bridgeport was a calculated decision. He opened up themed restaurants in Stamford in 2013 — Harlans Social — and South Norwalk in 2014 — Harlan Publick — in hopes of becoming what he calls an anchor restaurant in a developing area.
“There’s a lot going on in Bridgeport,” Lewandowski said. “We want to be a part of revitalizing downtown.”
For the next few weeks, Lewandowski said, the establishment is only open for dinner. Then, it will be open for lunch and dinner.
Lewandowski said the future of the beer hall features DJs, live bands and college night — all of which will be announced and easy to monitor on the Harlan Haus website.