Jun 2, 2012

Beer adventures: New York City

Hey, you know that thing you heard about New York City? Well, it's true. Every single thing is true. The noise, the people, the smells, the buildings, the street art, the parks, the shopping, the... everything. It's a perfectly glorious overloading of the senses.

It should come as no surprise that the city that never sleeps has a good beer scene. In fact, as with all the other things I wanted to experience in New York, it came down not to trying to find somewhere, but to trying to choose which one of a thousand. And so, without further adieu, here's where I managed to taste local beer in the Big Apple:
*note that this is by no means intended to be a comprehensive or "best of" list. These are simply the handful of places I was able to drag my travel companion (aka Mom) to, in the order we experienced them.

My favourite kind of rainbow at Brooklyn Brewery

Upper West side
I found this place on a "best beer bars of NYC list". The beer selection was decent (not all craft, but they do have a daily cask). It has a little patio that's pretty good for people-watching: in the upper west side, this means you can play a fun drinking game called "Spot the Nanny". The food was not bad - typical pub fare. Basically, Amsterdam Ale House is a solid little spot; it's worth a visit if you're in the area, but I wouldn't make it a destination. 

Upper East Side
I also found this place via a random list on the internets. Wicked beer selection, totally bizarre atmosphere. It had potential (cool old building, tiled floor, pool table) but the lights were so bright it was like drinking in a high school classroom, and there were way too many college bros yelling around the pool table. Plus the service was pretty mediocre. But worth a visit anyway if you find yourself thirsty in the upper east side, simply for their awesome beer list: 30+ craft on tap and a cask.

Greenwich Village
We stumbled upon this place completely by chance while wandering around the Village. If it wasn't  for the huge rabbit painted next to the below-street-level entrance and a tiny sign that said "craft beer bar", we would have missed it completely. Glad we didn't! The exposed brick walls, damask wallpaper, chandeliers and the fact that there was some guy eating a takeout pizza at the bar sold me on this place before I even saw the beer list. Which is also awesome: great selection of Belgian & UK beers, plus some local offerings. Definitely stop in here for a Trappist ale if you're in the village.

Blind Tiger
West Village
The bartender at 124 Rabbit Club sent us here (another check mark in the cool column for them). This is my #1 pick out of all the places we visited. It was early on a Friday evening when we showed up, and it was already packed (a la Alibi Room), but we were able to perch ourselves on the fireplace with our beers and settle right in to the cozy, surprisingly small room. Their beer list is a thing of beauty - not the longest, but definitely carefully curated, with a good mix of US craft selections and several casks. We didn't eat there, but the food looked pretty great too. I could see myself becoming a regular here if I lived in NYC.

Chelsea Brewing is in a pretty fantastic location - right on the piers in Chelsea, close to the well-known (and well-worth exploring) High Line Park. In fact, it makes the perfect mid-High Line exploration beer break, which is exactly what we did. Unfortunately, the location is one of the best things CB has going for it - the beer was not bad (but not outstanding) and the food was more of your typical pub grub. But, like I said, it makes a nice stop if you're exploring Highline or anything else in this area of town. The view out over the piers and across the river to New Jersey is pretty killer (insert blogger fail here: I forgot to get a photo).

Hell’s Kitchen
This place was another one of my favourites. Like Vancouver's St. Augustine's, they have awesome live beer menus above the bar, and they also update in near-real time on their website and Twitter account, which is pretty cool. They've got 20 all-US craft beers and 2 casks on at all time - and all beer is priced at $5 for a 14oz glass (unless it's got a super high ABV or it's a specialty brew). Oh, and they also fill growlers (U-S-A! U-S-A!). This is also a great place to hit before or after a play; it's not too far of a walk from the theatre district - we checked out the Hell's Kitchen location, but there's also a location on the upper east side.

Midtown (Times Square)
This is one of those places where they have 50 delicious craft beers on tap and they guy beside you in a suit is still somehow drinking a bottle of Corona. We were here after work time, and it was absolutely packed with local suits, with a side of tourists (think: Yaletown Brewing, but bigger and with way more taps). If you're seeing a play, sightseeing or just find yourself in the area, I'd say it's the best spot near Times Square to get a craft beer (and their list is huge), but expect it to be busy. 

Just in case Brooklyn needed any more help being a place of dreams, Brooklyn Brewery decided to host an indoor beer garden on Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Beer tokens get you one of six (or was it eight?) different beers brewed literally feet from where you're sitting at long, wooden tables. The beer was fresh, delicious and flowing fast, and the communal tables made it easy to meet other craft beer swillers (think: the Cambie with way better beer and fewer sketchy people). If you're in NYC over a weekend, definitely head here for a beer before or after (or both?) exploring Brooklyn.

My memory is a little fuzzy on this place, thanks almost entirely to the above-mentioned fast-flowing beer at Brooklyn Brewery, but I do know they had a decent selection of craft taps, a nice, big patio that faced a park, and they served us beer in giant, fun mugs. Like so:
And there you have it - as much craft beering as I could fit into a week while travelling with a wine-drinking mother. I know I missed a few key places - including the oldest beer garden in NYC, Astoria's Bohemian Hall - but that just gives me more motivation to visit again soon. If there's anywhere I can't miss next time I'm in New York, let me know!

More beer adventures:

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