Without question, the Ear Inn on Spring Street pours the best pint of Guinness this side of the Atlantic. Thick, dark, creamy, absolutely perfect. And for almost two decades, the writers of this website have loved imbibing at this dark little tavern that the New York Times once christened, “a dump with dignity.” And whether you’re new in town or have been here since birth, pretty much everyone has a story or two to tell from an outing at this old pub in West Soho. But like many old places in our city, this Federal style building has its own story to tell.Built sometime before 1812, the house at 326 Spring Street was originally the home of James Brown, an African-American United States Revolutionary War veteran. Brown originally ran a tobacco store on the ground floor of the house, but in 1817 he opened a tavern in the space. Hard to imagine, but at that time in the city’s development the house was only five feet from the existing shoreline of the Hudson. Naturally, the proximity of booze made the establishment instantly popular with the legions of sailors, stevedores and longshoremen that worked along the river.In 1890, the house was sold to an Irish immigrant named Thomas Cloke, who ran the tavern and sold beer and spirits to ships passing through New York’s harbor. Cloke ran the business there for almost 30 years, but seeing the handwriting on the wall with the Eighteenth Amendment, sold it in 1919 and got the hell out. However, business remained brisk: during Prohibition the pub/restaurant became a speakeasy, while the upstairs floors were variously a boarding house, a headquarters for smugglers, and a brothel. The bar re-opened for business (legally) once Prohibition was repealed, but it now existed without a name. It was simply called “The Green Door,” and catered to a fragrant clientele of dock laborers and wharfies, almost all of whom were hard-drinking regulars. Women weren’t allowed (and probably didn’t want to go there anyway.) And so life continued in this swashbuckling fashion until the mid 20th century, when urban blight and decay turned the once-bustling area into a nearly abandoned district.In the mid 1970s, a group of struggling artists purchased the building, and they reopened the bar in 1977. Due to Landmarks restrictions on changing signage, the new proprietors simply painted out part of the letter B in the “Bar” sign, thus turning it into the word “Ear”, which was the name of a music magazine published upstairs. And thus it has been the Ear Inn ever since: a cozy home for the perfect pint and a real conversation.
Drinking at the bar? A movie? Dinner? Meh. How about something really different this weekend when the sun goes down… Consider a trip over to the Gowanus Nite Market. The most recent iteration in the pop-up market phenomenon, the GNM is a 5,000 square foot eclectic indoor bazaar featuring local artists and vendors, cold beer, tasty foodstuffs, and a live DJ spinning. One other pretty intriguing detail: this market happens to be located inside the lower level of a gigantic industrial warehouse chock full of boutique movie props called “Film Biz Recycling.” Why not, right? The party starts at 7pm and goes to midnight. It’s a truly unique nighttime experience, only in Brooklyn (natch.) Eat your heart out, Brian Williams.
Seems like every bar these days is decked out to appear as though you stepped into a 19th century saloon. With their moustaches, suspenders and bespoke tweeds, even the bartenders get into the act. Drinks seem to take 20 minutes to make, given that the juices are freshly pressed and mint muddled to order. All ice cubes possess precise 90 degree angles. And this is no doubt fun. But sometimes, you just want beer, a simple bourbon or a vodka-soda-lime. And you want it fast and without pretense in a place that is fully comfortable in its skin. For those times, pretty much the only place that will do is the Brooklyn Inn.The Brooklyn Inn doesn’t need to masquerade as a saloon from the turn of the century… because it actually is! The only thing imported in this place is the gargantuan carved wooden bar, but that was brought over from Germany in the 1870’s. With it’s super-high tin ceilings, stained glass windows, creaky floors and mahogany wood carvings, having a pint at the Inn feels like quasi-religious experience. But I’m fairly certain you won’t find the kick-ass juke box and pool table at church the way you will at the Inn. We also love that the bartenders aren’t afraid to offer up a buy-back if you’re a few rounds in, so be sure to tip well and remember it’s cash only. Cash only, but bullshit free.
Although I developed a fond relationship with the lady in midtown who gave me haircuts for five years, I never really felt like it was “my place.” Maybe it was because it was a “salon.” Perhaps you know the kind… Big framed pictures on the wall of various people alternately sporting Cybill Shepard ‘dos and Rod Stewart coifs and the whole place appears to be lit by klieg lights. Where all the sinks resemble scalloped peach seashells and the people cutting hair speak loudly in Russian to one another. A place where Anita Baker reigns supreme over the hi-fi. And not a trace of irony to be found anywhere. But when I moved to Brooklyn two years ago, I needed to find a closer place to get my periodic trim. On a lark, I stopped in Persons of Interest on Smith Street, and realized what I’d been missing. The chill factor.For starters, the décor is pleasantly minimalist with a little 70’s vibe. Maybe it’s the wood paneling, I don’t know. They’ve got a rotation of great music piped in, a stack of great alternative lit magazines (and the odd vintage Playboy) and a there’s green metal cooler off to the side, fully stocked with ice cold beer and sodas. I guess it’s sort of like a cool rec room where people cut hair. Anyway, I always try to get there early. There’s not too many occasions these days where I can quietly sit and drink a beer, read a magazine, listen to some good b-sides… I think what they call this behavior “relaxing?” Yes. It’s so nice to relax, and you can relax at Persons of Interest. And thankfully, they also give a kick-ass haircut and shave. If you go for cut, ask for Tony. He’s the man.
Something about the holidays seems to encourage food and beverage makers to infuse so-called holiday tastes where they have no right being present. I personally don’t ever want my beer to taste like egg nog or sugar plums, but I will admit to wanting a stronger, darker beer as the weather gets colder and visits with relatives become more frequent. Enter a new beer from the tiny Oregon microbrewery Full Sail called Session Black. A “session” beer is so named because it’s deemed one a thirsty person can drink multiples of without feeling too full or saturated (as opposed to a Cranberry Spiced Pumpkin Ale.)Session Black manages to be easy drinking like a lager, but has a lot of the flavor profile you might find in a stout (roasty-toasty, chocolate and coffee notes.) So it manages to have wonderful richness and a full body without making you feel like you just ate an entire loaf of lard bread. And it comes in these sharply designed little grenade-sized brown bottles, which make it feel totally and erroneously innocuous to knock back half a dozen in a sitting. At least, uh, that’s what someone told me. Happy Holidays.
Not too long ago, we took an intro class in making homebrew at Bitter & Esters. It was fun and informative! Plus, drinking. We decided to take it to the next level, so this past Saturday afternoon was spent actually making beer with guidance from Bitter & Esters co-owner and brew guru, Doug Amport. That’s Doug, below. He knows his stuff.After some debate, we decided to try for an Oktoberfest-style lager. Right off the bat, I learned two things worth sharing here: first, calling it an “Oktoberfest” beer is a marketing gimmick. This coppery and delicious beverage is correctly called a “märzen,” which has its origins back in good ole 16th century Bavaria. The term “märzen” (or March, in German) is a remnant from a time when the village brewers last beers were made in March and then stored until late summer or fall. That’s why they are March beers, or Märzenbier, if you want to be a pain in the ass.Regardless, the whole “Oktoberfest beer” concept is a recent development, and so named as the release of the beer coincides with the famous autumn beerfest in Munich. Interesting AND thirst-quenching. Second factoid: the word lager is not just a noun, but a verb. The root word “lagern” is German in origin (notice a trend?) which means to store. “To lager,” or lagering, is essentially cold storage and fermenting of beer over a longer time period: usually 4-6 weeks. So although we made beer on Saturday, it’s chillin’ in a cold storage carboy until December 27th. Next up: bottling party!
In Boston, they call it “Candlepins.” In Baltimore, I’m told they call the sport “Duckpins.” If you’re from anywhere else, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. For lack of a better way to describe it, Candlepin is essentially mini-bowling and although I only learned about it last weekend the game has been around for quite a while.Weird skinny pins. Oversized bocce-style ball. Knock down the pins. Score the results. That’s it, that’s the whole game. But let me tell you, it’s seriously satisfying to whip that sucker down the wooden lane. It’s way more fun than regular bowling, whatever that means. And due to the pint size, it must be sort of like regular bowling for a little kid.We enjoyed playing recently at my nephew’s 6th birthday party, which was held at the vintage-y “Sacco’s Bowl Haven” in Somerville, MA. If you’re up in Boston, I’d say it’s worth a trip to the Somerville ‘burbs just for the Sacco’s experience. In addition to the Candlepins, they also had delicious wood-fired flatbread pizza and a great selection of over 20 local craft beers on tap. Good beer, flat pizza, little pins. What a concept! Got me thinking: a retro Candlepin alley like Sacco’s would do gangbusters business in Brooklyn. Anyone want to help us start one up???
Admittedly I’m not the best do-it-yourselfer at home, but perhaps I just lack the right kind of motivation. If the end result of my effort was, say, a tasty beer? Well, maybe that would change my aptitude! It was with this mindset that I attended Brewshop 101: Introduction to Homebrewing at the city’s first do-it-yourself brewery, Bitter & Esters. Located in Prospect Heights, the first thing you’re hit with when you walk in the door is the pungent smell of malt and hops- which is way different and much nicer than what your favorite dive bar smells like. It’s sort of a pleasant cross between warm bread and a bale of hay (as opposed to stale beer and plumber’s crack). Bitter & Esters is a sweet little facility, and the enthusiasm and depth of knowledge of resident Brew Professor (and co-owner) John La Polla is nothing short of amazing. Now here’s a guy who clearly loves his work, and with good reason. This little shop is churning out some amazing beers! Here’s the thing – there’s a lot of moving parts to making beer. It involves fermenters, hydrometers, carboys, hops, malts, heating elements, rapid cooling… It was more related to chemistry than I imagined, but luckily, this is a class where there is not just required reading but required drinking.In the end, my two buddies and I felt we learned just enough to want to learn more. If you don’t want to buy the homebrew kit, they actually allow you to come to the shop and work there (with experienced hands nearby for questions) so we’re going to go back and make a few cases. The only question is what to call the first batch o’ brew… so far, the frontrunner seems to be “THE INCREDIBREW.” Anyone else care to volunteer some ideas?
I am a seasonal drinker. For some reason in the fall I start craving beer, almost exclusively. Especially the hoppy, bitter, amber or roasty-toasty variety. In tall steins, whenever possible. And as the weather grows colder, to my wife’s chagrin I begin to favor brown liquors. Spring is usually all about vodka, and summer usually means light ales or pilsners. Wine is an all year round thing. I tell you this not to illustrate the fact that I have a Problem, but that sometimes the right beverage is capable of enhancing the native festivity of a given season. Do you buy the premise? I recently had the Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale from Petaluma’s own microbrewery, Lagunitas. We’re running out of time to drink this one because I think it’s more fitting for warmer weather, but WOW! This is by far the best smelling-est beer I’ve EVER had. It smells bizarrely good: pungently floral, crisp, ambrosial. If I’m totally on the real, it even oddly smells a little like Humboldt County. Tastes pretty great, too. This is one for your rotation. You can pick it up at Good Beer, Thrifty, or even here. It’s New York City, you can probably find it anywhere.
Tune in soon for some Octoberfest favorites!
Seems like the perfect day for some afternoon drinking and Phebe’s at the corner of 4th and Bowery is the downtown’s perfect choice. Tell bartender Gina that neighbor Greg sent you. Maybe she’ll make it a double!