“Three Days in the Big Apple” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.
This was our first trip to New York City. We always try to maximize the experiences in our beer travels but, even for us, the list for this trip was ambitious. We had 32 beer places to visit and only three days to do it. Turns out, the number wasn’t our biggest obstacle to reaching our goal.
So enjoy our first New York City adventure…
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No, we didn’t reach our goal of hitting 32 beer places in three days. It was crazy to think we could do that. But we finally met in person our friend Andie, who happens to work for Victory Brewing.
Before we met up with Andie and her husband, we wanted to do some ‘normal’ tourist things, like see the Statue of Liberty. So, we headed on down to Battery Park, which turned out to be no easy task. Weekend construction on the subway meant multiple transfers to get down there. The subway platforms were the hottest and steamiest of the trip and we spent plenty of time on them. We did a quick tour of Battery Park, gazed at the Statue of Liberty from afar and filmed the episode closing. Then we headed back uptown.
First stop was Heartland Brewery at Union Square where we met Andie and Greg. Heartland is a chain of six ‘brew’ pubs in Manhattan with the Union Square location being the original. Unfortunately, they no longer brew at any of the locations, so we couldn’t count Heartland on the list. All the beer is made at a production facility in Brooklyn and the nice brew kits are now just decoration.
After the ‘it’s so nice to finally meet you in person’ talk with Andie, the four of sat down to try the beers and have some lunch. The beers were solid, with the IPA (of course) being my brew of choice.
Then we were off to East Village and McSorley’s Old Ale House. You don’t go to McSorley’s for the beer. Established in 1854, one visits McSorley’s for the history of which there is plenty.
As for the beer, there are two house ales, a light and a dark. There really isn’t much flavor difference with the dark having slightly more of a roast flavor. Oddly, they are served in pairs. We ordered three beers and received six glasses. And the beers are brewed off-site so it couldn’t be counted on the list either.
After trying the light and dark and looking around, it was time for our group to move on.
There were three more beer places on the same block as McSorley’s but first we headed down to the Bowery to DBGB, a new beer place in Manhattan. As an aside, I assume the name is a play on the famous music venue, CBGBs, that was a half block away. I went to a show there in the mid 1980s though I can’t remember the bands name. Now it is a John Varvatos boutique, whatever that is…
I knew DBGB was going to be upscale and pretentious. But after reading about the restaurant in an Eric Asimov article in the New York Times I wanted to go… to try the sausages. The article mentioned there were 13 different sausages on the menu and I was hoping they had a sampler plate.
Walking in, my preconceived notion was confirmed; this wasn’t our kind of place. And there was no sausage sampler plate.
But what a nice beer selection! The streak of trying new beers continued as I had a Six Point Righteous Rye Ale and a Captain Lawrence Fresh Chester Pale Ale.
Then it was back up to the street to check out the three places near McSorley’s.
First up was Standings, a sports bar with craft beer. Or was it a craft beer bar that showed a lot of sports? It was amazing how much sports SWAG they fit into such a small space. Apparently, Standings is also the place that Manhattan Cal fans gather to watch the games. I was so enamored with taking pictures of all the Cal stuff, I almost forgot to get a beer.
Peak Organic IPA was the beer I found at Standings. I also tried Dogfish Midas Touch, a beer I liked better than Palo Santo Marron.
We parted company with Andie and her husband after Standings. They headed to the train station while we walked a few doors down to Jimmy’s No. 43.
Without our friends to keep us going we again hit the afternoon fade. We had a few quick beers at Jimmy’s. Then, we walked into Burp Castle, didn’t see anything we really wanted and left. We popped into Hop Devil Grill for a quick bite to eat and a beer. We took a cab back uptown (unfortunately not Cash Cab) to take us back to Rattle and Hum as we needed some more video footage.
We finished up our New York City beer adventure at The Ginger Man. Luckily we were there in the early evening and the place was empty. We were in the stare blankly, talk minimally, watch people walk by phase of the evening and a large, noisy crowd would have ruined the moment. My last beer of the trip was a River Horse Hopalotamus Double IPA… on cask.
The absolute last thing we did in NYC was another ‘normal’ tourist thing, ordering a corned beef sandwich at Carnegie Deli. And we don’t eat beef. We managed to visit 20 of the beer places on our target list and drink beer at 19 of them. Even though that left us 12 short of our goal, we had a good time making the attempt, even taking into account the weather. That just means we need to return to New York City, preferably in the spring or fall.
Friday morning we were back on the subway headed across the East River to Brooklyn. Much to our chagrin, it seemed like it was going to be hotter on our second day in New York City.
Beyond the weather, our day in Brooklyn posed a real challenge. Not only did we have an impossible number of beer places on our list, 15, but they were scattered all over the borough. Oh, then the myriad of opening times made the task just that more difficult. There should be a law that says beer places have to open at 10am.
Emerging from the Court St. subway station, I plugged the name of our first destination into the map function of my trusty iPhone and we were off. Unfortunately, we started walking in the wrong direction something the little blue dot didn’t tell me until we had walked two blocks. Big mistake when walking on the surface of the sun. We turned around.
We were soon in the air-conditioned comfort of our first destination, Waterfront Ale House. I immediately ordered a beer that I wanted to try the previous day, Southampton IPA.
It was time for a strategy to make it through the day. We decided that we would stick to half pints whenever possible. This is something we rarely do when we are on foot. But we had never tried to do 15 pubs in one day either. So, after a few glasses and a sample of Southampton’s Imperial Porter (a perfect summer beer), it was time to walk at few blocks up the street to the Brazen Head.
Though it looks like it could have been in a past life, the Brazen Head is not an Irish pub. The mostly craft beer selection is dominated by East Coast brews with seven of seventeen being from New York when we were there.
I went cask at the Brazen Head, having Six Point’s Otis Oatmeal Stout followed by Stoudt’s American Pale Ale.
Now it was time for our first big walk of the day. Bar Great Harry was a 20 minute stroll in the blazing sun. We were looking forward to returning to the safety of air-conditioning but found Bar Great Harry open, literally. The air-conditioning was on but all the doors were open. We retreated to the back of the bar and tried to cool off.
Bar Great Harry was the eighth stop of the trip. When planning, I wondered if all these beer bars would have something different to try. Amazingly, at each place, we did find something new.
The find at Bar Great Harry was Captain Lawrence Ginger Man Ale. Not a ginger beer, rather a beer with ginger added, this brew was the PERFECT antidote for the heat and humidity.
We were already hitting the afternoon fade but still pressed on. Another 20 minute walk from Bar Great Harry were two more targets a few doors from each other.
We stopped in 4th Avenue Pub first. Here the half pint regimen began to brake down as it was happy hour so we could only get a pint. OK… Whatever.
My eyes focused on Six Point Sweet Action Ale. Cool name but what was it? The bartender said it was like a cross between and IPA and Hefeweizen. That sounded like more a description of Hopfenweisse. While I didn’t agree with that description, it was mighty tasty. However, I still don’t know what it is…
A few doors down was Pacific Standard. Billed a “West Coast” pub, the owners and fellow Berkeley grads dedicate half their taps to West Coast beers.
I settled in with another Six Point brew, Bengali IPA, as we chatted with both John and Jonathan about their bar and Cal football. But our chat was cut short as we needed to be somewhere else.
Taking the subway across Brooklyn, we finally reached the big event for the day, Brooklyn Brewery’s Friday night Happy Hour. Not a huge fan of the brewery’s beers, I have to admit this was the highlight of the trip for me.
From 6-11pm every Friday, the brewery opens their tasting room (They offer tours on Saturday). Tokens were $4 each or six for $20. A token bought you a 12oz beer from their regular lineup.
Groups of friends hang out, play games and munch on snacks they brought. Pizza can even be delivered from one of the many pizza parlors whose menus cover the tables.
We found a table and I acquired four glasses of their regular beers. While drinking Blast, their nice take on a West Coast Double IPA, I remembered Local 1 and 2, Brooklyn specialty brews that I had never tried before. These beers were three tokens each which also included the logo glass. What a deal! After obtaining the needed number of tokens, I had each Belgian-style brew in hand. Very nice.
Unfortunately, I had left scrabble in the hotel room. And it was getting loud in the tasting room which was beginning to get to us. We had someone to meet so it was time to move on.
Brooklyn Brewery left a good impression on me. I love places where friends get together at big tables to drink beer, chat and play games. My only disappointment was that I didn’t get to try their version of the Hopfenweisse.
Our last stop was Lucky Dog where we met a new friend Dawn. Sitting in their back beer garden we had a few beers and a nice quiet conversation. ahhhhh.
We only made seven of the fifteen beer places on our list. All, I can say is that we tried.
In planning our New York City trip, the list of beer targets started at a cozy dozen. However, it quickly swelled to over thirty. Certainly an ambitious plan for our three days in the Big Apple, but we wanted to give it a go. Ten plus beer places each day didn’t seem too unrealistic.
What we didn’t take into account was the weather. We used to think rain was the biggest enemy of beer travel. We were wrong. It’s East Coast August humidity.
We arrived in the Big Apple on Thursday morning via a red-eye from San Francisco. After a quick shower to help revive us from only four hours of sleep, we left our hotel and headed to the west side of Manhattan. Within a few minutes of leaving the hotel, we realized that our chosen modes of transportation, the subway and walking, were going to work against us in our quest. While the subway cars were air conditioned, the subway platforms were like saunas and being out on the street felt like walking on the surface of the sun, only more humid.
Our first destination was Chelsea Brewing, one of only two breweries we added to The List on the trip. We looked forward to the visit and not just for the air conditioning. First, Chelsea was our very first New York brewery. We also had mutual friends in common with the head brewer, Chris Sheehan, who years ago brewed at 20 Tank in San Francisco.
Chris was behind the bar as we sat down. After introducing ourselves and playing the “We’re friends with Motor” card, Chris proceeded to walk us through the selection of seven Chelsea beers.
I particularly enjoyed the Hop Angel IPA and Gotham Stout, two beers that showcased Chris’ West Coast brewing roots. Merideth, of course, gravitated to Checker Cab Blonde Ale, a Kölsch-style brew.
We were eventually joined by the second brewer Mark who chatted with us about the New York beer scene. It was a nice introduction to New York craft beer. But we needed to move on if we were going to reach our goal.
The Ear Inn, a manageable walk from CBC, was not on our list of places to visit for their beer selection, which was pretty standard pub choices. The Ear Inn, which touts itself as Manhattan’s oldest bar, is in a building that dates from 1817. Over the years, the building has been a house, brewery, saloon, and brothel, to name just a few incarnations. While each of us drank a pint of Brooklyn lager we soaked in the history of the place.
After our quick pints, we were off to Greenwich Village and one of the biggies in the New York beer scene, Blind Tiger. I don’t want to use the word disappointed, but 23 of the 28 taps were taken up by Sly Fox beers. Apparently there was a brewery event the night before. I like Sly Fox, but didn’t come to New York for the world’s largest selection of their beers.
I recovered from the initial shock and saw Dogfish Squall IPA on the bottle list. I’m not the biggest fan of DFH, but I took the opportunity to try some beer that I hadn’t seen on the West Coast. And I liked it. Admittedly, I shared the bottle with a group at the next table as the lack of sleep, the humidity and the beer were starting to drain the life out of me.
We headed back uptown to Hell’s Kitchen. After a quick pint at House of Brews, we walked towards the Pony Bar. We came across Ninth Avenue Vintner, a place I don’t think was ever mentioned to us. There are actually two shops that are next door to each other, same owners, but not connected. On the left is a wine shop. On the good side, there is a deli with cheese, olives and most importantly, beer. A nice bottle selection backed up 5 draft beers. In hindsight, I wish we took the time to stop for the beer, cheese and olives, but we wanted to miss the post-work crowd at the Pony Bar.
Ooops. Too late. Pony Bar was packed and loud by the time we arrived. We found ourselves a little space in a corner and ordered a few brews.
I started off with Southampton’s Triple. Pony Bar has an interesting take on beer. Of the 22 selections, there are no imports and all beers cost $5. Most are 14oz. pours with specialty and high ABV brews coming in an 8 oz glass.
The din got to us, however, and we quickly faded. We cut our Pony bar visit short and headed back to our hotel.
Mid-route we decided that resting wasn’t the best idea. We needed to plug on. The new plan was to head to Rattle and Hum, then the Ginger Man. If we were still alive after that, there was one more place we could check out.
Initially, we thought Rattle and Hum was the perfect name for the place. It was very crowded and really noisy [“Thursday is the new Friday”] and we were really tired. One and done looked like a big possibility.
But then Peter said ‘Hi’. A former brewer at Sacramento Brewing’s Oasis location, Peter relocated to New York City after its closure. We had chatted on Facebook and he saw that we planned to be at Rattle and Hum. We asked Peter to join us at our table.
We went from almost leaving to spending the rest of our night at Rattle and Hum. Peter introduced us to Patrick, the General Manager, who also joined us. Over time, our group grew. Mary, who writes for Alestreet News, joined us. Then a beer rep, whose name I forget sat down. At differing times, both Patrick and the beer rep would disappear for a few minutes and return with bottles for the group to try. Brooklyn’s Black Ops, Cigar City’s Bolita and Russian River Damnation were a few beers that I remember sampling.
Finally the day caught up to us. Four hours of sleep, the heat, the humidity, and six beer stops took their toll. Around half past eleven, we bid our little group adieu and headed back to our hotel. It was a great first day.