Beer gardens in Germany developed in Bavaria in the 19th century, during which dark lager beer was predominant. According to a decree by King Ludwig I, this had to be brewed during the cold months, since the fermentation had to take place at temperatures between four and eight degrees Celsius. In order to provide this beer during the summer, large breweries dug beer cellars in the banks of the river Isar, which allowed them to keep the beer cool. In order to further reduce the cellar temperature, the banks were covered in gravel and chestnut trees were planted, since their leaves provided good shade in summer. An example of the cellar architecture can still be seen at Augustiner Bierkeller
Soon after, the beer cellars were used not only to store but also to serve the beer. Simple tables and benches were set up among the trees, and soon the beer gardens were a popular venue for the citizens of Munich. This aggrieved the smaller breweries that remained in Munich. In order to prevent the further loss of customers, they petitioned Ludwig I to forbid that the beer cellars surrounding Munich to serve food. Thus, the patrons were allowed to bring their own food.
This decree is no longer in force, and many beer gardens do serve food today. But according to the Bayerische Biergartenverordnung (Bavarian beer garden decree) beer gardens still have to allow their patrons to bring their own food. Moreover it is common to people, that they are allowed to bring their own food to a Biergarten. The Innkeeper accepts this.
The latter beer gardens are called traditional beer gardens. In summer, these can be a convenient way of eating out under chestnut trees in the shade, avoiding restaurants in the upscale city of Munich and Bavaria. They have become an important part of life for many citizens. The Biergärten in Bavaria usually serve common Bavarian cuisine as Radi (Radish), Brezen, and Obatzda. If one chooses to buy food on site, another classic are Hoibe Hendl (half a grilled chicken), Hax'n (knuckle of pork) or Steckerlfisch (grilled fish).
The largest traditional beer garden in the world is the Hirschgarten in Munich (8000 seats), still offering a small deer park.
Many countries around the world have drinking establishments with an attached beer garden.
In Austria, the beer garden is called Gastgarten (guest garden). They serve food such as "a Badl Wiaschtl" (a pair of the German Bratwurst) or "a Bradl" (German pot roasted pork Schweinebraten). When ordering beer the choices are usually a "Piff "(0.2 liter), a "Seital" (0.3 liter), a "Hoibe" (1/2 liter), a "Moss" (1 liter) or a "Doppölita" (2 liters). Some beer gardens also serve special five liter bottles even so they are rarely used.
In Japan, outdoor beer gardens are enjoying increasing popularity, with many found on the roofs of department stores.
In the United States one of the earliest, and most popular, beer gardens was Castle Garden at The Battery on the southern tip of Manhattan Island in New York City. It had previously been a fort, and subsequently became a theater, the first immigration station (predating Ellis Island), a very popular public aquarium, and finally a national monument.