This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there. If you have any suggestions for a future Who Goes There, send them this way.
The next time I have $100 in my pocket that’s not doing anything, I’m going to head back to the Heidelberg Restaurant in Yorkville and drink beer out of a glass boot. It’s not so much the beer that’ll set you back at this 72-year-old UES relic (though that will cost you roughly $30). It’s the boot-shaped steins, which are lined up being the bar like so many of Kaiser Wilhelm’s footsoldiers. You have to plunk down a $60 deposit just to use one. Hey, I can’t blame management. If I had just drunk two liters of beer, I might be liable to drop my glass, too.
Most of old German Yorkville died out long ago. Restaurant-wise, the Heidelberg on Second Avenue is what remains. It’s part authentica (German beers, like Dinkel Acker and Erdinger Hefe Weizen, that you’d be hard pressed to get on tap elsewhere) and part kitsch (waiters in black lederhosen). The bar’s an experience in itself. You’re cautioned that beers are drawn the German way. That means a seven-minute wait for each draft. Your patience is rewarded with a head as big and frothy as the ones that beer commercials always promise you.
The bartendress was not just German-American, but GERMAN. And how. When I moved from the bar to a table in the dark-timbered dining area, she issued a friendly order along the lines of “You will pay for your beer now.” The menu has bratwurst, sauerbraten, wiener schnitzel, sauere nieren (sour kidneys) and eisbein (boiled pigs knuckles). A young regular at the bar who’d grown up in Yorkville, and called the Heidelberg Little Germany’s “last stand,” recommended the schnitzel. I went that way and wasn’t disappointed.
While eating, I ran into a friend who lives in the area and eats there regularly. He said the place is regularly packed with locals and loyal survivors of the once-strong German community. German conversations are not uncommon, and you’ll hear other languages as well, since a good number of European tourists seem to know about the Heidelberg. I don’t doubt my friend’s information, but mid-evening the night I ate there recently, I was one among maybe eight diners. All of us were entertained by a one-man band, who wore a Tyrolean hat, made accordion noises with his keyboard, and played “Edelweiss” and “Santa Lucia,” among other treasured Teutonic standards. Between his dreamy song stylings, the heavy food and the lager, and the overwarm temperature the room is kept at, Heidelberg could easily induce a midmeal nap. So be sure to get coffee at the end of your meal.
—Brooks of Sheffield