When it comes to being a party starter, very few people have anything on Bavaria's crown prince Ludwig. In 1810, the future king celebrated his new marriage with a shindig that would launch -- unbeknownst to him -- 200 years of beer-drinking, brat-eating revelry.

Because of ol' Ludwig, millions of people will be celebrating a little thing called Oktoberfest this month.

In the Twin Cities, Oktoberfest is starting to feel like a German version of St. Patrick's Day. Everyone knows there's some historical value to it, but mostly it's just a good excuse to drink beer. With that in mind, I went to three of the metro area's most well-known German restaurants and asked their owners to tell me what Oktoberfest means to them.

Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter

Oktoberfest: Fri.-Sun.

Owner: Kim Quade.

Back story: Opened in 1966, Gasthaus is nuzzled into the woods near Stillwater and has hosted big-tent parties since the late 1980s. While Friday and Saturday night are for 21-and-older only, Sunday is for families, with free pony rides and a petting zoo.

What do you remember about your first Oktoberfest tent parties?

Quade: I remember just being excited by 200 people showing up. Typically, on a weekend now, we do 4,500. We have a very unique venue being that we're in the forest.

I won't lie, I feel like I'm in the Bavarian wilderness.

Quade: Mm-hmm. We sell these original Bavarian cinnamon-roasted almonds. The smell fills the air. After people park, they literally start running to get to the tent.

Why is Oktoberfest in September?

Quade: It's probably one of the most-asked questions I get. People will call me in October and say, "When's your Oktoberfest?" When I tell them it was in September, they say "Well, that's stupid! Why is it called Oktoberfest if it's in September?" I don't make the rules. Call Germany.

What's up with Hammerschlagen, the nail-hammering game -- is it really a good test of strength?

Quade: It's not necessarily about strength, it's more eye-hand coordination, which is pretty limited after a person has had a couple German beers. It's hilarious to watch. You don't have to be a big strong manly man to do it. But it's funny to watch a big strong manly man get his butt whupped.

Black Forest Inn

Oktoberfest: Fri.-Oct. 3.

Owners: From top, sisters Erica and Gina, and their parents Joanne and Erich Christ.

Back story: Opened in 1965, this Eat Street staple with the amazing patio got into the Oktoberfest game five years ago. The restaurant offers 10 themed nights, including one dedicated to David Hasselhoff (Oct. 1).

Why is the Hoff so revered in Germany?

Erica: Well, they love "Baywatch."

Gina: It's very tricky. We don't want to say terrible things about our [countrymen], and yet it certainly speaks of bad taste. Just a nonsensical bad taste. Normally, [Germans] are a very sensible people.

What happens on David Hasselhoff night?

Erica: The gist of our celebration is we give away all these [David Hasselhoff] prizes. We have a "Knight Rider" lunchbox and thermos. There's a clock of David Hasselhoff holding puppies.

How is your Oktoberfest different?

Erica: It's 10 events in 10 days. It requires a different kind of participation.

It's integrated into our normal dinner business. You can come, order a plate of bratwurst, listen to some accordion music. And you can jump up and down and scream when your number is called and you won the "Knight Rider" board game.

Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit

Owner: Mario Pierzchalski.

Back story: The northeast Minneapolis restaurant has been celebrating Oktoberfest since 1994, with one of the largest tents around. It's the place to be if you want to drink out of a glass boot.

Why drink out of a boot?

Pierzchalski: Because it's something special. It's a game. We have people who are 90 years old who drink the boot.

This is a German restaurant, but you're Polish with an Italian first name?

Pierzchalski: Actually, my first name is Marian. On my business cards, I used to have "Marian." So people would call here and ask for Mrs. Marian. They thought I was a woman. So I had to change my name to Mario. It's easy to remember and it sounds like a man. (Laughs.)

What does Oktoberfest mean to you?

Pierzchalski: It's a festival for everyone. I like seeing people happy. And I like polka. People used to think that polka wasn't fun. They would say, "Mario, you're crazy." [Now], they say, "Mario, thank you."

Do you drink out of the boot?

Pierzchalski: Yes, but not all of the time. I have to run the business.

thorgen@startribune.com • 612-673-7909