Young crowds flock to new Astoria beer garden

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Studio Square co-owner Tommy Demaras knows Astoria. The 42-year-old New Jersey resident spent his first four decades living in the Queens neighborhood. He is the co-owner of the nightclub Cavo and The Rock Fitness Club.

But Demaras and his friends had bigger dreams for the burgeoning area, purchasing an old metalworks building at 35-33 36th St. in Long Island City near the Astoria border.

“It’s kind of ballsy to take a building you bought for X-million amount of dollars and turn it into a beer garden,” he said, noting that the current economic climate is not geared toward wild recreation. “It’s sink or swim.”

But Demaras and company have been happy so far. The 30,000-square-foot facility opened May 12 to much fanfare and large crowds. If one stops in on a Saturday night during the summer, one will see crowds packed into the picnic tables outside to rival the borough’s famous Bohemian Beer Garden in Astoria.

Demaras bought the building in July 2008 with his partners, Taso Pavlou and Joe Morando, opting to keep the original weathered concrete floor as a memento of the location’s industrial past.

The neighborhood’s industrial grit is rapidly being replaced by glitz and glamor. Studio Square sits a block away from Kaufman Astoria Studios and the stretch between the two businesses is filled with restaurants and smaller bars.

But no beer gardens.

“This area really needed it,” Demaras said, noting in the early 1900s there were 300 beer gardens in Queens.

Despite the more modern trappings, like paintings from Astoria artist Louis “KR One” Gasparro and a soundtrack ranging from Bon Jovi to the Faces, Demaras pointed out that the beer garden abounds with proper, old-world features, including the 200 tons of Belgium blocks paving the outdoor patio, the turn-of-the-century lampposts and the Boston ivy and trumpet vines that will soon climb the latticework against the walls in the backyard.

But a look at the bill of fare reveals a more modern touch. The bar stocks 19 beers, both domestic and imported, in half-liter, liter and pitcher sizes. The kitchen churns out bratwurst, of course, but also pizza, hamburgers and even sushi.

Studio Square also boasts an upstairs catering hall available for weddings and business events, as well as regular live music performances.

With all beers set at the same price, Demaras hopes locals will look at Studio Square as an ideal “staycation” destination.

“In this economy, we opened a place that, for $20, you can have a great time,” he said, noting the business brought 70 new jobs to the neighborhood during tough economic times.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 6:33 pm, October 10, 2011
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