Sylvester Schneider is standing behind the bar of Rosarito Fish Shack in Williamsburg, casually pouring a Kolsch. If he’s not ready to open the latest pop-up iteration of his restaurant, Zum Schneider—which closed in 2020—you wouldn’t know it. He’s grilling Lamia Akar, a former Zum Schneider waitress, on the German new wave band playing over the speaker. His black cap contrasts his white facial hair as he peppers her with clues in his native tongue—hoping to inspire her with names that dominated the German ‘80s.
Schneider, 60-ish, alternates between English and German as he waits for patrons to arrive. He has replaced Rosarito’s taps with German beers, the coasters are neatly placed on tables. It’s not hard to picture his easy-going vibe behind the bar of a rambunctious beer hall across the river.
For nearly two decades, Zum Schneider was a bustling Bierhaus and German Restaurant, filled with steins, schnitzels, and a creepy stuffed animal behind the bar—the dreaded Wolpertinger, a horrendous beast of German folklore. On any given night, dirndl- and lederhosen-clad patrons danced (stumbled) around the room dodging wooden tables; Schneider could be found out front, roasting a whole pig. Or inside performing with the modern Oompah band Mösl-Franzi and the JaJaJas.
But when his lease at 107 Avenue C wasn’t renewed in early 2020, weeks before the pandemic shuttered businesses everywhere, Schneider found himself relieved of financial liability—and a restaurant.
“I was glad we got out before all this mess started,” he tells Brooklyn Magazine. “The place is still empty.”
Now, Schneider finds himself in a peculiar situation. Signing a new lease didn’t appeal, so he’s slowly been plotting the second-coming of Zum Schneider as a series of pop-ups and events. This weekend for example, on May 6 and 7, he’ll be hosting Maifest—a spring version of its larger and better-known fall festival—at 3 Dollar Bill in Brooklyn.
Keeping the name alive, he says, is “the number one agenda. Of course, it’d be nice if there’s some money left.”
Schneider’s pandemic experience is a familiar one by now, even if he is himself unique. By late 2020, the New York Times reported that “roughly one-third of the city’s 240,000 small businesses may never reopen.” Congress set up the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, but, says Schneider, the “money ran out before it was our turn.“
Since partnering with Rosarito Fish Shack, Schneider hosts a Zum Schneider pop-up on Sundays and Mondays. He’s been keeping it under the radar, though, wanting to make sure that everything was in working order before too many people catch wind of it.
Schneider has attempted to host other larger events since the pandemic started, but hit a few snags. In 2021, he had planned for Oktoberfest, usually one of the biggest events of the year for Zum Schneider, but he ran into permitting problems. Last Christmas, the Omicron variant put the kibosh on a caroling event. And even when he was able to get an event off the ground, like a well-attended Euro Cup pop-up at BIBA, it didn’t make much money.
His intention isn’t even to reestablish Zum Schneider to its former glory, he says—he knows that U-boat has sailed. And even if he could, he says, he would need a young and ambitious partner to run the show, preferably with money. When he started 20 years ago, it was “party, party, party,” and he was happy to have been a part of it.
So now, if it all goes according to plan (and “it never goes according to plan with a festival like this,” he says), Maifest at 3 Dollar Bill could be the beginning of a new chapter for Zum Schneider despite the inherent challenges.
“It’s a brand-new location,” he explains. “Everything has to be learned from scratch.”