Pub Crawl: NYC Bars That Serve Great Food
by Kathleen Squires, 03/05/2009
Thanks to the City's recent gastropub revolution, many local bars are no longer just places where everybody might know your name. Some culinary-minded barkeeps are refining their menus and redefining the idea of pub grub in the process. Our list of some of the tops in town, compiled just in time for St. Patrick's Day, goes beyond just Irish joints, however. What they all have in common: nicely sourced suds and brew-friendly bites that are a cut above, from the perfectly fried Belgian frites at Manhattan's Resto and the abundant wurst platter at Killmeyer's Old Bavaria Inn in Staten Island to modern Slovakian flavors at Brooklyn's Eurotrip. The kitchens at these spots see to it that bar food means more than wings and skins. Here's where to find them:
The Spotted Pig
The best British invasion since the Beatles and the Stones combines the talents of kitchen rock stars April Bloomfield (executive chef and co-owner), an England native, and Mario Batali (an investor) with actual rock stars Bono and Michael Stipe (also investors). Add the front-of-the-house skills of former record company exec Ken Friedman for an off-the-charts collaboration. The bi-level space, appointed with pub tables, upholstered stools and pig figurines filling every nook, forms an authentically English atmosphere, while the retro-alt sound track (everything from Morrissey to Johnny Thunders) and random celeb sightings feel fabulously New York. But what rocks most are dishes like the heaping burger, smothered with Roquefort, and gnudi, cloud-light sheep's ricotta dumplings in sage and brown butter, which have a slew of groupies of their own. Bonus track: the Spotted Pig Bitter and the hand-drawn, cask-conditioned house ale.
The tin ceiling, long marble bar and boisterous vibe clearly say "watering hole." Yet the comfortingly clever menu and a list of nearly two dozen imported chocolates for dessert show exactly how much there is for the Belgians to boast about in the kitchen. Crisp frites come with terrific dippers like sweet chili, cumin-garlic yogurt and just plain mayo for purists. Order the moules frites, plump mussels sitting in a debal curry, coconut milk and cilantro broth, for the perfect Flemish feast. Dark beer brings out the richness in carbonnade, tender beef stew slow cooked in the brew overnight. The best of Belgium is enhanced by the list of monk-styled brews, like Delirium Tremens and Trappist Achel Blond.
Bayard's Ale House
The charm doesn't stop at the Irish brogues abounding in this neighborhood bar. There's the early-19th-century setting, which includes a wall of church pew seats; 20 beers on draft, from Old Speckled Hen to Smithwick's; and expertly executed comfort classics. A creamy stew of chicken and veggies sits beneath the flaky crust of a pot pie, nicely charred bangers complement buttery mashed potatoes, and the crab cakes, inherited from the recipe books of the pub's former incarnation, Sazerac House, are big on meat and light on filler. Munching on wings—crispy on the outside and slathered with a tart and tasty sauce—at the welcoming, polygonal bar is the drill for loyal regulars.
Jimmy's No. 43
What seems like just another East Village dive from the exterior pleasantly surprises all who enter this charismatic basement, where the scene and cuisine create instant barflies of newcomers. Mustard-colored walls, mirrors, casks and wooden pub tables and stools establish a cozy locale for tippling, while the frequently changing menu of delectables wins fierce foodie fans. On any given night, juicy, skillet-fried beer sausages, Creole beef stew, an artisanal cheese platter or addictively delicious sliders give the palate a giant double take. German and Belgian classics on tap, as well as lesser-known imports like Hitachino Nest (a Japanese white ale), appease beer connoisseurs, proving the gastrodive is certainly on the rise.
It's perpetually Oktoberfest at this Queens spot, known for its schnitzels and suds since 1972. A giant mounted moose head, old-fashioned chandeliers, wood paneling and stein-lined shelves surround local families populating plaid banquettes and tucking into German classics like jägerschnitzel (breaded veal cutlet smothered in mushroom sauce) and vinegary sauerbraten beef with potato dumplings and red cabbage. A herring salad, served with beets and potatoes, and brook trout in horseradish cream break up the meaty array. Weihenstephaner Kristall Weissbier and Schneider Weisse beers pair perfectly with the pretzels, specially made at a bakery just for Zum Stammtisch. A dozen hard-to-find German wines and a formidable Black Forest cake further please Teutonic tastes.
Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden
Long known as the last original beer garden in New York City, grog fanciers crowd the picnic tables at this sprawling garden, which is especially popular on sunny afternoons. Its friends aren't only fair-weather, however, as the yard is open all year round. Czech crepes, whether savory (stuffed with chicken, spinach and mushrooms) or sweet (with strawberries and whipped cream), are the popular choice to go with the decidedly un-urban surroundings. Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden also serves as a community center of sorts for the Czech and Slovak set, offering cultural events, classes for kids and regular jazz and comedy performances. Those who drink Czechvar or Dark BrouCzech fit right in.
Eurotrip Restaurant & Bar
The new Bohemians hang out here—designy backpacker types who might have spent time in Prague before it became touristy. The indoor-beer-garden vibe of the dining room is outlined with fence-like panels and walls the color of a rich lager, with Andy Warhol quotes amping up the arty ambiance. No surprise, then, that there's an "absinthe experience" touted at the bar, but the crowd here likes beer, as is evident from the abundance of foamy glasses of Staropramen. Czech and Hungarian dishes abound, with lángos (Hungarian fried bread with garlic and brown butter) and pierogi stuffed with spinach and roasted red peppers as well as pork or potato. It all comes together for a funky, upscale-youth-hostel vibe—the perfect South Slope site to relive the good old days of Eurail travel.
Iron light fixtures, Edison bulbs and a shiny wood bar set against a brick backdrop may be the current formula for many a modern-day restaurant and drinking stop, but the thoughtful pub fare sets this Park Sloper apart from similar wannabes. Brooklynites "ooh" and "aah" over beer specials, like Gaffel Kölsch and Avery Ellie's Brown Ale, and from the first bite of the gratis fried chickpeas discover that there's no room for middling mozzarella sticks on the food menu. What's that twist you taste in the fried calamari? Curry batter. Braised short ribs with polenta and Guinness-spiked toffee pudding also show that there's good chemistry creating the comfort food here. On Tuesdays, pair beer or wine with an entrée for $15 to $20, and you've got a scientific model for the perfect borough gastropub.
Killmeyer's Old Bavaria Inn
Part of the building itself dates back to the early 1700s. Nicolas Killmeyer bought the property in 1855; soon after, the original building was expanded, the upstairs was converted to a hotel and a gorgeous mahogany bar was built. So even though the current owners took it over in 1995, there's a great sense of nostalgia built into this Staten Islander. The festive hofbrauhaus atmosphere inside—with wood paneling, steins galore and a tin ceiling—spills outside into the beer garden. More than 100 beers, like Spaten Dunkel or a berry-tinged Berliner Kindl Weisse, see to it that patrons' thirst is slaked. The terrific wurst platter, with bratwurst, knockwurst and weisswurst plumply sitting on a plate with red cabbage and sauerkraut; crisp potato pancakes; and a live oompah band especially add to the Bavarian spirit.