In September we headed over to East Coast USA and visited bars and bottle shops in New York, Salem, Boston, and Portland, Maine – here are the bars we visited and beers we tried. (This post is very long – you have been warned..!)
We visited this bar several times when we were in New York. This dimly-lit dark wooden one-room bar was atmospheric and had a great beer choice, with 28 craft beers on tap plus 3 cask ales which were chalked on a few blackboards behind the bar. The bar was busy on every visit, but the later it got the busier and louder it became. Me and pintsandpubs sat at the bar and worked our way through some of the beers on offer.
Two Brothers Bitter End APA, 5.2%, was a pleasant malty caramel beer from Illinois with lots of hops. It wasn’t quite as APA-tasting as I’d have liked – it didn’t really slap me around the face with its massive hop flavours – but it was tasty nonetheless. Troegs Perpetual IPA, 7.5%, from Pennsylvania didn’t taste its ABV; it was quite light with hints of peach and orange. Again, I would have preferred more of a hop kick. However, the Mendocino Imperial IPA, 8.0%, was more like it – this West Coast IPA certainly delivered. Bursting with hops, both in the aroma and flavour, made for a wonderful taste experience. Delicious!
Empire Amber, 5.5% from New York, was enjoyable – a caramel malty beer which was light and very easy-drinking. I wasn’t too impressed with Weyerbacker Last Chance IPA, a session beer which didn’t have much going on – it was sweet and sour at the same time, and I found the hops to be too astringent for me. But Barrier Medulla, 7.1%, really stood out. This beer is known as an English IPA, but it’s more American Imperial IPA; it’s wonderfully strong and malty with beautiful resinous hops and caramel flavours. Barrier, from Oceanside, New York, is a great brewery doing exciting things with beer, which seemed to be the opinion of everyone we spoke to in NYC.
This lovely old pub on Hudson Street is where Kerouac got thrown out of when drunk (he lived in an apartment opposite), where Bob Dylan used to hang out, and where Dylan Thomas had his last drink before dying later that night. The dark wood interior is beautifully kept, especially the large polished bar, and there are photos on the walls and paintings of white horses. It’s a place that could tell a tale or two, and history oozes from the walls. The bottles of tomato ketchup on every table sticks in my mind; they seemed glaringly out of place in this ornate and old fashioned pub – but I guess it caters more for diners than drinkers nowadays. We settled on a table outside and had a $7 pint of Lagunitas IPA, with its juicy tropical fruit hop flavours. A very refreshing, delicate, and underrated beer.
This subterranean speakeasy-style bar is located on well-known MacDougal, a few doors down from where the old Gas Light Cafe was situated (the reason I wanted to visit was to try to picture what the Gas Light might once have looked like, where Dylan played and Kerouac recited poetry). It’s easily missed, and located underneath a taqueria sign – look out for the black door and small writing above it saying ‘rabbit club craft beer bar’ (and a painting of a rabbit, which is a slight give-away) then descend the steep steps. I was expecting the door to be closed and that we’d have to ring a bell, which I’d heard about, but it looks like they’ve changed all that – the door was open, which was slightly disappointing and ruined the anticipation somewhat! It’s dark, dingy, shows no sport (which has to be a first) and surprisingly, a relatively new addition to the bar scene on this busy street – I’d have thought it dated back to those Kerouac times, but no.
Rabbits are painted on the black walls, figures of rabbits are scattered on the shelf behind the bar, and candles cast dim light. This is a great place to come if you like Belgian beers – it has probably the biggest selection of Belgian bottles in the area – but they are not cheap, as to be expected. I fancied a draft US beer, but unfortunately both draft beers needed changing – Founders All Day IPA and a Bear Republic brown ale. I ended up having Evil Twin Hipster Pale Ale in a can, a light and fruity, easy-drinking hoppy beer.
This new beer shop was very close to where we were staying in the West Village. It’s nice and bright, has a great selection of beers, and had a lovely seasonal window display!
On Christopher’s Street, a few doors from where Kerouac once fell off a fire escape on a nearby house, is the Kettle of Fish, the third location of the bar which was previously frequented by Dylan when it was on MacDougal St next to the old Gas Light Cafe. If you descend a few steps you enter the relatively dark wooden bar, with old photos of the old Kettle on the walls, fairy lights everywhere, and the original neon Bar sign around the corner. It’s large – much larger than you think when you walk to the other, quieter, side. We sat at the bar and had a Red Hook IPA, 6.2%, on draft, which was nice, hoppy and easy drinking but didn’t have an awful lot going on compared to some of the other brews we’d tried.
Lower East Side
This taproom/bottle shop is located in the Lower East Side on Orchard St, just a block from lively and once edgy Ludlow St where musicians and artists used to hang out in bars and venues such as Luna Lounge and Max Fish, before they shut down and relocated to Brooklyn.
Although you might head to Top Hops for the 700-odd bottles on sale, I would go just for the taproom – there are about 20 taps selling US and imported craft beer, with the beers available all chalked up on the board behind the long curvy stainless steel bar along with beer style and ABV. The bar tender was friendly and helpful, and gave me a few tasters before I decided on the Founders All Day IPA, a light hoppy session IPA at 5%. Carton Boat Beer across the water in New Jersey was another great find, another session beer and paler than the All Day IPA. Needless to say, we left the bar with several bottles.
Hell’s Kitchen/Theater District
This mid-town bar close to Times Square which sells ‘All American Craft Beer’ was pretty noisy by the time we arrived in the evening with sports showing on TV and loud shouty conversations taking place. However, the beer list was really extensive, including beers like Mendocino Pumpkin Ale, Barrier Imposter Pilsner and Abita Pecan Harvest – the beers, brewery names and pour size were displayed in neon lights on a couple of boards behind the bar. I went for a Cricket Hill Big Little IPA, a slightly floral session IPA, which to be honest could’ve done with a bit more ooomph; I maybe should’ve realised from the use of the word ‘little’ in the name that it wasn’t going to be as big and exciting as I would have liked. The bar soon became even noisier and packed, so we moved on after another beer.
This was a nice lamp-lit bar filled with dark shiny wood, rows of bottles above the bar, and TVs showing sport. They have around 100 beers on their beer list; most of these are bottles from around the world including beers from Belgium and the UK (Young’s Double Chocolate Stout made the list, which was interesting to see).
The small draft beer list included Bronx Pale Ale and Founders Centennial IPA. I opted for a Chelsea Hop Angel IPA, 6.8%, brewed in New York, for $7 a pint, which I really enjoyed – an easy drinking smooth and hoppy beer with lots of malt and hints of caramel.
McSorley’s has to be one of my favourite pubs in NYC. It’s old, and the old photos and framed newspaper cuttings covering the walls and dusty ornaments on and around the bar are testament to its age. There’s a pair of handcuffs locked to the bar, allegedly Houdini’s.
Sawdust covers the floor, grafitti is carved into the wood, and there is an unforgettable aroma of wood chippings mixed with old beer, which has stayed with me to this day. If you order a beer you get not one but two half pint glass tankards – they serve their own house brews, ‘light’ and ‘dark’ – for $5.50. Both were good beers, but I really loved the easy drinking dark – smooth and quite creamy with a hint of smoke; delicious. We went back for several more and stayed much longer than we had intended.
This subterranean bar a few doors down from McSorleys couldn’t be more different. From the outside it doesn’t look that inviting, with lots of metal grating, but once you get down those stairs then it’s warm, cosy and has tons of bottles, and a good draft beer list including Six Point Apollo Wheat (Brooklyn) and their Beljam Wheat. We had a beautiful Firestone Walker Double Jack Imperial IPA, 9.5%, which was bursting with resinous hops, followed by a dark rich and strong (10%) Thornbridge Hall Bracia from our own shores. Not ideal beers to have one after the other with my tolerance levels suffering after having had several in McSorley’s previously, but it all made for a great evening.
This friendly craft beer shop with tons of great bottles including Green Flash, Anderson Valley and Founders (shame about the lack of space in our cases, although we did manage to squeeze a few more in) also had several beers on tap including Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin IPA and the lovely Maine MO. This beautifully delicate pale beer is fresh and fruity, refreshing and zingy, and is just wonderful - a beer you could just keep on drinking.
This pub is over the river in Brooklyn and a short stroll from the 4th Avenue/9th Street subway. Long, narrow and painted burgundy and white inside, with exposed brick, wooden floor and low hanging lights, this sleek pub-style bar showing sports (as usual) had 28 beers on tap from the likes of Evil Twin, Stone and Narragansett.
I had a Stone Levitation after several tasters – not a new beer for me, but one that I always like to go to. We also had a Stone Enjoy by 9.13.13 – a limited edition beer. At 11% it probably wasn’t the best beer to have just before attempting to walk back to Manhattan over Brooklyn Bridge…!
After moving on to the small and historic ‘Witch City’ of Salem it was great to find this down-to-earth sprawling modern bar filled with stainless steel, sports screens, large booths, and a big beer list, all brewed by the Beer Works. I didn’t really have any expectations, but was really surprised – I enjoyed all their beers. The Double Pale Ale was strong at 8.5% and was a great full-flavoured imperial IPA, but I actually preferred the Back Bay IPA, a fantastic 6.5% beer that cut through everything, even after drinking the Double. Witch City Red, 5%, was gorgeous, like drinking a fruity sherbet, and the Salem American Pale Ale 5.5% reminded me of London Pride which I didn’t expect or want (don’t get me wrong, London Pride is a good beer; I just wanted something more American). I just wish I’d had more time to try their other beers, including Bunker Hill Blueberry Ale, Black Bay Stout, Bay State ESB – the list goes on…
The great thing about restaurants in these parts is that they always seem to have great beer on offer. This Mexican joint didn’t disappoint, and we shared a tasting tray/flight of beers including Shipyard Pumpkin Ale, Ithaca Flower Power, Allagash Black, and one other which escapes me. Ithaca Flower Power, 7.5%, had to be my favourite out of the four – strong but easy drinking, bursting with citrus hops and floral flavours, and as in-your-face as they come. I didn’t enjoy the spicy Shipyard as I’m not a great fan of cinnamon, and the Allagash Black was OK, but after the Ithaca there really was no contest.
After a 2.5 hour train journey from Salem to Boston we got straight on a bus to Bier Cellar, an excellent bottle shop on Forest Avenue, and realised this pub was a 10-minute walk up the road, so we decided to visit it. This dull-looking warehouse building with a bear painted on one wall surprised us as we went inside, with its neon lights, an eating area separated from the long bar with etched glass, and beer signs dotted around everywhere – very colourful and pretty. And a big beer list with 69 taps. The first thing the hostess said to us, pointing at our large brown paper bag of beer from Bier Cellar, was “You’re not planning on drinking that in here, are you?” Urr, no, why would we do that, what with your massive selection of draft beers…? “Well I thought that might be something you do where you come from” she stated unsmilingly. Ohhhkay…
Despite the odd welcome, it was a nice place. We ordered some Maine Peeper (gorgeous delicately hopped and fresh, like all their beers) and munched on fries whilst drinking Sebago Fry’s Leap, an absolutely wonderful IPA, Six Point Simcoe IPA, which was almost as good as the Fry’s Leap, Funky Bow So Folkin Hoppy, which wasn’t really, even though it was a decent IPA, and Magic Hat Not Quite Pale Ale, which I can’t say we liked – it was like a malty bitter but not a great one at that which was a shame.
This ‘bier cafe’ is tucked down a little alleyway off Lower Exchange Street, one of the main shopping streets running down towards the port. It was well presented, with candles on all the tables creating a cosy and relaxed atmosphere. The food looked good, but not much for veggies so we passed. They have around 30 taps and over 500 bottles, plus a couple of hand pumps. We had more lovely Maine Peeper, and a Marshall Wharf Pale Ale, which was too sulphurous and not to my taste. We could’ve stayed longer, but there were more places to seek out on our mini Portland crawl.
This place for sausage lovers in the centre of town also does lots of great beer. We were pleased to discover it sold veggie hot dogs, so along with one of those smothered in onions and ketcup (pintsandpubs regretted asking for one with hot sauce, which ended up being so hot that it killed his taste buds), we enjoyed some more Maine MO, as lovely and fruity as ever, and some Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA, which was sweet and malty and a bit too sulphurous but with a pleasant after taste. There were about 10 draft beers available as well as lots of bottles, and the friendly staff offered tasters. A nice patio area out back overlooked the back end of Portland’s downtown redbrick buildings- very similar to buildings in England, actually. Nice place.
Styled as an English pub, this microbrewery and restaurant is the sort of place you can imagine long-gone sailors hanging out outside in the gas-lit cobbles of dark old fashioned Wharf Street. The downstairs bar (Wharf Street level) is small and ‘gritty’, and upstairs (Fore St level) is noisier, larger, brighter, and full of locals and visitors.
Some of the locals are part of the Mug Club; their numbered mugs hang from the ceiling of the bar, they pay $75 a year to join, and they receive cheap beer and special deals on Sundays and Tuesdays; the bar tender fishes the mugs down with a giant hook which was very entertaining to watch. I ordered a Gritty’s Pub Style Pale Ale which was light, hoppy and quite weak, and pintsandpubs had a Maine’s Best IPA which was darker, maltier and quite rich – both were decent beers. I liked Gritty’s, and loved atmospheric Wharf Street with its gas lamps.
The first pub we visited upon arrival in Boston, our final city, was Stoddard’s ‘Fine Food and Ale’. This was quite an elegant bar, with plenty of dark polished wood and chandeliers, and about 20 shiny taps along the bar which we couldn’t get to due to the crowds. There were many diners and not much room to sit though, so we perched on a bench near the door and ordered a bottle of Maine Beer Co Lunch, which pintsandpubs had been searching for since NYC. It was filled with mellow hops, maybe not quite as fresh as the MO and Peeper – Maine beers have to be drunk within days or at the most a couple of weeks after they are brewed to taste them at their best – but it was still a great choice.
This bar on Cambridge Road, on the edge of pretty Beacon Hill with its gas lamps and cobbled streets, was a pleasant surprise, with about 36 taps stretching around the long sprawling bar. It was heaving with diners and drinkers, and we managed to grab the two last seats at the stainless steel bar (the hostess sitting diners said it was busy because it was ‘hump’ day – Wednesday, when everyone comes out as its midweek - we’d never heard of this before in the UK!).
I had a lovely Ballast Point Sculpin, a very nice 7% IPA that I’d last enjoyed at the GBBF in August. Pintsandpubs had a massively hoppy Port Brewing Wipeout IPA, 7%, which he raved about, and we then had a Founders Double Trouble, 9.4%, which although was rich and resinous it didn’t quite match up to the well crafted Wipeout; the strong alcohol flavours were not very well disguised.
This pub on Charles St, Beacon Hill, is a locals pub – not your touristy pub like some others in town. It’s long and narrow, quite dark, full of old faded wood, sports photos, breweriana, and has locals propping up the bar drinking beer or munching on food and watching sport on TV. I ordered the house beer Sevens Dark Ale, which was actually Dark Munich brewed by Harpoon – a strong dark beer, similar to McSorley’s dark, but a fair bit stronger. Harpoon IPA was also on, as was Sam Adams Boston Lager.
This brewery-restaurant is located across the river from Boston in Cambridge on Kendall Square , just a few subway stops from the centre of Boston on the red line. We went there to meet some friends, and found them at the back of the light and airy pub next to some bags of grain and close to some large shiny brewing vessels.
I had a Tall Tale Pale Ale, a pleasant beer with Cascade and Centennial hops, followed by a See You Next Tuesday, which although billed as a pale-amber beer was more of a dark bitter to me. A bit too spicy and malty and not as hoppy as I would’ve liked; I couldn’t really taste all the citrus hops. I preferred pintsandpubs Mind Left Body, a wonderfully hoppy bitter with a slightly sour finish. The food was great, service was good, the atmosphere was pleasant, and all in all it was a lovely evening with friends in the ‘other’ Cambridge.
Opposite the Back Bay station and the entrance to Copley Square mall, the Salty Pig is apparently a good place to eat meat (which we don’t) but it also happens to have a good beer selection. I fancied something relatively weak as a nightcap after our evening out in Cambridge, so I went for a 21st Amendment Bitter American at 4.4% which was light with lots of lemon hops. Pintsandpubs had a Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA, 7%, which he loved, resinously hoppy – a great beer. Sport was showing on TVs behind the bar again, of course, and people around us were enjoying munching on ‘salty pig parts’. All in all, it was a decent place with a good atmosphere and close to where we were staying, so a nice short walk back.
The Sunset Grill and Tap is one of those pubs that you have to go to when in Boston, and we did save the best til last; this was probably my favourite bar in the city. Although not in central Boston, it is worth the trek out to trendy Allston, although it took the longest time to get there – our own fault, we decided to head there during rush hour. Crowds were gathered in the underground T stations waiting for green line trains which were all clustered together waiting for the trains in front to move forwards. It must’ve took an hour to get from central Boston (Park St) to Packard’s Corner in Allston, which would have taken half the time if we’d travelled off peak. Anyway, back to the pub.
The exterior is painted in bright colours depicting a bar scene. The inside is cavernous and colourful with lots of neon lights and pictures, and there are over 100 beers on tap, and hundreds of bottles.
The beer menu is several pages long. You can choose a set menu of flights of beer, create your own flights, or just order a pint. We ordered lots of food (nachos, fries, burgers) and pintsandpubs ordered his favourite, Maine Peeper, and I went for a delicious Green Flash West Coast IPA, as gorgeous and as resinously hoppy as ever.
Other beers included the beautifully fresh Ithaca Flower Power, my beer of the trip, Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp which had live yeast and it showed – far too yeasty for me - Green Flash Symposium Ale, 7%, which had an unusual hop grassy flavour but was tasty, Smuttynose Rhye IPA which was OK with slightly spicy notes but not quite as lip-smacking as the rest, and Green Flash Le Freak, a lovely strong Belgian style ale. A great place to spend our last evening in Boston.
So that was the end of our trip. We managed to bring some beers back with us, one of them being my favourite, Ithaca Flower Power, as well as some Maine beers. Unfortunately, these are all gone now, so I guess we need to start planning another trip soon. Better start saving up…