Thursday, January 08, 2009
The Great 2009 New Year's Eve Beer Trek through New York City, Part 2
Previously in the series...New Year's Eve gets off to a Proper Start (Part 1) Moving On Along our way back to Houston (street, that is...say it with me...How-stin...when you're in Texas with the Bushies, you can say Hew-sten) to jump back on the subway, we did a bit of window shopping and stopped in a couple of stores. Then, we made our first digression from "the plan" of the day. Now before you go thinking, 'oh boy, Bryan must have blown his lid, they were already off the plan!' it's not like that at all. The list was only there for guidance. Remember, the mission of the day was to discover new places. There were already many more places on the list than could ever be visited in one day. Sheesh, guys, I may be detail-oriented but it doesn't mean I'm obsessive about it. Moving on...
(Nolita House beckons passers-by on Houston Street)
This second place was intriguing to us because of its entrance on Houston Street. With a small sandwich board outside announcing their specials and a short stack of steps leading up to a door on the right, it definitely had a curiosity-seeker's interest piqued. The name is Nolita House and inside is a narrow space with a few tables upfront, more in the back, a booth that holds 6-10 people (depending upon size!), and a bar that holds around ten to maybe fifteen people max in the middle of the room. A large chalkboard against the inside wall displays the available beers and the staff is quick to welcome.
(Nolita House's beer offerings; small list, but solid and tasty)
This was a one-beer stop, maybe not necessarily a beer geek's stop. But, with a Delirium Tremens and Brooklyn Lager to throw back on our 20-30 minute visit, we were anything but unhappy to have stopped in. Nolita House has a reasonably-priced and interesting looking pub menu with a cheese menu to boot.
Plus, our appreciation goes out to the three young ladies who provided us with a bit of entertainment as they one by one visited the ladies room to install their personal, uh, porta-pots for their visit to Times Square for the ball drop. Yes, friends...diapers.
(A winter's celebratory beer if I ever saw one)
After leaving Nolita's, a short block and a half or so to the subway station took us to the train which we took to the next stop at 4th Street. Up to street level and just off of Washington Square Park is where Vol de Nuit is tucked away. It has been at least three, maybe four or five, years since we've last been to Vol de Nuit. I always hear mixed reactions about this place. But, this is my space, so I'll share with you my thoughts instead.
(Pick up your head as you walk down 4th Street or you'll miss Vol de Nuit)
Bring on the Night
Our original visit to Vol de Nuit was an accidental stumbling upon. You'll know what I mean if you can make out the picture. Vol de Nuit is set back through an archway on 4th Street. Once you find it the first time, subsequent visits shouldn't be as difficult. Think: Brickskeller in D.C.; Victory in Downingtown; Sugar Mom's in Philly; or Cambridge Brewing across the river from Boston. All of these places I had difficulty finding the first time. After that, they became habit.
(The entrance to Vol de Nuit is tucked away off the hustle and bustle of the street)
We got there just as they were opening for the evening. They still keep the lights extremely (emphasis added!) low so it takes a few minutes for the eyes to adjust. Once they adjust and there's a beer in front of you, I guarantee it's the kind of place that you won't want to leave. Since we've last been there, the tap list has changed and improved a bit. They've always had Leffe, Hoegaarden, Delirium Tremens, and Corsendonk. Now, with the addition of La Chouffe, Duvel Green, and Chimay it's an even more appealing draft list. Plus, the moules and frites (disclaimer: did not sample this time) add to the experience.
(Did I mention dim lights at Vol de Nuit?)
Once again, it was a one beer and done visit. The one beer? A La Chouffe for Patty and a Duvel Green for me. Both hit the spot perfectly and they can be my "one beer and done" anytime. It was good to see that Vol de Nuit is still serving up what I appreciated several years ago at my last visit, and maybe even better this time. Put this at the top of your list when in the lower half of Manhattan. Plus, being easily accessible to the subway and just around the corner from Blind Tiger makes it a no-brainer.
(But the beer list at Vol de Nuit shines brightly)
...Which brings us to Blind Tiger
You knew I couldn't stay away, right? When we'd first considered New Year's Eve in NYC, we thought very long and hard about doing the museum and touristy thing during the day and the $120/pp package at the Blind Tiger at night. The lineup of beer, food, and camaraderie looked just so appealing and the price right for a five hour shindig.
But, in the end, we decided to instead include Blind Tiger as one of the stops during our thirteen hour tour. Plus, we figured a few of the evening's special beers might already be on tap when we arrived in the late afternoon. That way, for what would work out to be a little bit less than the Blind Tiger fixed price affair, we could hit a dozen or so places over a longer period of time and take in all that the various NYC neighborhoods have to offer along the way.
(No pictures at the Blind Tiger? What?! So you get a picture of our beers at Vol de Nuit instead---with proper glassware of course)
And, other than the curiously stashed Budweiser bottles on ice behind the bar, all was typically perfect. The staff was already beginning the transition over to the New Year's environment, where they would be scattering food stuffs around the bar, decorations from the rafters, and fresh kegs of the good stuff (even better than the usual stuff?) on tap.
I was surprised to see a young lady behind the bar whose name and face escaped me until we had left and were walking down the street (of course). The last time I'd seen her was farther uptown at The Collins Bar not long before they were closed down for "block renovations."
The Blind Tiger may have been where the night started to take on a different flavor, so to speak. With a Smuttynose Wheat Wine and Anchor Christmas for me and a Sly Fox O'Reilly Stout for Patty, it was more like I had three beers to her one. But, "wow beers" they were. I'm enjoying the Anchor this year more than I have of their holiday beers over the past few years. The spices are toned down a bit and it becomes a really nice malt drinker with spices moreso in the background. And the Smuttynose? Wow, quite a mouthful...and an ABV pusher. At 10%+ it brought the heat, but also the flavor too. It was overwhelming in an overly delicious way. I'll be on the lookout for this at least once more this winter.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
And, so we sadly parted ways with the Blind Tiger, leaving way too many good soldiers on the chalkboard. Before we pushed into the West Village for Cafe de Bruxelles, we had an order from good friend Lloyd to stop off at Jekyll and Hyde for old time sake. A bit of history follows. Back, oh, in 1992 I made my first New Year's Eve pilgrimage to New York City. Times Square, the Ball Drop, partying 'til the sun rises, and all that goes with being an early 20-something.
(Does this convey how blustery cold New Year's Eve in NYC was? It was for the wind, not the drinks, that I couldn't hold the camera still for this shot)
After midnight, we ventured down to Greenwich Village/SoHo/West Village...bopping around 'til the wee hours, until the trains started running south again in the morning. Along the way, Jekyll and Hyde became a long-term stopover for us. At the time, they were pouring some of the most interesting beer I had ever seen. Remember, these are in the early days of my learning about "different beer." So, it was a Sierra, Anchor, John Courage, Samuel Smith, Newcastle, and Harpoon...and many of each for me back in those days. The ambiance of the place was something to behold as well.
(A must drink beer, in my opinion, when in the NYC region)
Well, time has marched on and Jekyll & Hyde has stayed mostly the same. That goes for the beer selection as well. This can be fortunate (when talking about the Belgians and Germans that they've pretty much carried throughout the years) and unfortunate (in the continued stash of fairly mundane national and international offerings and modest U.S. and particularly local NY craft selections). The freakish environs and characters persist, but save for a Blue Point Toasted Lager (I love this beer, btw)...and Stone, Goose Island, Flying Dog, and Anchor the beer menu is roughly the same. I should know. I have a copy of the beer menu circa 1992/1993 to compare to the one from 2008/2009. It's just that 15 years ago, it seemed much more interesting. Ah well, c'est la vie I suppose.
Okay, this is almost enough for one session. One more story to share, then I'll save the rest for Part 3. We marched deeper into the West Village with the intention of getting to Café de Bruxelles. Along the way on a lovely stretch of 4th Street, Patty noticed a stepdown into the subterranean level of a brownstone. There were people seated around tables and what looked like a bar. Intriguing, of course. After a little hesitation, we jumped in headfirst and bellied up to the bar.
(Fedora's oozes charm)
Turns out, Fedora is a bit of a throwback nostalgic walk down memory lane of their own for longtime New Yorkers. No website, no nonsense, just good and affordable food (reportedly), and conviviality throughout the cozy dining room. No beer discoveries to speak of here, so we opted for our first glass of wine for the day/night. Not too memorable the drinks, but more memorable the Susan Sarandon lookalike and her husband/boyfriend/male friend(?). Had a nice time kibitzing with them in this family-owned Italian restaurant. We were there long enough to see the matriarch of the restaurant show up to a round of applause. It was clear that this is a true neighborhood gem and we hope to return for dinner sometime soon.
Next up in this series (or whatever we're calling this)...part 3, almost to midnight!