Some like it bottled. Some like it canned. But really, is there a better experience with beer than when it’s drawn from a tap? When that brew is poured, it offers the delightful hoppy blend in true form. The only challenge is that to enjoy a real draft beer, you’ve gotta head to a bar — well, unless you’re still living in that college house with a kegerator in the kitchen.
So what makes a bar’s draft selection great? The quantity? The quality? Are cask options needed? Is the atmosphere important? Must bartenders be knowledgeable? Well, the answers aren’t simple. Keeping all these factors in mind, Fork in the Road chugged as many drafts as possible to come up with our list of 10 favorite draft-beer bars. Of course, our fair city is hardly lacking in premier beer bars, and it was impossible for us to hit all of them, so if we missed your favorite suds emporium, let us know your pick in the comments section below.
Select brews are $4 during a daily happy hour.
10. The Habitat
This quiet, tiny bar at the tip-top of Greenpoint is a hidden gem. With 12 brews on tap, the selection isn’t extreme. What makes Habitat special, though, is that these folks not only know their beer, but they also aren’t assholes about sharing tips. On a recent trip, I enjoyed the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, a drink the bartender recommended and informed me is aged up to six weeks in bourbon barrels following brewing. The bar rotates its brews weekly and offers a daily $4 draft happy hour on select options. You’ll be challenged to find a friendlier, happier spot for beerheads.
988 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint; 718-383-5615
If you find yourself stuck in Midtown, look for this jovial bar.
9. Rattle ‘N’ Hum
Because the place is a staple of the New York beer scene (hell, perhaps even the national beer scene), you might be a little nervous to walk through the intimidating doorway found just a couple blocks from the Empire State Building. But have no fear: On top of the fact that Rattle ‘N’ Hum offers nearly 40 beers on tap (and a cask, if you’re into that), the bartenders are friendly and are all about appreciation of beer. Even if you don’t know the difference between a stout and an ale, they’ll happily educate you.
14 East 33rd Street; 212-481-1586
A couple of goblets of German joy in the charming, creaky basement known as Jimmy’s No. 43
8. Jimmy’s No. 43
The dark, dimly lit bar found in a basement in the East Village is a beer lover’s dream. The joint tends to specialize in German and Belgium brews, rotating 11 choices of rarities, such as the Freigeist Brettokolong, an unfiltered kölsch fermented with brettanomyces, now on tap. Owner Jimmy Carbone is a bit of a local foodie legend, known for his friendly and knowledgeable demeanor, and unsurprisingly, his bartenders follow suit. As a bonus for the true beer nerds, Jimmy’s offers a Tuesday-night tasting session where you can sample every brew on tap for only 10 bucks.
43 East 7th Street; 212-982-3006
d.b.a.’s motto is “drink good stuff.”
With two locations, d.b.a. rotates its choices regularly based on the seasons, bartenders’ opinions, and “constant customer badgering,” at least according to its website. The bar came from Ray Deter, who’s credited by many NYC beer enthusiasts as forever changing the beer scene in the city, before he passed away last summer. His jovial, beer-loving spirit lives on, though, as both locations continue to offer an innovative and seasonal selection of rare and exciting brews, and a few cask ales.
41 First Avenue; 212-475-5097 | 113 North 7th Street, Williamsburg; 718-218-6006
Drink only American? The Pony Bar is for you.
6. The Pony Bar
Giddyup, grab an American flag, and get ready to drink at this premium Hell’s Kitchen beer bar. It can be a little crowded at times, but hey, there’s a reason for that: It’s an awesome place. Plus, because the joint specializes in American brews only, it’s an opportunity to really show off that inner (perhaps ironic) jingoism you only pull out for special occasions. But what really makes the bar enjoyable are the prices. For only five bucks, you can have one of 20 craft brews on tap. And if you’re curious what the bar offers at any moment, check its website. It updates in real-time.
637 Tenth Avenue; 212-586-2707
The Nogne Holy Smoke poses in front of the premier draft selection.
At just four months young, this hidden spot in the East Village is a welcome addition to the New York craft-beer scene. With only a handful of taps (10) on top of a bunch of bottles, the curators aim for the weird and obscure in draft form, such as the Nogne Holy Smoke from Norway and the Fanø/Hoppin Frog Natasha Rock from Denmark, two beers that I’d never tasted, let alone heard of. But the oddities shouldn’t scare you. The tattoo-covered bartenders are extremely friendly and knowing, willing to do their best to turn any novice into a pro.
102 St. Marks Place; 212-777-6707
Head to Lucky Dog for booze, not brunch.
4. Lucky Dog
Walk in and you’ll often find a greasy, grizzly man playing banjo near the entrance as furry little dogs run around your feet. Then check out the chalkboard for a selection of brews that’s top-notch, with 20 taps and one cask. They rotate regularly, and in the past have featured the likes of the Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp or the Reissdorf Kolsch. Prices vary (but you can get a $10 pitcher of Genesee), and the spot gets a lot of brownie points for its excellent atmosphere. The backyard has plenty of space, the jukebox is terrific, the bartenders are down to earth, and the crowd is always fun. And, oh yeah, there are dogs. Lots and lots of dogs.
303 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg; no phone
Blind Tiger fills up fast, so be sure to get there early.
3. Blind Tiger
Blind Tiger has been setting the standard for beer bars since its inception in 1995. The joint is a nightmare to get into — don’t even dare to go post-work on a weekday. But head there early in the afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday or way late at night and enjoy one of the most diverse selections of draft brews in the city. Bartenders are a little snobbish and resistant to basic questions, but then again, Blind Tiger isn’t really a bar for the casual beer consumer.
281 Bleecker Street; 212-468-4682
Twenty ounces of a Belgian ale for just six bucks? Yes, please.
2. Spuyten Duyvil
It’s always a bummer when you walk into a bar with a great beer selection, but you’ve got to shell out at least eight dollars a brew. Spuyten Duyvil is a charming, rustic bar in Williamsburg that has become a go-to spot for the city’s beer enthusiasts. With only six taps and one cask, the joint might not seem up to the level of bars such as d.b.a. or Blind Tiger, but its careful daily curating is what makes the place pop. Plus, Spuyten Duyvil offers fresh chopped bread, meat, and cheese plates and an open, casual backyard — an ideal date spot.
359 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg; 718-963-4140
The bright yellow door is a beacon for beer lovers everywhere.
1. The Diamond
As winner of the Voice‘s 2011 prestigious Best Of category for “Best Place To Get Drunk Inside a Gondola, the Diamond probably isn’t new to our readers. But on top of hotboxing in that gondola, the draft beer selection is premier. Featuring a carefully selected menu of eight brews, the rotating choices range from sour lambics to intense, hoppy IPAs. Midwest transplants should celebrate, as the the Diamond claims to be the only bar in the world outside of Chicago that offers Dampfbier from Chicago’s Local Option. On top of the cassette-tape-lined bathroom wall and free shuffleboard, the best part might be that finding a seat on a busy Saturday night isn’t a challenge. Do me a favor: Let’s keep it that way.
43 Franklin Street, Greenpoint; 718-383-5030
A Sly Fox stands tall.