If you ever go to New York I recommend having a Prohibition Punch (as modelled by Kate, below) at The Campbell Apartment in Grand Central Station. The apartment, previously the luxurious private office of John Campbell, a jazz age financier and railway tycoon, was reopened as a bar in 1999 with a suitable cocktail menu.
Our previous trip to the Campbell Apartment was one of the reasons I wanted to visit the new Booking Office bar at St Pancras. The recently-opened Renaissance St Pancras Hotel occupies part of the huge and ornate Midland Grand Hotel (1873-1935) as designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, after whom the new fine dining restaurant headed by Marcus Wareing is named. A lot of thought has gone into recreating the glamorous history of the building, from the décor to the historic recipes in the restaurant.
The Booking Office bar, which was the old ticket office, stands between the hotel lobby and the first floor platforms from which the Eurostars run to Paris, beside Carluccio’s and The Betjeman Arms. The room itself has a hugely high ceiling. On what was a very warm summer’s day it was a nice, cool place to relax before the train back to Leeds.
We ordered a couple of cold beers to start with and had a good light lunch: a chicken and avocado sandwich for myself and salmon fishcakes for Kate. They had a number of Meantime beers on keg including their very pleasant London Pale Ale. The beer came in pewter tankards, which was a first for me. I’m not entirely sure if it added or detracted from the beer, but it definitely looked good and kept the lovely crisp pale ale cold and refreshing.
In common with the recipes used in The Gilbert Scott, the drinks menu in The Booking Office is intended to hark back to the era of the original Midland Grand. The beers may ruin this theme slightly by being on keg rather than cask, but they are of good quality (Meantime, Harviestoun). Meantime attempts to replicate old beer styles so the method of dispense perhaps shouldn’t matter quite so much.
However where the focus lies is the cocktail and punch menu. I had a Billy Dawson Punch Rocks, a nicely boozy punch which came in a small copper mug with fruit floating in it. Kate had a nice lemony concoction made with egg white, the name of which escapes me.
Of course the bill was a bit steep, but The Booking Office is a very special place to sit for a while, soaking up a little bit of glamour and a nice punch. As railway waiting rooms go, it definitely beats the first class lounge in Kings Cross.
Saturday night in Leeds, exactly one week from Christmas Day. Snow on the ground; fridge full of food. Nothing else to do but make a spicy Cajun gumbo and work through the American beers in the fridge. Again I should warn you that my palate remains at best charmingly innocent and at worst unsophisticated.
I’d bought the Green Flash Le Freak some time ago in Beer Ritz and sensibly should have had it whilst it was fresher. Nonetheless what is advertised as an American Imperial IPA meets a Belgian Trippel matches that description and is quite thick and very slightly bubblegummy with a solid bitter aftertaste. Kate’s not a fan of Belgian beers so I soon had the whole (9.2%, 1 pint 6 fluid oz) bottle to myself.
The combination of the viscosity, sweetness and bitterness was nice but I didn’t fall completely in love with it. I suspect it might have worked better for me if the hop taste was fresher than the aged bottle I had. Perfectly nice though. You can see Rob’s video review of this beer at Hopzine here.
I still had three American IPAs in the fridge that I’d brought back from New York in November, so I thought I’d better have them whilst they were good. I had specifically decided not to come back from New York with a suitcase full of beer, but we had a few left in the fridge in the hotel room on the last day, and I wasn’t about to let them go to waste.
First was the Lagunitas IPA. This turned out to be an oddly bland beer with the hoppiness almost tacked on at the end. After a while it came across like a fairly dull cooking lager but with a bitter aftertaste.
Next was the Smuttynose IPA. I’d had this on keg in New York and really quite liked it. It was slightly lighter in colour than the Lagunitas. The bitterness was more complex although not too punchy, with a good mixture of lemon and pine. Although slightly cloudy, it was a really nice, light refreshing beer, with a hint of detergent.
The Smuttynose IPA was very good match indeed to the spicy meat gumbo from Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie’s America” book. Give the recipe a go if you get the chance.
Finally we had the Bear Republic Racer 5. I’d been looking for this beer for ages in New York, having read about it beforehand on Richard Burhouse’s blog amongst others. However, perhaps because it’s Californian, it was a bastard to find until I tracked it down on the penultimate day in a supermarket in Williamsburg.
Racer 5 turned out to be the best beer of them all: big flavours of mango, citrus and pine that worked really well together. If I had to drink only one American IPA for the rest of my life, it would certainly do, although right now I think my first choice would be O’Dell IPA.
One of the things I was really looking forward to on our trip to New York in November was a visit to the Brooklyn Brewery. Brooklyn Lager was a beer that really took me by surprise when I tried it for the first time a few years ago.
Along with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, it’s one of the first US craft beers I became aware of, and is increasingly available in the UK, sometimes finding its way into the fridges of bars which are otherwise completely uninteresting. Since then, I’ve also become a big fan of the EIPA and especially the Black Chocolate Stout. Before we visited the Brewery, we’d already tried the Winter Ale and the Brewmaster’s Reserve Cuvee Noire in bars in Manhattan.
Happy Hour at the Brewery starts at 6pm and runs to 11pm every Friday, when they put out long tables and set up a bar offering an exciting range of familiar and unfamiliar Brooklyn beers. Unfortunately I was an idiot and thought it started at 4pm, so we turned up in Williamsburg two hours early. It didn’t escape my notice that I had failed to adequately organise an actual piss-up in a brewery.
Funny place, Williamsburg: it’s full of hipsters with their tight check shirts, skinny trousers and thick-rimmed specs, but at the same time has parts that appear quite poor and/or post-industrial. It seems a bit like North-East London, in that way.
After initially being a bit wary about spending two hours there, we found the Brooklyn Ale House (a quiet, friendly, dark little pub) and sat at the bar for a while with a Blue Point Toasted Lager and an Anchor Humming Ale (both keg). We then went on to Mug’s Ale House for some sticky BBQ chicken wings, an Anchor Stout (cask) and Liberty Ale (keg).
When me made it to the brewery and negotiated our way past the firm but fair bouncer (Kate didn’t have ID with her), we bought our beer tokens and headed to the bar. It was cold in the big room, but it was starting to fill up. There were pizza menus out on the table for people to order in from outside and large groups of principally young, trendy people started to fill the tables. We started on the East India Pale Ale on keg, before trying two Brewmaster’s Reserve beers: Detonation and Crash, both of which were strong, hoppy Imperial IPAs.
Having enjoyed everything we tried, we weren’t up for a very heavy night in Brooklyn, so headed back to the L station at Bedford Avenue and under the East River to midtown Manhattan. However, I was glad we came to Brooklyn and I’d like to visit the brewery again on a weekend for a tour, possibly combined with a return visit to Mug’s and dinner in the Peter Luger Steakhouse.
I’ve been very busy since I got back from New York but I did have a fantastic time. Apart from getting engaged (!) we went to quite a few different beer bars, some with a massive selection. One notable exception to the (sometimes baffling) amount of choice was McSorleys.
McSorley’s, the guide book informed me, usually sells only two alcoholic drinks, its own brand of “light” beer and its own brand of “dark” beer. However when we went in on a weekday lunchtime they only had the light option.
As usual in New York, they poured a glass of beer to an undisclosed size of their own choosing (just over half a pint, accounting for the size of the head) from keg. There was a fascinating old beer engine behind the bar, along with the busts of JFK, pictures of the old Pope that everyone liked etc, but it wasn’t in use.
The beer itself was a nice refreshing amber-coloured ale, which I think the Americans would class as an “Irish red ale”, like Smithwicks. I don’t know what the ABV was (they rarely seem to disclose it in America), but it didn’t seem that strong. Apparently the beer used to be brewed on the premises but is now brewed by Pabst.
Along with the beer we got a solid ham sandwich with lots of raw onion on white bread, and a really good corned beef hash. The other customers stood silently at the bar on the sawdust covered floor or sat imperiously on the ancient dark wooden chairs having loud banterful conversations. It didn’t seem as if any of the other customers were tourists.
I liked McSorleys more than I thought I was going to. I thought it might be one of the worst examples of an American “Irish pub”. In fact it’s completely unlike an O’Neill’s, which is what I was dreading, or the “McSorley’s” Irish theme pub in St Andrews (which used to be a pub that Pete Brown worked in and may have become something else since).
McSorley’s is similarly covered in tat (but real, dusty tat – old NYPD badges etc) but is a law unto itself with a long history of its own, including Brendan Behan, Dylan Thomas and a lost legal battle to be allowed to continue to exclude women. It doesn’t even do Guinness. I enjoyed spending an hour there and would be happy to go back for much longer.
On Saturday morning I’m going to New York. This might seem pathetic but, at 30 years old, it will be the first time I’ve left Europe. When I was a kid I wanted to go to New York because it was where Spider-Man and the Ghostbusters lived. I kind of still do.
But I’m also very excited about the beers. When I tell normal people that I’m looking forward to trying lots of great beers in New York, they look at me oddly. But since (repeatedly) going to North Bar’s North American Beer Festival and exploring the range of American beers in Beer Ritz, it’s been clear that America is the most exciting place in the world for beer. It seems equally clear that the influence of American craft brewers has greatly contributed to the revitalisation of the British beer industry and to those beers that have sparked my enthusiasm for it all.
So I’ve been reading Lew Bryson’s New York Breweries and Andy Crouch’s beautiful book Great American Craft Beer. I was keenly interested in Richard Burhouse and Pete Brown’s blog entries on drinking in New York.
I’ve discovered that, purely by chance, our hotel is only a couple of blocks’ (Blocks! Get me!) walk from The Ginger Man, Cask Bar + Kitchen and Rattle ‘n’ Hum. Moreover, Rattle N Hum has offers on Stone Arrogant Bastard, Double Bastard and Lucky Bastard all week. I don’t want to go completely mad and spend our entire holiday schlepping half-cut from bar to bar, but other options further afield I’ve considered are Blind Tiger; Mugs Ale House, Brooklyn Brewery and Barcade.
I don’t even want to get started on the beers I want to try, but I’ll be keeping a keen eye out for all the Brooklyn Brewery beers I haven’t tried, especially Brooklyn Winter Ale (recently reviewed by Leigh, with a lovely label) and also Bear Republic’s Racer 5 (recommended by Richard of MyBreweryTap, as well as Andy Crouch and many others).
So that’s what I’m most excited about. Anywhere else I must go or beers I must drink? Anything I’ve mentioned that’s not really worth it?