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America's best beer gardens

© Virginia Rollison

Thanks to a stadium-style retractable roof, New York City's Birreria is the rare outdoor drinking spot that can stay open all year.

A traditional German beer garden is little more than a shaded grove with picnic tables, but U.S. chefs and restaurateurs are enhancing the concept with hyperlocal brews, spectacular food and design innovations that range from whiskey-barrel tables to a multimillion-dollar retractable roof.

“We wanted to just have a really cool bar, a place where you could swing the doors open and turn the music up really loud,” says chef Tim Byres of The Foundry in Dallas. Located next door to Byres's popular Chicken Scratch restaurant, The Foundry regularly features live music and what the chef calls a “design on a dime” aesthetic—shelters made from repurposed shipping containers and a stage constructed out of shipping pallets.

Slideshow: See America's best beer gardens

At the high end of the spectrum is Birreria in New York City, the nano-brewery garden on the roof of superchef Mario Batali's expansive Italian-food complex. Thanks to a stadium-style retractable roof (referred to by collaborating Dogfish Head brewer Sam Calagione as a "$2 million bet"), Birreria is the rare outdoor drinking spot that can stay open all year.

Chef Tiffani Faison, a "Top Chef" contender who lived in Germany growing up, doesn't think the new crop of gardens aspires to authenticity. "To be really honest," she says, "I think it's an interpretation of what beer gardens are." Her own new garden, part of her Sweet Cheeks Q barbecue spot in Boston, features local beers and tables made from barrels that once held whiskey.

For a space that really feels like the traditional model, Faison cites San Francisco's Zeitgeist. The stalwart bar in the trendy Mission District may be the country's most seamless amalgam of the German ideal and American innovation. It combines a simple shady grove with the country's best craft beers, an official bicycling team and a punk rock jukebox.

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