In the early 2000s of Manhattan’s post-millennium beer movement, “there weren’t many beer bars,” says Donagher, a fourth-generation bar owner who immigrated from Ireland in 2002 and has opened four beer bars since 2012. “I remember one time we had six Cantillons on tap for two weeks. Now, I can’t even have it on for two hours. Nobody knew about sour beer back then. I couldn’t sell it. I ended up selling growlers of Cantillon. We [had] a lambic festival, and nobody came.”
Beer in the Big Apple today looks a bit different. “The sheer number of bars that focus just on craft and take care of their draft lines has exponentially increased,” says Mary Izett, author of Speed Brewing: Techniques and Recipes for Fast-Fermenting Beers, Ciders, Meads, and More, who is also secretary of the New York City Brewers Guild, past president of both the New York City Homebrewers Guild and Malted Barley Appreciation Society, and current co-host of the Heritage Radio Network’s Fuhmentaboudit! podcast. “We used to do pub crawls and have places on the list that had only a few bottles of craft. Today, those options have exploded. A pub crawl would take you five days or multiple weeks at this point!”
This explosion hasn’t exactly supported brewery openings. Though Manhattan had multiple heydays of breweries, first in the mid-to-late 1800s and then again in the 1980s and 1990s, today, issues such as zoning laws, real estate costs, and availability of space make opening a brewery prohibitive at best. However, where breweries on the island itself may be lacking, access to amazing beer—both locally produced in the outer boroughs and around the country and the world—has skyrocketed in recent years.
“Manhattan is a true testament to the health of the beer industry in New York City,” says Zach Mack, Manhattan bar owner and beer writer. “We may not be producing our own [beer], but the fact that we’re willing to throw beer lines up in support of locally made stuff—and that beer actually flows and keeps people coming back—shows that we’re as curious a beer culture as you can find in any of the five boroughs and any other part of the state.”
Mack, who owns the five-year-old Alphabet City Beer Co. and a brand new seasonal bar, Governors Island Beer Co., sees Manhattan’s position as a strength.
“The idea that [beer] has to be brewed on this island is novel more than it is practical,” says Mack. “What you get in Manhattan is a much broader picture of the five-borough beer scene in general. That adds benefit in that we get to pick and choose our favorites and offer that for people who may be from out of town or [are] casual beer fans who want to drink locally.”
When push comes to shove, he says, “We’re New Yorkers. Expectations are the highest, and the margin for error is the lowest. You have to know what you’re doing.”
Lower Manhattan: Financial District
If you’re spending the day visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or perhaps the World Trade Center, you’ll doubtless be thirsty for a few brews after the climb. Treadwell Park recently opened a new location downtown (see Upper East Side for its original digs).
Nearby, less than a five-minute stroll from Trinity Church, Clinton Hall offers a spacious, lively atmosphere with regularly rotating taps paired with burgers, brats, and other beer-pairing fare in either indoor or outdoor communal seating, the latter equipped with games such as Manhattan-sized mini golf as well as heating lamps in winter.
Or, head to Stone Street to see where the local finance crowd lets off steam after work on Wall Street. Ulysses’ Folk House has a dependable lineup of decent brews, and pub grub spans both the Irish and Greek heritages of its immigrant owners.
Lower Manhattan: East Village, The Bowery, Lower East Side
You could easily spend your day and evening in the East Village and still have more to see (and drink). Proletariat is the star here, shining in its dimly lit environs with a space and menu that are equally narrow, obscurity being the key to its appeal. For happy hour, head to Upstate for beer and oysters or belly up to d.b.a. for beer and bourbon at one of NYC’s original beer bars—it celebrated its twentieth anniversary in October 2017.
Good Beer is a good pit stop for beer, cider, and growlers to go. Fools Gold makes for a great meeting place, thanks to its location on Houston Street and a lengthy draft menu. On the east side of Tompkins Square Park, beacon to a formerly beer-barren Alphabet City is the eponymous Alphabet City Beer Co. (also known as ABC Beer Co.), a laid-back bar and shop hybrid that leans more toward the former. Where other bars focus solely on the esoteric, Owner Zach Mack describes his as a “converter bar,” offering carefully selected beer and cheese pairings in a casual atmosphere.
Barely a block away, Zum Schneider is a lively, traditionally German-run joint celebrating life with good food, good beer, and a good crowd—plus, “their parties are epic,” says Mack.
On the Bowery is one of Manhattan’s few operating breweries, the Munich-based Paulaner. Past the famous Lombardi’s, serving pizza since 1905, as well as the New Museum, is the speakeasy-esque One Mile House, featuring Prohibition-era styling and thirty drafts. Randolph Beer NOLITA, a gastropub with a friendly menu, sections beers by Light, Hop, Malt, Rich, and Funk.
The Lower East Side is majorly packed with college drinking dives, but it’s worth a walk through to soak in the culture. After stopping for falafel, dumplings, or dollar pizza, make a stop at Top Hops Beer Shop for an educational beer experience or bottles to go, sourced from around the world.
Hopefully coming soon to a space near Astor Place is Torch & Crown, a brewery-in-planning that sets its sights on crafting hops-forward ales in the heart of Manhattan.
Lower Manhattan: West Village, Greenwich Village
Blind Tiger is an oft-mentioned must, and for very good reason. Beer events of the best caliber happen frequently here (and have been since the dawn of Manhattan craft beer). But don’t just go for the street cred—it can get uncomfortably packed on weeknights. For a tamer taste of one of New York’s most important beer bars, go for lunch when you can grab a seat by the window or stone fireplace.
Relative newcomer Upright Brew House is making a name for itself with a focus on local brews curated by owner and Upright Coffee owner turned craft-beer geek, Daniel Neumann.
NoMad and Midtown East
Times Square is a sightseeing must, but that doesn’t mean you have to drink like a tourist. Instead, head to The Ginger Man, a Manhattan institution that’s managed to preserve its Old School vibe while adding in New School brews. Head here before happy hour to avoid the onslaught of nine-to-fivers and to take full advantage of the spacious interior armchair-clad back room with experienced servers pulling their weight in liquid at the gleaming copper wall of sixty taps.
Another long-standing craft-beer bar with two Midtown locations is Rattle N’ Hum, known for its wide selection and cask ales. If a nineties brewpub vibe is what you’re after, Heartland Brewery has several locations here as well.
In the small neighborhood “north of Madison,” beer-minded folk will want to turn their attention to The Cannibal Beer & Butcher, where meat, seasonal veggies, and beers—300 of them—pack the wooden shelves and refrigerators to the brim. The neighboring Cannibal Liquor House narrows the focus to burgers, cocktails, and bar food. Either will please the carnivorous. A word to the wise: be sure to check the price list should you decide to pair your meats and cheeses with a nice bomber of sour ale.
Midtown East is also packed with bars, but many skew young and rowdy; for a nice meal in a warm environment with plenty of beers, try Draught 55, where selections surpass thirty on draft and cask, and forty in bottles.
Midtown West, Chelsea, Flatiron
Highly recommended, leaning slightly toward upscale but a favorite among casual craft seekers, is Haymaker Bar and Kitchen, where the exceptional selection is known to draw crowds, be they borough-hoppers or groups awaiting (or avoiding) a trip to Penn Station or Madison Square Garden.
In Hell’s Kitchen, As Is is another elevated pub adored among industry members as much for its bar design and environment as its beer list.
Near the Flatiron Building, Eataly’s Birreria is a lovely rooftop beer garden open to the elements in summer and comfortably covered (and heated) in cooler months. After a stroll through the impressive and hectic food market downstairs, take the elevator up for savory Italian snacks (fried mushrooms, beer-battered fried cheese) or entrees, and enjoy a beer made on site or one from the eclectic beer list (including Eataly’s brewer partners, Dogfish and Baladin).
Should your drinking interests overlap with vintage video games, Chelsea is your best bet for a Barcade visit.
New to the beer scene, in Hudson Yards, Death Ave recently opened a brewery in its Greek-inspired restaurant; tours are available upon request.
Upper West Side
The best place for beer hunting in the Upper West Side is Amsterdam Avenue, running south-north along the length of Central Park and beyond through Upper Manhattan. If Lincoln Center or the American Museum of Natural History is on your agenda, walk a few short blocks to George Keeley, a craft-focused pub that recently celebrated its fifteenth anniversary. For a worthwhile lowbrow break, Dive Bar is popular among locals, whether they’re there for the craft or not. The liquid focuses on first-wave brews (Anchor, Allagash, Left Hand), along with Millennial favorites such as Brooklyn’s Grimm Artisanal Ales and Threes Brewing.
Upper East Side
The Upper East Side has bragging rights for the bulk of Manhattan’s brewing history. George Ehret’s Hell Gate Brewery occupied a massive space here in the late 1800s, with Ruppert opening right around the corner. Today, the affluent neighborhood is home to a growing number of beer bars.
At the very top is the recently opened The Rochard, which had its soft opening in the fall of 2017. Earl’s Beer and Cheese, a quirky joint serving good ‘n’ greasy cheese- and pork-themed dishes, also offers mostly local craft brews. The bar itself is absurdly tiny, but the space in back begs for a relaxed afternoon munching on grilled cheese, sipping pints, and perhaps dabbling in a game of Jenga.
Bondurants is ideal for bar-style brunch or for watching a game on flat screens TVs cleverly hidden behind the chalkboard beer menus; beers will impress, be they local or the latest from Hill Farmstead.
The Pony Bar is one of the early craft-beer bars in Manhattan, having survived through several locations. Along with your pint, try one of their famously spicy pickleback shots. Nearby, Treadwell Park Upper East Side promises pub fare and a solid list of twenty craft drafts, cask beer, and cocktails, along with arcade games, popcorn, and cotton candy for dessert. Ask for Anne Becerra, certified cicerone and craft-beer writer and educator, who runs the beer program there. Bottoming out the Upper East Side crawl is The Jeffrey Craft Beer & Bites, where “bites” refers to a variety of bar snacks, sandwiches, and North Fork oysters.
Upper Manhattan and Harlem
Home to a rich culinary culture, Harlem and Upper Manhattan offer a day’s worth of eating and drinking exploration on their own. Beer has certainly become a part of this, with three brewers calling the area home: Harlem Brewing Company, helmed by owner/brewer of nearly two decades, Celeste Beatty; Dyckman Beer Co., started by Juan J. Camilo in 2012; and Julian’s Harlem Blue, established in 2014 by CEO, Julian Riley. While none have brick-and-mortar locations yet, their beers can be found at local bars and supermarkets. On Frederick Douglass Boulevard are a few beer-drinking destinations: Bier International, loved as much for its beer as its truffle fries; Harlem Tavern, offering ample patio seating; and Hop House Harlem, a newer bar that pairs hip hop and sleek New York-themed design with local brews and upscale Italian pub fare.
At Bierstrasse, a German-themed beer garden located under the 12th Avenue viaduct overlooking the Hudson River, traditional Bavarian brews take the taps while a small bottle and can selection highlights local brews for Harlem and the Bronx, as well as larger national brands.