Lacking the tourist element that is all too easily attracted to the main Hofbräuhaus in central Munich, the Hofbräukeller is much more relaxed and big enough that you can always find a table and get served with relative ease. Here, you'll be able to mix with locals, expats who think they're locals, the odd tourist and even the very odd tourist.
Finding the Keller (das Finden des Kellers)
The Hofbräukeller is located in the Haidhausen district of Munich, and is easy to find even for non-locals. A 10-minute stroll from Max-Weber-Platz S-Bahn1 station along Innere Wiener Strasse will find you at a large blue and white maypole in a small market square called Wiener Platz. Beyond this lies the beergarden.
The beer, of course, is the main reason for coming here. Beer is served in a 1 litre Maßkrug or Maß2 for short. It's the sort of large glass or earthenware mug you see very happy people smashing together at the Oktoberfest, traditionally with a groove at the top of the handle to hold the entirely optional pewter lid, which is intended to keep the flies out of your drink. It is possible to order smaller glasses of beer but quite honestly, why would you? A Maß will set you back around €7 to €83. Their regular helles Bier is light and similar in style to a lager. They also have a dark beer (Dunkles) which is worth a try. If you fancy a refreshing shandy, the thing to ask for in Bavaria is a Radler4 - half beer, half lemonade. Also be on the lookout for Festbier, which may be on sale during Oktoberfest. It's a bit stronger and is made in limited batches especially for Oktoberfest. When you're being served by a waitress, tipping is customary and can ensure that your Maß comes back from the bar promptly and with a full measure.
The Full Measure Test (die Volle-Maß-Prüfung)
A Maß of beer is big and costs a fair amount of money. As in any country, beer drinkers want their full measure and Bavarians have come up with a simple yet potentially messy test for this. The thing to do is to tip your freshly filled Maß over towards its handle. If you can get the handle to the table top without any beer spilling then it is not a full measure. Conversely, if you tip it over and beer spills before the handle reaches the table top, then it is (or rather was) a full measure. Simple, right?
The Garden (Der Garten)
However good the beer is, the real treat here is the beer garden. Summer is nice. A pleasant afternoon turns into evening very easily while sampling the beer. Autumn can be a little more risky with the giant horse-chestnut trees looming overhead. A sudden 'Bok!' as a conker hits your table from a great height can certainly disrupt one's calm.
The Food (Das Essen)
Despite the Hofbräukeller's main function as a watering hole, the food is remarkably good. Choose to be served from the traditional Bavarian menu (an English language version is available) or opt for the quicker but more limited counter service outside where half a chicken and chips (Hendl mit Pommes) will cost around €6. Whichever you choose it's all very civilised and complements the beer perfectly. The mixture of meat and fat is ideal for beer drinking, though, perhaps surprisingly, the menu includes vegetarian options. Another option is to bring your own food. This is quite acceptable in Bavarian beergardens and it is not unusual to see a family in the beer garden, enjoying a homemade meal.
The Cellar (der Keller)
As any German establishment that serves food, there are toilets. Keep some spare change handy as it might cost you 50 cents to spend a penny. They are located downstairs in the cellar, most of the rest of which is taken up by a disco - despite the name 'Keller', most of the Hofbräukeller is located aboveground.
Beware of Faux Pas! (Vorsicht vor dem Fettnäpfchen!5)
Of course in the event of the weather changing suddenly, it is possible to dash inside the main building and sit at a regular indoor table. A word of caution, however: if you come across an empty table with a large brass sign saying Stammtisch, do not sit there. This is a special table reserved for regulars or guests of the owner. Never, ever sit at a Stammtisch in Germany, unless you are asked to - in which case, it's OK, and you're likely to have a good time. Otherwise, when a German pub or restaurant is crowded, it's perfectly acceptable to ask to share with strangers who happen to have room at their table.