Monday, October 08, 2007

Czechoslovak Independence Day Weekend

Once again, Sunday’s City Section of the New York Times featured a bit of Slavic New York – Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria (Joseph V. Tirella’s Welcome. But Don’t Call Them German).

Last week, the Times featured the perseverance of a group of Ukrainian women in the East Village struggling to keep their luncheonette going. Formerly home to significant communities of Poles, Ukrainians and Carpatho-Rusyns, the East Village in recent years has been shedding more and more of its Slavic character.

In Astoria, however, the problem is similar but very different.
Bohemian Hall is one of the city’s oldest and most impressive Slavic sites, but is lately becoming a victim of its own success. As the beer hall gets more and more popular among New Yorkers at large, few are aware of its Czech (and Slovak) character. Many, such as one of the people quoted in the article, are under the impression that if it is a beer hall, it must be German.

Bohemian Hall is full of Czech and Czechoslovak memorabilia, Czech beers, Czech food, and a large Czech flag flies above the front door. If people are not aware of its role in the local Czech and Slovak communities, it is not for lack of trying.

The management is trying to play up its pedigree by hosting cultural events – this summer’s Czech film series, for example. Some, though think it won’t matter and the public will continue to overlook
Bohemian Hall’s Czech and Slovak character. One Czech patron concluded, “They don’t know because they don’t care.”

Meanwhile, Saturday was the annual Czech Street Festival on 83rd Street between Park and Madison. The festival celebrates the independence of Czechoslovakia in 1918, and even though it is primarily a Czech event today, it also features New York’s Slovak and Carpatho-Rusyn communities who also made up Czechoslovakia at that time.

Erik Sunguryan sent some photos from the event:

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