Jake Zavracky of Lowlands Talks Happy Hour, Booze in Beer, and the Allure of Miller Lite


Jake Zavracky is living the dream: tending bar by day and making music by night. Or is it the other way around? In any case, when he’s behind the bar at Lowlands, the beer garden that opened in Gowanus earlier this year, he aims to please.

What’s on tap that’s seasonal right now at Lowlands?

We have Brooklyn Summer Ale. We have Allagash White. We have the Lagunitas IPA. As far as seasonal beers go, I guess that would be pretty much it. The Allagash sells like crazy and so does the Brooklyn. People definitely want a light beer in the summertime. Even the IPAs we have now are pretty light.

Do you have a personal favorite these days?

I actually hate to say this because it’s not a New York beer. I like to support the local breweries, but the one that I like best is Goose Island, which is from Chicago. The Goose Island IPA.

What is always available at Lowlands?

There’s about 10 beers on tap. Guinness and Boddingtons are always here. The Goose Island, Stella, Miller Lite, too. We’ve had the Kelso St. Gowanus pretty much since the beginning, and I think those’ll stay.

Wow, Miller Lite. A lot of beer halls would be too snobby to serve that.

Miller Lite is a good alternative. It’s cheap, especially during happy hour, when it’s only $2. And it’s only $3 normally. All the draft beers are $1 off during happy hour, daily, 5 to 8. Actually, we do happy hour Monday all night long.

Do you think the cocktail craze is getting out of hand or is it all part of a better drinking culture?

I personally love cocktails, but it’s not something I think our clientele at Lowlands is after so much. They mostly want beer, I would say two or three to one. I make a few, but not very many a night. But I’m all for cocktails. If someone wants a cocktail, I get excited. But it doesn’t happen too, too often, and when it does it’s usually something simple like a martini. And they don’t even want the vermouth — just vodka or gin in a martini glass.

Have you made any beer cocktails there?

You mean like Black and Tans and stuff? Occasionally people like orange juice in the Allagash. British people seem to like Stella with some Sprite in it. I can’t remember what it’s called, but someone wanted Stella with grenadine in it. I have yet to add liquor of any kind to beer, but if someone wanted it I’d be more than happy to make it. We aim to please.

Do you ever cut anyone off?

I have cut only one person off and she was really just begging for it. She had to go. It wasn’t a very enjoyable experience for me. I felt really, really bad. But, yes, fortunately it’s happened once.

What’s your go-to hangover cure?

I usually like to eat a big, greasy meal. I think that’s pretty much the only thing that works for me. It depends on how bad the hangover is. If it’s just killing me I’ll have a drink, I’ll have a mimosa or Bloody Mary or something like that. But then, that can often exacerbate the situation.

Where do you like to drink when you’re not at your own bar?

One of my favorite places to go is Abilene, which is actually the sister place of Lowlands in Carroll Gardens. I live in Windsor Terrace across the street from the park and there’s a great place over there called Double Windsor. I like Bar Great Harry. I can keep going.

No, that’s fine. Do you have a favorite movie or TV bartender?

I love It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. They’re probably not really bartenders on the show, but they make me laugh. And Don Draper from Mad Men. He’s not really a bartender, but he knows how to pour a drink.

Are there any special events coming up at the bar?

On Monday nights we’re going to have bluegrass sessions, where musicians come in and sit around and play. I don’t know when it starts, probably fairly soon. And also on Sunday nights we’re going to be doing some acoustic music in the fall.

You’re a musician. Do you ever wish you could quit the bar life?

I make money doing both. That’s what I would say. Obviously, I have to be a bartender, and music is my passion, but bartending is a passion, too. You know what it is? I really love the people from the neighborhood, the Gowanus area. They’re really, really easy to deal with for the most part. I love to talk to them and that’s really the best part of it for me: the social interaction.

Do you ever play your own music at the bar?
Ha, no. I never play my own music at the bar. I think that would be too distracting to me because I would probably start analyzing it and forgetting what I was doing.

What do you like to play when you’re bartending?

I have control of the music when I’m there, as do all the bartenders during their shifts. We have two turntables and a pretty decent collection of vinyl, so sometimes I play that, which is everything from jazz like George Benson or Art Blakey to ’70s rock and some indie-ish rock like Guided by Voices. On my own iPod, I play more recent things, like Beach House and Ariel Pink.

Does the music affect the crowd much, given that they’re drinking and not dancing?
I definitely find that the best way to get a reaction from the crowd with music is to just play things that everyone knows. People love Hall & Oates, and the Cars, and Prince, and Michael Jackson. Eighties stuff is usually an automatic crowd-pleaser.