Since mid-September, lots and lots of bars in town have been touting specials and tie-ins in observance of Oktoberfest, the 200-year-old celebration of Bavarian culture and huge excuse to drink lots of beer. But few places in Maryland have a right to these promotions quite like Blob's Park in Jessup, a nearly 80-year-old resident that claims to be home of America's first Oktoberfest.
Blob's is Maryland's very own Valhalla, a beer hall as big as an airport hangar where German culture is celebrated year-round, though with especially distinguished gusto during these few weeks in the fall. The restaurant's Oktoberfest, which started Sept. 17 and ends Oct. 30, features a special menu — including, natch, a wide selection of sausages — and live music every Saturday and Sunday.
I was there on a recent Saturday, and let's just say that, with that kind of history, the place is exempt from criticism. By now, it should be designated a Beer Lover's National Historic Landmark. When you come to Blob's, you're after a very specific kind of experience, irreverent, a little campy and avuncular, not unlike spending time at a family reunion. You don't come here for Black Forest Pizza or to listen to Alanis on the speakers. You come here for wiener schnitzels and oompah music. This is traditional fare; "old school," in the words of my waitress. In that respect, Blob's is in a class of its own.
Blob's opened in 1933 at a time when beer gardens and German-style restaurants were highly popular in the area. While most of those places lost popularity and eventually closed, Blob's managed to hang on until 2007. Then two years later, Max Blob's grand-nephew, Max Eggerl, renovated the restaurant and reopened it.
Despite those two years off the grid, its customer base has not gone elsewhere. On Saturday, the hall, which can accommodate some 800 people, was packed with young and old people dancing to polka music and drinking from seemingly bottomless goblets of beer. They were not there just because they were fans of the Mike Charney and the Polka Jam Band.
Customers have remained loyal to Blob's partly because in those two years there were few other German restaurants in the area. Washington's Biergarten Haus didn't open until last year; same goes for Baltimore's high-end beer hall, Alewife. Leinenkugel's at Power Plant opened just last month.
Even with them around, Blob's still has a number of assets: its history, its space, and what one can venture is a more authentic experience.
The venue is part restaurant, part bar, part Elks Lodge. Like at the similar Lithuanian Hall in Baltimore, decor is spartan at best. But, what Blob's has going for it is real estate. The hall accommodates a hardwood dance floor, a stage, an E-shaped bar by the entrance and many, many tiny dining tables and chairs. While I was there, a buffet had also been set up.
Blob's Oktoberfest menu is full of all the traditional must-haves, and then some unique offerings: Bavarian grilled sausage loaf (or Ofenfrischer Leberkas for $5.95) and Bavarian salted white radishes with buttered rye bread and chives ($5.95; German name omitted for brevity's sake). There are some 80 beers on sale, including Augustine Edelstoff, Lindeman's Framboise and Franziskaner Hefeweisse, one of five beers on draft ($5.50).
The staff at Blob's — reliable, chatty, familiar — also set it apart from the competition. On Saturday, the power went out some time before I got there at nine. And it went out again around 9:30 p.m. The generator wasn't working, and the place was totally in the dark. For a second, everything came to a halt. A waitress was overheard saying, "It's worse than before." But then the band started playing, people started clapping, and the waitresses went back to work — in the dark. "That'll be $5, please," one of them told the guy next to me. Later, with the power still out, she went around pointing her BlackBerry's light at customers to see if they needed anything else. That's service.
Power outages, closures, competition, but 78 years later it seems nothing can hold down Blob's.
If you go
Backstory: Blob's claims to be "America's First Oktoberfest." Whether or not that's a boast, Blob's has been around for a long time — since 1933, with one short, two-year hiatus in 2007. Then, Max Eggerl, grand-nephew of the namesake Max Blob, renovated the space and re-opened it. The restaurant-bar can now accommodate some 800 people. Its Oktoberfest goes from Sept. 17 to Oct. 30, with live music every weekend.
Parking: Blob's has its own sprawling parking lot
Where: 8024 Max Blobs Park Road, Jessup
Contact: 410-799-7130; http://www.blobspark.net
Open: 6:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m.-10 p.m. Sundays
Price range: Food ranges in price from $3.25 (for a Bavarian cucumber salad) to $12.95 (for the Blob's Brotzeitteller, a cold-cut platter). Beers range from $3.50 to $6.