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Gastager Not Bluffing in Las Vegas

The founder of Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas is a man who turns intangibles into exactitudes.
Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas
Photo credit: hofbrauhauslasvegas.com

A German native who often vacationed in the states, Stefan Gastager admired the “positive take on life” Americans had. But he noticed something America lacked, even in replica-rich Las Vegas, where Paris is a stone’s throw from Giza. A real taste of Bavaria was missing. 

There were schnitzel stands and decent wurst peddlers, but Gastager would only settle for the best of authentic German food and drink. 

He dreamed of replicating the iconic Munich Hofbräuhaus in Vegas, a feat that would require great ambition and rigorous attention to detail. 

“There were replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canal and the Empire State Building, but no authentic German restaurant,” Gastager recalled. “So why not recreate a true copy of the Hofbräuhaus in Munich and bring a piece of Bavarian culture and tradition to Las Vegas,” Gastager said.

Gastager’s work began in 1999, when he pitched his dream to the owners of Munich’s Hofbräuhaus along with the help of his brother Klaus. Their point of contact was the German finance minister, since the Hofbräuhaus is owned by the German government. The minister must have been impressed, as he awarded the first-ever licensing agreement for the venerable institution.

“There were other requests for licenses in the past, but none of the other applicants were willing to go abroad themselves,” said Gastager.

Leaving Germany wasn’t too much of a problem for Gastager, because he planned on taking it with him.

“Our goal was a person coming from Munich and sitting in the Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas would forget that they are in Las Vegas,” he said.

And while forgetting where you are is not unheard of in Las Vegas, Gastager aimed to accomplish this feat legally, with intense attention to detail and authenticity. Knowing that it would be under intense scrutiny from native Germans, he imported real Chestnut tree limbs and trunks from Germany for the indoor climate-controlled courtyard. But he didn’t stop there.

“I knew we would have a lot of German visitors and they would say, ‘The Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas looks like Germany, but the Chestnut leaves, they are not right.’”

Gastager took the next logical step – spending six months creating artificial leaves to match the kind found at the Munich Hofbräuhaus courtyard. It took 10 people two weeks to glue the leaves to the trees by hand.

The same intense commitment to authenticity is echoed within the establishment. Every month, a different German brass band is flown in to keep the environment fresh, and the beer is expedited straight from Munich. Even the 75,000 Red Beaver Tail tiles for the roof of the Hofbräuhaus were imported from Germany.

Gastager’s past experience as a Formula 1 engine builder for BMW is apparent upon viewing the five fully automated Gruber beer dispensing system at work in Las Vegas, which streamlines the serving process and provides a perfect head every time.  

Other designs to increase efficiency include a fully-automatic coffee machine incorporated into the dispensing system, so freshly-brewed coffee can be served and is registered on the check without further input, and a top-of-the-line conveyor belt installed in the kitchen to ensure a smooth flow during peak periods.

These investments were costly, with the Gruber dispensers alone totaling $300,000, but the returns are worth it – not a drop of beer is lost.

“When bartenders dispense beers they overspill a lot,” said Gastager. “Between 23 percent and 28 percent of one keg is lost. It averages around 25 percent. We do not lose anything.” 

While the numbers are impressive, Gastager is most keen on maintaining an intangible – the atmosphere.

“If people in Bavaria sit at a long table with a stranger, they may not know them but they say hello. As soon as you get the liter of beer you become kind of like friends. It’s a nice atmosphere,” he said.

It’s safe to say Gastager feels the same way about living in America, where he has helped Hofbräuhaus expand to seven other cities. The motto above the Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas door reads: “Thirst is worse than homesickness – and here no one gets thirsty!”

Since the opening in January 2004, more than 2.5 million people have quenched their thirst for quality beer and conviviality at the Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas.

In a city built on bluffing, a bit of authenticity goes a long way.