Inspiration for a pub crawl can come from a variety of sources. Often times its put together based on past experiences or recommendations from friends. Sometimes you read a newspaper review and want to check it out for yourself. Or you may get ideas for a pub crawl based on reports in social media. When organizing a pub crawl I use all of those sources, and then I add a touch of Monty Python. No, I’m not referring to the Spanish Inquisition, a dead parrot, the Ministry of Silly Walks or any of the other crazy skits that the mostly British surreal comedy group performed during their Flying Circus days. And no, we don’t go from bar to bar singing “I’m a pub crawler, and I’m okay. I drink all night and I drink all day”. I’m talking about the Pythons preference for changing directions at the drop of a hat. Accordingly, I like a pub crawl to have many unexpected twists and turns. Going to great beer bar after beer bar can be fun, of course, but for me it’s far more interesting to have a good mix. Before announcing our next stop, I enjoy saying “And now for something completely different”, as we head off to, well, something completely different. So, for a February pub crawl I decided that we would start at an upscale French Bistro, have lunch at a German Bräuhaus, drink beer at a great beer bar, soak up the ambiance of a good old fashion NYC dive bar and then end the crawl at an historic bar in one of the oldest sections of the City.
After a wine tasting event with a friend at the Astor Center a few months ago, we had a late dinner at Lafayette, a bustling French restaurant/bakery on the corner of Lafayette and Great Jones Street. Not sure if it was the interesting selection of beers, especially the French bottles (Brasserie Dupont Saison, Brasserie de Cazeau, Saison aux Fleurs de Sureau, Brasserie d’Achouffe). Or perhaps it was the great wine list. Or maybe it was just the big clock over the bar. (I do like bars with clocks!) But in any case I decided that this would be a great place to begin a pub crawl. My drinking buddies both had the west coast style IPA from Other Half Brewing, a microbrewery in Brooklyn. I was initially leaning toward getting a cappuccino and croissant from the bakery, but because we were toasting a recently departed friend, I decided I needed a proper glass and went with the Alsatian Riesling from Zinck. Even though it was a bit before noon on a cold Sunday morning; the bar, bakery and restaurant were all bustling with boisterous revelers, reminding me of a Left Bank Parisian Brasserie.
We then walked down Bowery to Houston for a lunch stop at the Paulaner Bräuhaus at 265 Bowery. In contrast to Lafayette, the bräuhaus was unusually quiet, more like an upper west side café then a Munchen Bräuhaus. Our initial disappointment with the sterile and somewhat subdued atmosphere was washed away by some excellent beers My friends went with the Winter Beer (a bottom fermented beer made with roasted barley malt) and I had the Munich Dark (a beer brewed with five types of barley and heavily roasted to create the malty flavors of the traditional Munich Beer). After being joined by a “guest crawler”, who decided to “go local” with a Merlot from Long Island’s Shinn Estates , we headed over to a table for lunch. Unfortunately, the menu was not what we expected. Instead of sticking with a traditional German menu, they decided to appeal to the masses by adding everyday brunch choices. Maybe it’s me, but steel cut oatmeal with roasted pumpkin and dried cherries is not something I associate with Oktoberfest. And I don’t care if the Donut French Toast is made with Bavarian Cream, it just seemed more suitable to IHOP then a bräuhaus. Quite frankly, if I had my heart set on a bagel with smoked salmon, I’d be eating somewhere else. Okay, they did have Wiener Schnitzel on the brunch menu. But where was the Sauerbraten? Or the Kasseler Rippschen? Or the Leberknodel Suppe, which would have been perfect on a frigid February afternoon? In the end we decided the best bet was to share some platters of sausage and cabbage. No complaints about the bratwurst, weisswurst and bauernwurst and the cole slaw, sauerkraut and red cabbage were all delicious. Even though we had an enjoyable meal and some great beers, we left the Bräuhaus with a feeling of being cheated out of a hearty German meal. Guess when you have your mind set on sauerbraten nothing else will do.
We continued our walk down Bowery, then turned onto Delancey, where we stopped at #10. One Mile House is a prohibition-style watering hole from the team behind Half Pint, and Amity Hall. The atmosphere was casual & old-worldly, the service was friendly and the selection of beers was outstanding, with 30 beers on tap. My drinking buddies went with the Bell’s Porter and Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale. I decided to join my wine-drinking friend with a glass of wine. No local wines here, so we went with a California Cabernet Sauvignon. We were tempted to sample some of the flatbreads offered on the menu, but in the end decided we were all too content and comfortable sitting at the corner window table and none of us wanted to venture over to the bar to order food. So, we decided to hold off ordering any food until next stop.
We initially regretted not getting any of the flat breads while continuing our walk down Bowery. (Bratwurst and cabbage can only hold you for so long.) But our regret soon turned to delight as we stumbled onto a noodle shop on East Broadway in East Chinatown. Not an overpriced tourist trap featuring Americanized dishes, but the real thing. While we always have a plan when doing these pub crawls, we are always willing to adjust our schedule if we find something interesting. Or I guess I should say, “Something Completely Different”. So, when we passed by The Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle Shop at 144 East Broadway (just east of Pike Street) and saw an empty table inside we decided to check it out. Definitely a good decision. Freshly made noodles, a clientele made up of locals, limited seating in the sparse interior and prices that were too good to be believed were some of the initial attributes of the Noodle Shop. And the wonderful hole-in-the-wall atmosphere made this the kind of place that Anthony Bourdain or Guy Fieri might rave about on their television shows. Our table had two noodle dishes (fish and vegetable with egg) and three dumpling dishes (boiled, fried and sweet rice). All were fantastic. By the time we paid our bill (which came to the grand total of $20), the place was not only filled to the brim, but there was a line forming outside.
With our hunger satisfied and ready for more drinking, we continued down East Broadway to 169 Bar. The bar dates back to 1916 and has a checkered history that includes the Chinese Mafia and the nickname “The Bloody Bucket”, which was due to the nightly fights inside and outside the bar in the 1950’s. Today, Charles Hanson’s 169 Soul, Jazz and Oyster Bar has been transformed into a hip outpost on the Lower East Side for twentysomethings. But with the pool table, fish tank, musty basement feel to the place and the bulky chain for a lock on the bathroom door, it still has the ambiance of a dive bar. And as their website proclaims it is “one of the last, oldest & original bars, in one of the last original hoods in Manhattan”. Though there was an excellent selection of beers (including quite a few beers from Six Point and Blue Point), we went with something different: 2 kinds of Scotch (Glenlivet and Macallan), a Manhattan and a sangria. This was my first visit to 169 Bar, but not my last. The NOLA inspired menu makes me want to organize a return trip for a Po’ Boy and a hurricane.
We then headed down Rutgers Street to South Street and wearily made the long trek down to the Seaport, walking through ice, around pot holes and over piles of snow. The temperature had dropped significantly since we started and the wind was howling. We were exhausted by the time we reached The Paris Café at 119 South Street. A little history, courtesy of their website. Henry Meyer bought a 10-year old brick building in the heart of the seaport in 1873 and opened Meyer’s Hotel. The elegant main floor bar was named The Paris Café. Thomas Edison used The Paris Cafe as a second office while designing the world’s first centralized power stations on nearby Pearl Street. Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill Cody and Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid were all guests at the hotel. Teddy Roosevelt dropped in on occasion for a pint while serving as the head of the New York City Police department. Located in the historic South Street Seaport at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, The Paris Café has seen many ups and downs as the neighborhood has gone through numerous changes. The latest challenge was Hurricane Sandy. Many establishments in downtown New York were closed for months, while others will never reopen. Under the thoughtful eyes of Diarmuid Hackett and Peter O’Connell, The Paris Cafe has reopened after being shuttered for a year and is back to its original grandeur.
When working downtown, The Paris Café was a regular stop, for both lunch and an after-work drink. This was my first trip since the reopening and was glad to see that the bar was filled on a cold Sunday night. I was also glad to be greeted by the friendly Irish barkeep who was tending bar during my last visit. My friends went for the Shiner Bock, a Texas beer that has been around since 1909 but is new to the area. Having reached my limit, I opted for a boring seltzer. Their website optimistically states “The Paris Café: 1873 to Forever”. Considering the history of the place, culinary historians and beer drinkers alike are rooting for “The Paris” to be around for a long, long time. In this instance, the “And now for something completely different” mantra gets thrown out the window in favor of tradition. Paris Café, now and forever!