On the left, California beer selection at City Swiggers. (Click on image to enlarge to readable size.)
Last Thursday marked the grand opening party of City Swiggers, a new beer store and tasting room on the Upper East Side — although the place has apparently already been open for six weeks. We stopped counting at 200 bottled beer choices, and there is also a menu of tap beers available by the 32- and 64-ounce growler. (A term whose derivation has yet to be adequately explained to us. Grrrrr.)
City Swiggers looks more like a fancy UES wine store than a beer depot.
But what makes City Swiggers unique, besides its awful name and unexpected location, is the small but comfortable bar, which looks like something ripped from a basement rumpus room of a mansion in Teaneck, New Jersey, sans Budweiser posters. In other words, quite refined, the type of tasting room you might associate with a wine bar or wine distributor. Indeed, Rosenthal Wine Merchants is a couple of blocks away, and has nearly the same setup in their town-house headquarters.
Tasting will presumably be from the 14 taps arrayed along the dark Formica of the bar, which is entirely too well-lit for our taste. There are also some small tables in nooks further into the place, which you will encounter on your way to inspecting the foreign beer roster. But this is not a spot for drinkers; it caters to the beer connoisseur, a type of person who has only been out of the closet for a decade or so in the city, when bars like D.B.A. first appeared to appease a refined and broad-ranging taste in suds. You don’t drink these sorts of beers so much as curate them. That said, we were very pleased to see an extended collection of Bear Republic products from California.
The taps behind the bar at City Swiggers
Part of the European selection at City Swiggers
The beers are evenly divided between domestic small-production artisanal beers, and foreign, mainly European ones, some made by monks. While nearly every bodega between here and Bushwick now boasts an astonishing beer selection, the one at City Swiggers is even more so. As the proprietor and Fork in the Road shed a bitter tear over the acquisition of Chicago’s Goose Island by Anheuser-Busch, he pointed out that he has several bottles that predate it, and we quickly snapped up 12-ounce examples of three Belgian-style ales: Pere Jacques, Sofie, and Matilda, which is a little like snapping up pre-CBS Fender guitars. Each was $3.49.
The domestic beer shelves, right inside the front door, run from East Coast on the left, to West Coast on the right, with Midwestern beers in between. The place is worth a visit, if only to browse, but the starchy formality of the place might make you wish for a funkier spot.
Oh, and there’s a cold case, too, with chilled bottles, and a small selection of rubbery looking vegan sandwiches. According to Florence Fabricant, it’s because you can’t operate a bar without also serving food.
320 East 86th Street
The beers available by the growler this last weekend
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 12, 2011