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Beer Bars (NYC Chapter)


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#1 Lex

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 02:31 PM

What Qualifies as a Beer Bar?

I realize that while we have a wine bar thread and a thread on classic old saloons we don’t yet have a thread dedicated to celebrating bars whose prime reason for existence is to feature beers and ales from craft breweries.

To those who don’t follow this sort of thing closely there might be some confusion between a bar with a nice beer selection and a dedicated beer bar. A quick way to distinguish between the two is to look at the number of draft beers on offer. A good bar will have 6 or 7 - a beer bar will have around 20.

Having a lot of bottled beers doesn’t make you a beer bar. It doesn’t take all that much effort to maintain a large inventory of bottles – it’s a low maintenance undertaking. Having a large inventory of draft beers, on the other hand, means that the owners are willing to invest considerable energy and resources in making a wide range of fresh beers available to their customers. Draft beers are high maintenance. They need to be kept at the proper temperature, the pipes need to be kept clean, and because they’re unpasteurized, they have a limited shelf life. Any bar that offers 20 brews on draft is telling you where their heart is.

Enough with the definitions; on to the beer.

"I don't understand what's wrong with thinking of correlation as a pricing convention the way one thinks of Black-Scholes vol. I mean, vol curves aren't "real" anyway, but nobody uses local vol models to price vanilla options." - Taion
 
"But this is blatant ultracrepidarianism on my part." - Taion

I have a dream of a multiplicity of pastramis.

"once the penis came out, there was discussions as to why we didn't order the testicles" - Daniel describing a meal in China

#2 Lex

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 02:32 PM

The Tour – Four Bars

For reasons that I haven’t fully thought through Brooklyn has become a hotbed for beer bars over the last 5 years. Sure, a sprinkling existed before that time but the number has been growing by leaps and bounds lately. I don’t intend to limit this thread to Brooklyn venues but since I live close by a number of these places I figured it would be a convenient spot to start.*

A few weeks ago I decided to do some research. I started at the Waterfront Ale House, at 20 years old the granddaddy of all Brooklyn beer bars. I hadn’t spent any quality time there in awhile and I wanted to use them as a benchmark to measure the newcomers. It also didn’t hurt that they sell a first rate burger. Rating beers is not something you want to do on an empty stomach.

Then it was on to an edgy area of 4th Avenue that contains no less than 3 beer bars in a one block area – Pacific Standard, Cherry Tree, and the 4th Ave Pub. I call it the Beer Triangle.

This was an ambitious agenda but then, I like to think that I’ve been training my whole life for this type of thing.

* I'm bolding this so there's no confusion.
"I don't understand what's wrong with thinking of correlation as a pricing convention the way one thinks of Black-Scholes vol. I mean, vol curves aren't "real" anyway, but nobody uses local vol models to price vanilla options." - Taion
 
"But this is blatant ultracrepidarianism on my part." - Taion

I have a dream of a multiplicity of pastramis.

"once the penis came out, there was discussions as to why we didn't order the testicles" - Daniel describing a meal in China

#3 Lex

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 02:33 PM

Waterfront Ale House
155 Atlantic Avenue (Between Henry & Clinton)

One of the opening shots of the beer revolution was the founding in 1989 of the Waterfront Ale House in Brooklyn. This coincided with my return to Park Slope from points south. I refuse to believe this was a coincidence and like to think of it as a “Field of Dreams” moment – they built it and I came. In a way. I’ve never left.

Ambiance
At first glance the WAH could pass as a neighborhood bar. As beer bars go it’s more brightly lighted than most others although if you’re over 40 you wouldn’t want to try and read a newspaper. The bar area is separated from the dining area by a 6 foot partition which makes for a slightly cramped aisle as people pass behind the seats at the bar.

The Ale House first opened across the street in a smaller space that has now become Last Exit. When they transferred to the larger quarters that they now occupy they brought along the stylized three dimensional model of the lower Manhattan skyline. It’s illuminated from the rear and after 20 years it’s nice to see that it’s still around.

Staff
Some of them are still around after 20 years too. I recognized bartenders and servers that I first saw in the early 1990s. It’s pleasing to see that level of stability. They’re all efficient and friendly.

The Crowd
Call it a Neighborhood Mix. The age range runs from early 20s to late 60s with the median at 35. In the adjoining dining room are some families with children. It was a lively but well behaved crowd. I arrived at 7 on a Friday night and there looked to be a sprinkling of after work parties mixed in with regulars who seemed like they are there for the long haul. The bar was crowded.

Soundtrack
Van Morrison’s Greatest Hits.

The Beers
I counted 17 beers on draft although there could have been more. It’s an extensive selection. They’ve got a few passable wines by the glass and I was stunned to see that they are now offering cocktails. This is worrisome but I suspect that nobody takes this seriously. They also serve absinthe.

I started with a Pennichuck IPA which I found only decent. It wasn’t particularly hoppy for an IPA and my notes say “watery.”

Things got better with the Harpoon Celtic Ale. It was balanced but a little thinner than I prefer. It was certainly more than drinkable.

The best was my 3rd selection, the Harpoon Leviathan. It was rounded and creamy with a pleasant hoppy undertone. I could drink a lot of this if given the chance.

Extra Points
I got a buyback on my 2nd beer and they would have comped me a 3rd but I didn’t let them. They took me for a reviewer once I started taking notes. I find it endearing that a place as established as the WAF is concerned about what a reviewer thinks. As far as I’m concerned they’re bulletproof.

For 20 years the WAH has been offering free help-yourself popcorn from a freestanding popcorn stand. It’s salty and addictive.

They have a full menu and serve above average pub food. The burger is quite good. I had one at the bar.

In preparing this post I researched absinthe on Wikipedia. Among other things the article says “Absinthe traditionally has a natural green color but can also be colorless. It is commonly referred to in historical literature as "la fée verte" (the Green Fairy).”

I thought you should know that.

"I don't understand what's wrong with thinking of correlation as a pricing convention the way one thinks of Black-Scholes vol. I mean, vol curves aren't "real" anyway, but nobody uses local vol models to price vanilla options." - Taion
 
"But this is blatant ultracrepidarianism on my part." - Taion

I have a dream of a multiplicity of pastramis.

"once the penis came out, there was discussions as to why we didn't order the testicles" - Daniel describing a meal in China

#4 Lex

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 02:34 PM

Cherry Tree
65 4th Ave. (between Bergen and St. Marks)

Cherry Tree is located in the previously mentioned Beer Triangle – a one block area populated by 3 beer bars. That area of 4th Avenue is one block away from a large housing project and 10 years ago I would not have chosen to walk on that block after dark. The store fronts consisted of hole in the wall takeout Chinese joints, car service dispatchers, Hispanic travel agencies, and flat/fix places. It was a full service neighborhood – scary looking hookers operated a couple of blocks away at the corner of Pacific St.

The hookers are gone now but even in this time of relatively low crime the area retains a certain edge. Two toothless black men chatted with each other a couple of doors down from the entrance. A third rode down the street on a Jazzy. (Maybe they have a club?) At any rate if I was a woman I wouldn’t want to go strolling around there alone at 1:00AM after having 5 or 6 pints of beer.

Ambiance
Cherry Tree is a narrow dark place, pleasant enough. There are scattered small tables and in the back is a projection screen showing random TV shows. One night it was extreme snowboarding. On another, it was Clint Eastwood in a cop movie. I think the TV was tuned to the Ironic Channel.

There was a wooden beer selection board behind the bar with chiseled labels showing the brewer and the specific beer. It was supposed to look rustic but I found it to be nearly illegible. Later I discovered that they had a printed beer list.

Staff
There was only a single bartender but he was efficient.

Soundtrack
David Bowie, Flock of Seagulls, and lots of rap. Then, for a change of pace, more rap. It was all too loud to allow easy conversation with anyone who was more than 3 feet away.

The Crowd
The average age was around 23. They were well behaved and considering the volume of the music they weren’t shouting. I had the feeling that while they enjoyed the beers, the bar aspect of the place was the most important thing to them. In other words if the owners cut back the beer selection by 70% the crowd would still show up. The place was no more than half full at 10:00PM on a Friday night.

The Beers
They have 21 beers on tap and I tried 2 of them.

Victory Pilsner – my notes say “disappointingly ordinary.”

Sixpoint IPA – It was very full and creamy. After a minute you notice coffee and chocolate overtones and a slight touch of sweetness. A lot of people like that in a beer but it’s not something I prize.

Extra Points
There was an interesting video game being played at the end of the bar. A flat screen monitor, about the size of a regular computer screen, was set up on the bar. It was a two player game that consisted of side by side displays of what initially appeared to be the same picture. The pictures differed in subtly different ways and the object of the game was to touch the screen with a stylus to identify the parts of the picture that differed.

To make things interesting the pictures did not consist of forest scenes where you looked for bunnies and squirrels in different trees. No, the pictures were of swimsuit models in skimpy outfits posing suggestively.

The game caught my interest. It was being played by 2 young girls with great expertise.

I tried hard to imagine sitting side by at the bar with my friend Brian and touching a stylus to the screen identifying tiny differences in pictures of semi naked men. After some thought, I decided that it will never happen.


"I don't understand what's wrong with thinking of correlation as a pricing convention the way one thinks of Black-Scholes vol. I mean, vol curves aren't "real" anyway, but nobody uses local vol models to price vanilla options." - Taion
 
"But this is blatant ultracrepidarianism on my part." - Taion

I have a dream of a multiplicity of pastramis.

"once the penis came out, there was discussions as to why we didn't order the testicles" - Daniel describing a meal in China

#5 Lex

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 02:35 PM

Pacific Standard
82 4th Ave (between Bergen and St. Marks)

This place bills itself as a California style beer bar. Some day I would like to go to the west coast and do extensive research to find out of this is true. In the meantime I’ll note that the only thing Californian about the place is the beers, and even a few of those are from the East Coast. The crowd is from Brooklyn and is therefore local and sustainable.

I liked this place a lot.

Ambiance
The bar seems wider than a standard New York store front and is pleasantly spacious. At the rear of the front room is a back lighted stained glass window that attracts the eye. There are about 4 mid sized tables in the front by the door. In the rear there’s a comfortable back room fitted out with the bookshelves and couches that became mandatory for back rooms about 5 years ago. There was also a big screen TV showing a basketball game. As far as I could tell the TV had it’s sound off, a nice touch. (There was no TV in the front room.)

The lighting was normal for a bar, not overly bright or overly dim.

Staff
There were two young bartenders working the long bar. They were efficient and friendly and better yet, they seemed proud to be working there.

The Crowd
The age level was the same as Cherry Tree, about 23 to 24, but there were subtle differences. I’ve got it. Cherry Tree was filled with self consciously hip Business majors. Pacific Standard caters to English and History majors with a smattering of Psych majors and engineers. They appeared less polished than the crowd at Cherry Tree or the 4th Ave. Pub but I thought that was a good thing.

The place was about two thirds full at 9:30 on a Friday night and the crowd was well behaved considering that they were young and drinking beer. (Compare that to the Gate in Park Slope where the crowd starts shrieking at 7:00PM and doesn’t let up until closing.)

Soundtrack
Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, the Kinks, Neil Young, and various folkish sounding things that might have been playing on a college radio station. The volume was low enough not to hinder conversation.

The Beers
They have around 16 beers on draft. To make choosing easier, there’s a printed beer list with a short flavor profile of each beer. From my sampling, I found the profiles to be accurate and very useful in selecting the types of beers you’re likely to enjoy. Whenever I saw “Belgian” I immediately crossed that brew off the list. Here’s what I had:

Stone Pale Ale – frothy on the tongue with a touch of sweetness. For a pale ale, it was surprisingly unhoppy. The bit of sweetness threw me too. Some people might enjoy this but it’s not for me.

Bear Republic Racer 5 – as soon as it touches your tongue it seems to explode into foam. That doesn’t sound pleasant but it is. The beer is hoppy but not overly so and the flavors are nicely balanced. I’d be happy to drink a lot more of this.

Sierra Nevada ESB – I was looking forward to this since Sierra Pale Ale is my default beer at home. The ESB isn’t a bad beer at all but it seemed to have a little less character than the standard pale ale. I wouldn’t bother with this again.

Chelsea Hop Angel – the beer tip sheet called this a California style cask conditioned ale although unlike the other beers it’s brewed in New York. I’ve been to London over 20 times; maybe they brew them that way out in California but the Chelsea Hop Angel was a ringer for a well made British bitter. It was creamy on the tongue with a pleasant balance of hops. Since it was a hand pulled cask ale it was cool rather than chilled and naturally carbonated. In a London pub this beer could hold it’s own. In a Brooklyn bar it was heaven.

The cask ales, like all their beers, rotate so I’m not sure how often the Hop Angel comes around. This is probably a good thing since I’d be tempted to move closer to Pacific Standard and start dating this beer.

Extra Points
Behind the bar is a chart labeled The Periodic Table of Beer Styles. It’s a ringer for the Periodic Table of Elements and is probably designed to appeal to those engineers I mentioned earlier.

I observed a girl at the bar eating what appeared to be sauerkraut right out of a jar. I have no explanation for this.

The bar has a dark side. They have a walk in refrigerator behind the bar and inside I observed cans of Schaeffer and Bud light. No one actually drank any of this stuff while I was there. Perhaps they do a special “Asshole Night” promotion on Tuesdays.

I would avoid ordering a cocktail in this bar. At one point I saw one of the bartenders sidle up to a computer behind the bar and call up an application called Webtender. It was an on line guide to making mixed drinks and he was looking up how to make an Old Fashioned. This is a probably a bad sign for Cocktailians. On the other hand the bartenders are whizzes at working the hand pump.

There was a sign behind the bar that said “Ask about our frequent drinker program.” Perhaps I will look into this.
"I don't understand what's wrong with thinking of correlation as a pricing convention the way one thinks of Black-Scholes vol. I mean, vol curves aren't "real" anyway, but nobody uses local vol models to price vanilla options." - Taion
 
"But this is blatant ultracrepidarianism on my part." - Taion

I have a dream of a multiplicity of pastramis.

"once the penis came out, there was discussions as to why we didn't order the testicles" - Daniel describing a meal in China

#6 Lex

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 02:37 PM

4th Avenue Pub
76 4th Avenue (between Bergen and St. Marks)

This bar is located about 4 or 5 doors down from Pacific Standard but it’s worlds apart. There were things about it that annoyed me so much that I only stayed for one beer.

Ambiance
It’s dark. Very very dark.

Staff
The bartender was alert and took my order promptly.

The Crowd
Annoying and loud. Imagine the crowd from Cherry Tree, a little too self consciously hip for their own good. Now imagine the crowd from the Cherry Tree shouting at the top of their lungs. This place is as loud as the Gate and I do not consider that a compliment.

Honestly, I believe if you swapped out the craft beers with Bud Light and Corona these people wouldn’t notice. The place was about 80% full.

Soundtrack
Rap, blasted at top volume.

The Beers
I didn’t count the beers but they seemed to have a good number of them.

I ordered the Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard. What a great name. It sat in the glass looking dark and sinister. Once I tasted it I was reminded of the first time I had a dark ale at McSorley’s. It looked far tougher than it tasted, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a pleasant beer but not particularly noteworthy.

I didn’t stay for a second beer. The combination of the screaming crowd and the loud rap music drove me out.

Extra Points
I’m probably being unfair to this place although based on some of the comments on Yelp I am not alone in finding this bar unpleasant. People who like really loud bars should give it a try. The place was packed so obviously a lot of people like it.
"I don't understand what's wrong with thinking of correlation as a pricing convention the way one thinks of Black-Scholes vol. I mean, vol curves aren't "real" anyway, but nobody uses local vol models to price vanilla options." - Taion
 
"But this is blatant ultracrepidarianism on my part." - Taion

I have a dream of a multiplicity of pastramis.

"once the penis came out, there was discussions as to why we didn't order the testicles" - Daniel describing a meal in China

#7 Abbylovi

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 02:53 PM

Excellent idea, I thought we had one but the closest we came to the topic was the NY pub thread, and pubs with good beer and food. Of the bars you've posted, I've only heard of Waterfront.
It is better to have beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.

#8 Lex

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 02:55 PM

QUOTE(Abbylovi @ Mar 10 2009, 10:53 AM) View Post
Excellent idea, I thought we had one but the closest we came to the topic was the NY pub thread, and pubs with good beer and food. Of the bars you've posted, I've only heard of Waterfront.

Pacific Standard is the keeper of the group.

ETA - There are a bunch of beer bars in Williamsburg that I want to try. As I said earlier in the thread, I'm not sure why Brooklyn seems to have a disproportionate number of these places but I'm really happy about it.
"I don't understand what's wrong with thinking of correlation as a pricing convention the way one thinks of Black-Scholes vol. I mean, vol curves aren't "real" anyway, but nobody uses local vol models to price vanilla options." - Taion
 
"But this is blatant ultracrepidarianism on my part." - Taion

I have a dream of a multiplicity of pastramis.

"once the penis came out, there was discussions as to why we didn't order the testicles" - Daniel describing a meal in China

#9 Abbylovi

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 02:58 PM

Which ones in Williamsburg? Have you been to Spuyten Duyvil?
It is better to have beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.

#10 ghostrider

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 03:03 PM

Commendable effort. Excellent commentary.

If you're ever out in NJ, you need to stop by Andy's Corner Bar & give us a report. For that matter, so do I.
It was hard to avoid the feeling that somebody, somewhere, was missing the point. I couldn't even be sure that it wasn't me. - Douglas Adams

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#11 Lex

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 03:05 PM

QUOTE(Abbylovi @ Mar 10 2009, 10:58 AM) View Post
Which ones in Williamsburg? Have you been to Spuyten Duyvil?


I've got a list somewhere. I'll dig it out. The only WB beer bar I've been to is Mugs Ale House. I like it a lot.

"I don't understand what's wrong with thinking of correlation as a pricing convention the way one thinks of Black-Scholes vol. I mean, vol curves aren't "real" anyway, but nobody uses local vol models to price vanilla options." - Taion
 
"But this is blatant ultracrepidarianism on my part." - Taion

I have a dream of a multiplicity of pastramis.

"once the penis came out, there was discussions as to why we didn't order the testicles" - Daniel describing a meal in China

#12 Abbylovi

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 03:14 PM

QUOTE(Lex @ Mar 10 2009, 11:05 AM) View Post
QUOTE(Abbylovi @ Mar 10 2009, 10:58 AM) View Post
Which ones in Williamsburg? Have you been to Spuyten Duyvil?


I've got a list somewhere. I'll dig it out. The only WB beer bar I've been to is Mugs Ale House. I like it a lot.

Yes I like Mugs a lot too. The only other Williamsburg beer place besides Mugs and Spuyten that I can think of is that beer garden.
It is better to have beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.

#13 Wilfrid1

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 03:16 PM

They all sound a bit smart for me.

The comments about bottled beers reminded me of the Peculier Pub* on Bleecker. It's never mentioned by beer mavens, presumably because the ambience and NYU crowd are so unappealing, but it does (or did) have an encyclopaedic list of beers. But now I am thinking those are bottles; I can't remember what drafts it has.

*I have sudden misgivings about the name. I know the place I mean, but have I got the name right?
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#14 Abbylovi

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 03:21 PM

QUOTE(Wilfrid @ Mar 10 2009, 11:16 AM) View Post
*I have sudden misgivings about the name. I know the place I mean, but have I got the name right?

Yes. I hate that place.
It is better to have beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.

#15 Lex

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 03:22 PM

QUOTE(Wilfrid @ Mar 10 2009, 11:16 AM) View Post
They all sound a bit smart for me.

The comments about bottled beers reminded me of the Peculier Pub* on Bleecker. It's never mentioned by beer mavens, presumably because the ambience and NYU crowd are so unappealing, but it does (or did) have an encyclopaedic list of beers. But now I am thinking those are bottles; I can't remember what drafts it has.

*I have sudden misgivings about the name. I know the place I mean, but have I got the name right?

Farrell's groupie.

Years ago I used to visit the Slaughtered Lamb on Saturday afternoons when it was relatively quiet. Again, a big bottled beer selection but not many drafts.

BTW, that draft vs. bottled beer criteria is something I made up that sounded logical. It's not official in any sense.
"I don't understand what's wrong with thinking of correlation as a pricing convention the way one thinks of Black-Scholes vol. I mean, vol curves aren't "real" anyway, but nobody uses local vol models to price vanilla options." - Taion
 
"But this is blatant ultracrepidarianism on my part." - Taion

I have a dream of a multiplicity of pastramis.

"once the penis came out, there was discussions as to why we didn't order the testicles" - Daniel describing a meal in China