Craft Drafts: Artisanal Beer Joints in the City  

Ben Detrick and Gabrielle Moss, 02/03/2010

Sure, anything cold tastes revelatory—whether after a late show at a club or during a baseball game on a hot summer afternoon—but a growing number of New York City watering holes are offering brews with more substantial qualities than your typical pilsner. Craft beer—once the domain of beer nerds, those tubular guys with beards who go to tasting conventions and drone on about obscure India pale ales—is enjoying a renaissance. As interest in the ecology and foodie wisdom intersect, more and more drinkers are enjoying beer from smaller breweries (companies that make under 15,000 barrels a year generally qualify as microbreweries), locally made drafts and unpasteurized cask ales. The top-shelf stuff is known as "craft beer." Here are nine places in New York City with noteworthy selections. —Ben Detrick
If this whets your appetite, see our feature on great local brews.

Nurnberger Bierhaus
817 Castleton Ave., 718-816-7461, Staten Island
This beloved Nurnberger Bierhaus charms Staten Island locals with its warm and friendly staff, a rotating selection of 10 German beers on tap, outdoor seating area and selection of traditional German comfort foods like hot pretzels, bratwurst, schnitzel and strudel. Many fans of this authentic German beer hall claim that it matches the famed Bohemian Beer Garden in Astoria for its cuisine and ambiance. —Gabrielle Moss

Photo: Malcolm Brown

124 Rabbit Club
124 MacDougal St., 212-254-0575, Greenwich Village, Manhattan
Although not labyrinthine enough to qualify as a warren, 124 Rabbit Club is aptly named: this Greenwich Village speakeasy is tricky to find, subterranean and illuminated almost entirely by candles set in severed beer bottles and the red glow of refrigeration units. With psychedelic rock piping through the speakers, regulars sidle up to the steel bar to sip from three taps (often local, like Brooklyn Chocolate and Six Point Ale) and 70 bottled selections hailing primarily from Belgium, Germany and Great Britain. It's an anomaly for this thrashing collegiate neighborhood, but one that has found a receptive audience. "We're not like other bars here, but our customers are great," says bartender Sean. "I guess we've been lucky!" Credit the rabbit's foot. —BD

Photo: Malcolm Brown

191 Fifth Ave., 718-230-7600, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Equal parts gourmet market, restaurant and bar, Bierkraft is a Park Slope paradise for the epicurean beer lover. Thanks to the counter-pressure taps pouring domestic drafts like Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner and Captain Lawrence Freshchester Pale, Bierkraft sells 64-ounce growlers for takeout in refillable bottles (the selection changes often). "It's a really cool way to take something home and enjoy it," says cellar manager Matt Barclay. "The beer never comes in contact with the atmosphere, so it stays fresh for months." More impatient customers can pick from the 1,000-strong selection of bottled beers, grab a Berkshire ham and cave-aged Gruyère sandwich and settle in at one of the communal picnic tables. —BD

Photo: Malcolm Brown

Brooklyn Brewery Tasting Room
79 N. 11th St., 718-486-7422, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Brooklyn Brewery
may be responsible for the City's most ubiquitous family of homegrown beers, but most people have never slaked their thirst directly from the source. Well, you can. The Williamsburg suds makers cast open their gates to the public on weekends for tours and $4 brews in the large bar area (Saturday, noon–8pm; Sunday, noon–6pm); there's also a Friday-night happy hour (6–11pm). Going on location is also the easiest way to catch a taste of Garrett Oliver's unique "Brewmaster's Reserve" series. The bizarre concoctions, such as oatmeal cookie–flavored porter and a rye beer designed to taste like a Manhattan cocktail, are generally in very short supply. Another hint: you may have a chance to snag discounted cases of brew from the previous season, a great memento from your field trip. —BD

Photo: Malcolm Brown

Chelsea Brewing Company
Pier 59, Chelsea Piers, 212-336-6440, Chelsea, Manhattan

Renowned for its abundant sports facilities—including a multitiered driving range—and direct access to a dynamite bike path that curls along the Hudson River, Chelsea Piers is also a fine place for less athletic endeavors. It is here that Manhattan's largest microbrewery, Chelsea Brewing Company, produces such fare as Checker Cab Blonde Ale and Sunset Red Ale in its 12,000-square-foot facility. Free tours are offered on Saturdays, and visitors can snare a handful of coupons for discounts on beer at the bar. Enjoy a frosty one on the outdoor patio overlooking the river and contemplate how much better drinking is than exercising. —BD

Photo: Malcolm Brown

41 First Ave., 212-475-5097, East Village, Manhattan

Anyone fearing that pubs with a vast selection of quality beers will inevitably be populated by pretentious types sniffing into their microbrews should make a visit to d.b.a. "First of all, you've got to be a good bar," says owner Ray Deter. That means including features that will attract patrons of both genders, he explains. Here's how this lively East Village standby qualifies: a (relatively organized) slew of chalkboards listing the seemingly endless beer selection, a rack of crowd-pleasing board games such as Scrabble and Boggle, and (bartender-curated) music that ranges from Yeah Yeah Yeahs and OutKast to rocksteady and jazz. Also, a recently opened d.b.a. in Williamsburg coaxes drinkers across the bridge with free tastings on Monday nights at 7pm. —BD

Photo: Malcolm Brown

David Copperfield's House of Beer
1394 York Ave., 212-734-6152, Upper East Side, Manhattan

Until that fabled Second Avenue subway line comes to fruition, making a trek to the easternmost edge of the Upper East Side will always require a good reason. Enter David Copperfield's House of Beer. With more than 30 craft beers on tap—Boulder Obovoid Empirical Stout and Defiant Little Thumper are among the colorfully named domestics—100 bottles and one seasonal cask, it rewards the thirsty traveler. The clean, well-lit and TV-equipped premises may not conjure comparisons to the moldy beer halls of Prague, but Copperfield has a few tricks up its sleeve: nightly specials, such as $1 off all drafts on Thursday nights, and tasty cheeseburgers keep patrons from becoming escape artists. —BD

Photo: Malcolm Brown

The Ginger Man
11 E. 36th St., 212-532-3740, Midtown East, Manhattan

With plenty of Irish taverns and sports bars, the Midtown East/Murray Hill area has no shortage of boisterous spots swarming with thirsty nine-to-fivers in collared shirts. Yes, The Ginger Man fits the bill—but with a difference. The spacious, wood-paneled bar specializes in craft beer—70 drafts, two cask pumps, 150 bottles (depending on the season)—and has a staff trained to gently transform a Bud Light aficionado into a Blue Point man. Encouraging the process are healthy 20-ounce pints and a kitchen that serves gourmet sandwiches and sliders until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays. "We've been a proponent of the craft-beer movement even before there was one," says director of operations Dave Urbanos of his 14-year-old establishment. —BD

Courtesy, Sweet Afton

Sweet Afton
30-09 34th St., 718-777-2570, Long Island City, Queens

The historically Greek neighborhood of Astoria may be more renowned for ouzo than microbrews, but the times they are a-changin'. Since its opening in August 2009, Sweet Afton has drawn eager crowds with 12 locally oriented taps (Kelso, Six Points and Fire Island Beer Company), one rotating cask ale and a unique wheat beer cocktail. Beneath reclaimed ceiling beams—brought from Southeast Asia—and antique wrought-iron fixtures, customers toe-tap to indie rock while gorging on locally sourced burgers, beer-battered pickles and the Irish Breakfast Roll with sausage and blood pudding (sorry, brunch only on that one). "We're a place you want to come to with friends, have a bit to eat, stay for a bunch of drinks and meet your neighbors," says Greg, the bartender. —BD

Photo: Alex Lopez

Spuyten Duyvil
359 Metropolitan Ave., 718-963-4140, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Perfectly situated near barbeque emporium Fette Sau and performance venue the Knitting Factory in Williamsburg, Spuyten Duyvil completes a golden triangle of good beer, good food and good music. The watering hole's mismatched chairs, rustic wooden bar and wall-mounted antique gardening tools give it the feel of a welcoming country farmhouse—and the beer selection is equally distinctive. More than 200 rare bottles are usually available (there's an emphasis on West European selections, especially Belgian) along with a number of difficult-to-find draft brews like
't Smisje Guido, a Flemish brown ale that runs $9 for 12 ounces. Seasonal specialties include "winter warmers" and barrel-aged porters, but the small plates of cheese, charcuterie, olives and smoked meat from across the street are comforting year-round. —BD