The Indiscreet Charm of Brooklyn
Cat ears. Across from me sat a man wearing cat ears. Like those furry headband numbers chicks wear on Halloween when they want a slutty costume. Aside from that, he looked fairly normal. A little bit of a early-1990s “Reality Bites” grunge thing going on with a flannel unbuttoned shirt and some combat boots, but otherwise, fairly normal. Except for those cat ears. All the man was lacking was a makeupped on black nose and whiskers. Cat man called for the check and his wee little “hee hee” Asian girlfriend picked up the tab courtesy of a Hello Kitty credit card. I was the only one in the entire place rolling my eyes at the ludicrous behavior around me.
I sat in Radegast, a German beer hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I had finally decided to make the scary plunge. Manhattan may be a great beer town, but Brooklyn is often considered one of America’s beer utopias. And me, being absolutely awful with direction, scared to go to any place without numbered streets, certain I will get lost if I ever travel below Houston, especially while lit up, had never been drinking in Brooklyn. For shame.
I needed to pop my Brooklyn beer cherry sometime, and chaperoned by new friend KD, there was no time like the present. Radegast wasn’t on my list of “must try” Brooklyn places, but KD insisted. So glad she did. Radegast is a beer garden that is surprisingly intimate, not a word often associated with beer gardens. It has both a nice indoor and outdoor area and your standard Americanized beer gardeny things: hilariously large glasses, picnic table seating, ___wursts of every kind (which I unfortunately forgot to sample), condom machines in the bathroom, and men in cat ears. It’s also very dark in Radegast, again, mood lighting not something one usually associates with German beer halls, but a Brooklyn quirk that a squinty eyed drunk like me greatly appreciates.
There, I had a glass of Weihenstephaner Vitus, an absolutely lovely weizenbock that can deservedly be mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Aventinus. Full of rich banana and bubble gum tastes, yeasty and boozy, this one goes down so, so nice. A-
From there, KD and I hoofed it to dba Brooklyn, using a trusty Google map she had printed out since we are apparently the only two people in the world without GPS-enabled iphones, which is something we could each greatly use. dba Manhattan, in the East Village, was one of my major stomping grounds back in the mid-2000s with their stellar beer, bourbon, and Scotch lists, but I eventually grew sick of the jam-packed poseur crowds, surly bar staff, and hard to read libations chalkboards.
Well, I can proudly say that dba Brooklyn eliminates all the problems I have with their East Village location. At this new dba location, similar in look and layout, one will have no issue with reading the massive chalkboard beer and spirits listings because the bar is as florescently bright as a Porsche showroom. And there’s no poseurs to worry about rubbing ironic suede elbow patches with because…there’s no one in the fucking bar. KD and I were the only drinkers there at 9 PM on a Thursday, and thus, it was downright impossible for the bar staff to be surly. They were just psyched to see us and to have more than some spare change as their night’s gratuity haul.
We took our drinks to this backyard patio where a few other people were throwing back a few. Including a man who, unceremoniously removed his t-shirt right in the middle of a date, reached into his man bag for a fresh one to put on, all the time not breaking conversation, nor having his drinking companion go, “W the F?!”
Ill at ease, we cut our dba visit abrupt and walked aways, under the roaring BQE overpass, to perhaps New York’s, maybe even the entire East Coast’s, most famous beer bar, Spuyten Duyvil. I’d long heard about this beer mecca and I have to say…it met absolutely zero of my expectations. Which is not a bad thing and which is not to say I didn’t like it.
I was surprised by how conspicuous of facade the bar had, the name barely noticeable. A creaky swinging front door more akin to the screen door on some cracker’s porch, the interior of the place is shockingly small and fairly indescript. Decorated like a hipster’s beat-up rec room, packed with thin weirdo grumps in drainpipe jeans, half of whom look like David Cross, the other half of whom look like a Flight of the Concords member. At a robust 5’11, 175, I was a fucking leviathin amongst these little Brooklyn pixies.
Spuyten Duyvil is known for their remarkable–ahem “remarkable”–beer selection, but I quickly learned that they should be more known for their remarkable ability to list beers, which are all greatly overpriced, even by Manhattan standards. Indeed, I was at first impressed by the massive amount of rare bottles they claimed, though greatly unimpressed that they only have six taps and one cask offering. (Seriously?!) I found myself greatly flummoxed when I tried to order from their bottle list. I was a little tipsy and feeling jovial, so I tried to buy a rare $46 bottle from Cantillon. “Sorry, we’re out,” said the hirsute hipster behind the bar. I tried to buy a $26 bottle of Fantome Saison. “Out of that too, but that beer sucks. Have the Fantome Chocolate, it’s much better, dude.”
I smiled and said no thanks, I wasn’t in the mood for that particularly beer, which angered the wee bartender who booked it away from me. Then, I noticed a Cigar City bomber on the back counter. Cigar City is a new brewery from out of Tampa that has quickly garnered great acclaim despite their miniscule distribution reach. I’d been trying for most of the year to score any of their product and this was the first time I’d ever seen it in person. Excited, I flagged down another bartender. “Excuse me, what is that Cigar City beer back there?” Like I had just interrupted him while he was watching an Apes and Androids show, he turned around with a scowl. “I DON’T KNOW!” he yelled at me and scurried away. I asked another bartender if I could buy the Cigar City beer and he looked as if I was quizzing him with some Mensa level stuff: “Look, I don’t know, I’m not sure, I don’t think so, no!” he exhale moaned and stormed away.
I continued staring at the menu, trying to figure out anything to drink. The first bartender returned, pissed off. “Look! Are you EVER going to order something?”
I menacingly looked him straight in the eye, restraining myself from grabbing him by the collar of his vintage snap button cowboy shirt:
“Motherfucker, I just tried to buy a $46 and $26 bottle of beer, both that you were out of. Gimme a fucking break.” He smirked but his demeanor quickly changed.
From that point on the scuzzy drinkslinger gave me the respect I so desired. I finally ordered what I should have in the first place, Cantillon’s most famous offering perhaps, St. Lamvinus…on tap! Score. I found it a lot less fruity that I expected. A subtle red wine grape taste but with an effervescent carbonation. Mild funk and sourness, a true treat. I also had Ithaca’s delicious Brute on tap for the first time, and though that still remains a great one in my mind, St. Lamvinus just blew it away. A true granddaddy of a lambic. Not to be missed.
I also found a $20 bill on the floor and a pregnant women drinking in Spuyten Duyvil’s back room so I ain’t sweating things much. Look, I won’t lie, Spuyten Duyvil certainly deserves much acclaim and I will certainly go back there again, but with its paucity of taps, high prices, lack of bottles of which it claims to have, and absolute fuckheads working there, I see absolutely no way we can consider this a better NYC beer bar than, say, Rattle ‘N’ Hum or Blind Tiger, both which have superior tap lists, perfectly respectable bottle lists, clientele that doesn’t smell like clove cigarettes, and bartenders that treat you like human beings. I’ll probably only return to Spuyten Duyvil in the future when they have a particularly rare and limited offering.
Well lit up at this point and it now 2 AM, KD and I decided to press on to one more stop, nearby Barcade. Again, my expectations were completely different, but, this time, this was a very good thing. I was absolutely shocked at the size of the bar. A huge warehouse type industrial space with every single wall tightly packed with vintage arcade games, several dozen in fact, surrounding a bar in the middle. A solid tap list, I grabbed a delicious Avery Hog Heaven and a stack of quarters and KD and I went to work. I must say, shit like “Tetris,” “Ms. Pac-Man,” and “Q-Bert” are exceedingly hard when you are wasted yet still guzzling high ABV barley wines.
My last memories are Q-Bert falling off the side of his staired pyramid, KD and I trying to find a gypsie cab back to her place…
I shall return to Brooklyn again.