104. McSorley’s Ale House, New York, NY

Step back in time: before ruining a good old pub with plastic tables and blank walls went by the insidious name of ‘gentrification’, before every beer had a comically large handle to thrust their advertising in your field of vision even once you have ordered their damn Rocky Mountain water-brewed beer and before women were allowed in (their motto was once “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies”. You can still get the onions.) and forced us to re-invent our public house etiquette (OK, not so much that one).

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Staggeringly, not at all ruined by the ‘cool kids’ (count the beards below: very few).

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The walls are the end-product of years of collecting and hanging all sort of excellent crap: former presidents, flags, pins, and never removing anything since 1910. And underneath, some fine, dark, probably original, wooden panelling.

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McSorely’s is the oldest ale tavern in New York City, probably dating back to 1861, and as such sustains a few myths and legends. One that may be true is that the wishbones hung behind the bar were placed there by soldiers on their way to WWI, to be removed upon their return.

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The usual suspects of literary figures are thought to have drunk here: Hunter S. Thompson, E. E. Cummings, Brendan Behan et al., and a roll of presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, and also a guy called William Tweed, who used to own the third most land in NYC and chose to spend much of his time on this bit. But don’t listen to them, listen to Beckiboo1983 on TripAdvisor who had her feelings hurt by the bar staff and didn’t like it, so she gave the whole place a 1 out of 5. Because what Beckiboo1983 doesn’t know about customer rotation, the cut-throat line between profit and loss in prime Manhattan real estate without the spongy cushion of outlandish food profit margins, about continuing an 150 year old legacy, about the festering languishing of tourists for an hour over each drink and forcing other cash-filled tourists to walk on by, well, what Beckiboo1983 doesn’t know about that, frankly, isn’t worth knowing.

Venue: 10/10

Resisting gentrification since 1854 (and women, until 1970).

Beer: 8/10

Enjoy the simplicity of their options: dark or light.

Worthy? Yes.

As trite as this sounds: it’s an institution.

 

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72. Blind Tiger Ale House, New York, NY

West Village, New York, a new beer movement.

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No more ostentatious tap handles, faux-craft beer (here’s looking at you, Sam), and well beer Wednesdays. Blind Tiger will guide you through the excellent emerging United Statian craft beer world. It could be argued that Blind Tiger not only predates the real beer movement, but was already a local institution whilst localised, craft brewing was but a twinkle in the hipster’s bourgeois eye.

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27 taps is not enormous for the States (Sunset Grille & Tap has 112), but it represents at least a days (ahem) effort. Europe is much more bottle-centric (400+ in Belgium is not uncommon; you need more like 800 to stand out, like Kulminator, Antwerp), so for Jonny foreigner, this array of taps is bewildering in all the right ways.

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Spot the hipster.

A fantastic quirk of Blind Tiger is the countdown to the tapping of a new brew: when I was there, the chalk board told me that at 5pm, a new saison will be opened for sale. Given that I decided to wait a few hours for this, I can’t remember exactly what this tasted like. Since I had been on a summer wheat/fruit beer binge, I think the saison fitted perfectly with my contemporary needs.

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If I’m being honest, which I’d rather not since I really liked this place, the layout of the venue needs some thought. I understand that space is at a premium in Manhattan, but Blind Tiger is bigger than many pubs in the Netherlands. The problem here is the large space in the middle, leftover from the awkward high tables by the window and the low slung benches by the wall. Maybe people can accumulate and drink vertically during peak times, but here you will find yourself clumsily in the way. A seat by the bar is a fine thing though.

A special nod must go out to the staff. On both visits, they were excellent and patient, despite being borderline understaffed the second time, with something of a Rain Man memory.

Venue: 6/10

A seat around the bar is an optimum place to sit, otherwise the void in the middle seems like a waste of space.

Beer: 8/10

Countdowns to new beer tappings? Brilliant. The staff are happy to showcase an excellent knowledge and passion, too.

Worthy? Yes

A bar for real connoisseurs, which doesn’t exude esoteric pretentiousness, unlike this sentence.