The question of what makes a true pub crawl is something that is actively debated amongst the members of our group. One of the members looks only to the tap and only those bars with a great choice of draft beers are considered. A second member likes to plan something different with each outing (eg, Three-Borough Pub Crawl). Another train of thought is to always go somewhere different (Harlem, Cobble Hill, The Highline, Upper East Side, etc.), that way we get to explore a new neighborhood with each crawl. Now that I’m older, and daresay wiser, drinking mass quantities of alcohol has become less of a priority and I like to organize a pub crawl around an historic or interesting restaurant. My latest pub crawl met all of these requirements. As for something different, I took my nephew’s advice and decided that we should see a movie during the pub crawl, something we had never done. And while we’ve walked the area around Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn on numerous occasions; we’ve never gone down Flatbush Avenue towards Brooklyn Heights. And as for an historic place to eat, I picked two long standing New York traditions: Katz’s Delicatessen and Junior’s Restaurant and Bakery.
After arriving at Atlantic Terminal, our first stop was the DeKalb Market Hall at City Point on Albee Square West, a newly opened food hall which features over 40 vendors and highlights the cultural and ethnic diversity of The City. Among the choices available were: Bunker (Vietnamese Street food), Lioni Brooklyn Italian Heroes, BK Jani (Pakistani curries), Pierogi Boys (Polish), DeKalb Taco and A Taste of Katz’s (the first outpost of the infamous “I’ll Have what she’s Having” Jewish delicatessen on Houston Street.) In spite of the variety of tempting choices, I kept with my plan and had lunch at one of the few remaining old time New York City delis. Katz’s was founded in 1888 on Ludlow Street in New York’s Lower East Side and was originally called Iceland Brothers. The name was changed to “Iceland & Katz” in 1903 when Willy Katz was made a partner. In 1910, Willy and his cousin Benny bought out the Iceland brothers and officially created Katz’s Delicatessen. In the late 1910’s, the Deli moved down the street to its present location on Houston Street. Years before the famous quote from the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” Katz’s had another national catch phrase with “Send a salami to your boy In the army” when the owners of Katz’s Deli sent salamis (and other delicacies) to their sons who were serving the country during World War II. I had hoped to enjoy one of their famous corned beef sandwiches, but the meat was still being cured, so I had to settle for a pastrami sandwich. Not a bad thing, as that was my second choice. Fortunately I knew about their reputation for over-stuffed sandwiches and had the foresight to share the sandwich, as there was enough pastrami to feed an army. The sandwich was accompanied by a knish and a Braven (from Bushwick) White IPA. Food was great, as expected. Only downside was the lack of seating, but the food hall had just opened and they were still working out the kinks. But signs promised that more seating was in the works.
While some may grumble that seeing a movie has no business being on the itinerary on a genuine pub crawl, I say if there’s alcohol served at the theater, then “Why not?” And considering that The Alamo Drafthouse has over 30 beers on tap (including many local Brooklyn breweries like Threes, Other Half, Industrial Arts and Brooklyn Brewery) all of which can be delivered direct to your seat, it seemed like a perfect venue for our group. The Alamo Drafthouse, a Texas-based movie theater chain created so people can watch a movie while enjoying food and beer, is located in the same building as the food hall. So, it was just a short elevator ride up. While my fellow drinkers all had the craft beer of their choice, I took a different route and went with a local winery: The 2014 Chardonnay from Brooklyn Winery, which uses grapes from the Finger Lakes. The theater also serves food, which can also be delivered to your seat. A nice touch was the special food menu geared to the movie. In this case there was biryani and potato-stuffed naan to accompany “The Big Sick,” the story about a would-be Pakistani stand up comedian and his American girlfriend. After the movie, we stopped in at The House of Wax, an off-beat bar adjacent to the movie theater. Well, off-beat is putting it mildly. Their website proclaims, The House of Wax combines “mixology with the macabre” and is “Brooklyn’s newest, and most curious, full-service bar.” That’s an understatement! The museum in the bar exhibits a bizarre selection of waxwork sculptures featuring life-size, realistic depictions of various anatomical features and situations, many of which are not for the faint of heart. I continued my support of New York State wineries and went with the Gotham Project Riesling. Gotham is a collaboration between Bruce Schneider (Schneider Vineyards and Onabay Vineyard) and Charles Bieler (Bieler Pere et Fils, Charles & Charles, Three Thieves). Their first wine (“The Finger”) was released in 2009 using grapes from Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes. Along with Bridge Lane Cellars, Gotham is also on the forefront of the wine on tap movement.
Our next stop was Junior’s Restaurant and Bakery, just a few blocks away on the corner of Flatbush Avenue Extension and DeKalb, where Harry Rosen opened a luncheonette in 1929. Over the next few years, he expanded the restaurant to several adjacent storefronts and turned the luncheonette into a full service restaurant with live entertainment. With a downturn in the economy after World War II, the restaurant, now called Enduro, closed. In 1950, Harry created Junior’s Restaurant and Bakery. He wanted his restaurant to stand out from the pack and hired Master Baker Eigel Petersen to create the best cheesecake in New York City. After much experimentation, Junior’s cheesecake was born. So, it was a no-brainer that I would order the cheesecake. The only question was the accompanying beverage. After much thought, I went with Fox’s U-Bet Brooklyn Egg Cream, a mysteriously named beverage that contains neither eggs nor cream. However, there was no mystery about the combination, it all added up to a great Brooklyn experience.
For our last stop, we headed over to Atlantic Avenue to The Hollow Nickel, a casual neighborhood bar and restaurant. The Hollow nickel opened in 2012 and is named after the famous nickel that was hollowed out so it could be used as a hiding place for microfilm. The nickel was used as evidence to convict a Russian spy in the 1950’s. This celebrated case was used as the basis for the 1959 film “The FBI Story” starring James Stewart. And it was also included in the plot of Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies.” As with many neighborhood Brooklyn bars, the Hollow Nickel has a garden out back. So, that was nice. Even nicer were their happy hour prices. The beers were only $4 each and a glass of wine was $8. As we enjoyed our libations on a cool summer afternoon in the back garden, we continued our discussion about what makes a good pub crawl. Which brings me to the last ingredient of a good pub crawl, a lively debate. And like most of our discussions, there was no consensus of opinion. Except to say, that we agreed to disagree about whether “dinner and a movie” could be the basis for a pub crawl.