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38. I Made It Nice! Musings on Vegas Beer, NYC Beer, & RHONY
It's NYC Beer Week; Vegas is worth the visit; Real Housewives as Breweries; a Pitch Call; and more.
Las Vegas Red-Eye to New York
I got back from Vegas just in time to head into NYC Beer Week. It’s been a wild, beer-filled week and a half and we’re not done yet.
Let’s start in Vegas. I always feel like I have to defend my decision to visit Vegas, and I get it. I used to be horrified at the concept before I actually stopped there on a road trip. I know many think the city is a gross, soulless embodiment of everything wrong with capitalist America.
And listen, Vegas is definitely partly that. (A lot of places are.)
But there’s more to it, and the “more” contains some things I love about it. First and foremost, there’s a part of Vegas where, like, people actually live. This is…you know, anywhere off the Strip, really, I guess. Take, for example, the Arts District. I would happily live in this neighborhood. It’s creative, happening, and scrappy. There’s great vintage. And this is where you’ll find the main concentration of Vegas’s breweries. The city of Las Vegas officially designated the area “Brewery Row” last spring to support local breweries and encourage a flourishing scene there. You’ll find Able Baker Brewing, Craft Haus Brewery, Hop Nuts Brewing, HUDL Brewing Company, and Nevada Brew Works, plus newcomer Neon Desert, which is a rebrand of Beer District Brewing. Plus, there’s Servehzah Bottle Shop & Tap Room, Three Sheets Craft Brewery Bar, and The Silver Stamp.
The beer, overall, is great. Yeah, at a few places, it’s like, “this is good for a city I wouldn’t say has a Craft Beer Scene.” But at others, like Able Baker, Craft Haus, and Neon Desert, the beer holds its own against the beer from any beer destination. Vegas seems to really be digging Belgian styles, which is rad. Overall, tap lists are very diverse—you won’t walk into a taproom there to find 11 IPAs and one sour. I got flights pretty much everywhere and selections really ran the gamut from wacky stouts to classic German styles. And as long as I’m calling out highlights, The Silver Stamp may have just entered my list of beer bar favorites. It’s 1970’s-Dad’s-Basement-Bar perfection with a great beer list and I came the closest I’ve ever come to missing a flight because I could not leave.
It didn’t hurt that there were just such good vibes at these spots. Almost everywhere we went, there was good conversation with bartenders, enthusiastic recommendations and samples, bonding with fellow patrons, and all that nice stuff.
As far as other parts of Vegas a visitor might be familiar with, it’s obvious that everyone is looking for different things when they travel. Plenty of people would rather chew their own foot off than let it step into Sin City limits, and I totally respect and understand that. Others go just for the Strip, to whoop it up for a bachelorette party. I get that, too. For me, well, I am, perhaps strangely idk, drawn to its sort of haunting glitz. I saw a sequined, feathered showgirl costume hanging in the dingy backroom of a secondhand shop and I would rave at you about how that image summed up what draws me to Vegas if it didn’t feel so freshman-creative-writing-class. But Vegas feels like a Land of Misfit Toys. I like cities where people run away from home to, because wherever home was, it didn’t understand why they were different and special. I know many of those people don’t exactly end up with happy endings but look at that, that takes us back to capitalism and America and ugh again.
And, you know what, I do love a day of wandering the Strip, people-watching with a $4 tall boy of a Firestone Walker IPA in hand, and ending that day with a good happy cry at “RuPaul’s Drag Race Live.” I am only human.
Meanwhile, back in New York…
I shudder at the earnestness of this but the New York City Beer Week Opening Bash on Saturday left me with a high that lasted all weekend. A natural high, not even an alcoholic one! It feels foreign for me to say this as a curmudgeon with social anxiety, but I spent way more time at the fest chatting with people than I did drinking beer and I loved every second of it. There was palpable excitement in the air—people seemed so purely excited to be back at a festival celebrating their local beer scene and running into each other after the two years we’ve had.
I firmly believe that the safety measures the NYC Brewers Guild makes sure to take is a big reason we could in fact lean into that excitement. An easy-to-find code of conduct, strong and oft repeated statements from the Guild about what will not be tolerated and what environment they are ensuring, and neon-shirted safety advocates truly helped me relax, feel comfortable and confident, and actually enjoy my surroundings. It would be great if every single event organizer took these precautions so we didn’t even have to think so much about these aspects of attending a festival, but that’s just not the case.
As far as the beer, as mentioned, I didn’t go crazy but I did get to some NYC favorites as well as trying some out-of-town guest breweries. Truly, and this brings me much joy, I can honestly say that one of my favorite pours was a sorrel seltzer brewed by members of our NYC Pink Boots chapter. Absolutely exploding with fruity, botanical, herby notes—I wish I had cans of this stuff. I also finally got to try Zahra Tabatabai’s much buzzed-about brews for Back Home Beer, and can say that the hype is well deserved, and is maybe even not enough. The Sumac Gose and Persian Lager, with blue salt from Iran, were both beautiful beers. Another standout was DaleView’s fluffy-yet-hop-bursty Mighty Clouds Of… NEIPA. I was also psyched to finally check out Fidens Brewing from Albany.
I had eagerly awaited Saturday to finally get my hands on a Bierstadt lager, but then I blabbed so much that I got to their table just in time to watch them unscrewing the tap handles from the jockey box. But that brings us to Sunday, because never fear, The Grand Delancey is (well, was) here with its NYC Beer Week event, LagerFest. I finally had my Bierstadt slow pour, in proper glassware to boot. I also savored the opportunity to drink a polotmavý from Human Robot and a rauchbier from The Seed—essentially, it was hype lager time, at one of my favorite beer bars, and every beer was its own entire Moment.
And NYC Beer Week isn’t over! We’ve got until the end of this week, so what are you doing and where are you heading?
Real Housewives of New York as Breweries
The episode of The Fingers Podcast where Dave Infante invited me on to talk about drinking games dropped last week, reminding me about how we compared ancient Romans to Real Housewives. And this still being New York City Beer Week, I decided to run with that and write a little ditty I’ve been kicking around for a while, Real Housewives of New York (past and present) as breweries. Who is this for? How small is the Venn diagram crossover between craft beer fans and RHONY fans? I don’t know and I don’t care. Bravo hive come through.
Bethenny Frankel: Boston Beer Company
The motto I’ve imagined for Bethenny Frankel is, “Always Be Monetizing.” Founder of the vapidly named Skinnygirl brand of cocktails, Bethenny was a square peg in the round hole of earlier RHONY casting because she was single and self-made. How much do you want to admire that…eh, it’s iffy, because for every cool, respectable accomplishment, there’s a transphobic comment or fatphobic book lurking around the corner. Anyway, the point here is that Bethenny Frankel never seems to turn down an offer, collaboration, endorsement, etc., having expanded into other reality shows, food products, supplements, clothing, kitchenware, and more. She is a business behemoth like Boston Beer Company, juggling craft outfits like Dogfish Head with supermarket staples like Truly, and partnering with corporate overlords PepsiCo to give the world MTN DEW whether they want it or not.
Sonja Morgan: CANarchy
Sonja just wanted to be like Bethenny and brand everything and be a business titan, too. In response to Skinnygirl’s success, Sonja set her sights on…toaster ovens. This, shockingly, made less of an impact than CANarchy stands to now that it’s been bought by Monster, but now, these Big Brands and breweries-in-flux are all playing catch-up. Plus, very simply, Sonja is anarchy.
Ramona Singer: Founders Brewing Co.
This is perhaps the easiest and most blatant correlation. I think even if you’ve never laid your eyes upon one episode of this train-wreck show, there’s a fair chance you’ve just absorbed by existing in the world that Ramona Singer is an elitist, insufferable, two-faced buffoon with entertaining facial expressions and not-so-entertaining undeniable racism. For seasons, we’ve watched this clown in a bandage dress call anyone in the service and hospitality industries “the help,” among other constant offences, and when the most recent season of RHONY finally—begrudgingly?—cast its first Black cast member, Eboni K. Williams, viewers really got to see Ramona’s racist bullshit laid bare. There are rumors Bravo producer Andy Cohen canceled that season’s reunion to protect Ramona in the wake of accusations she said some really nasty, inexcusable shit off-camera. When Jennie Nguyen was fired from Real Housewives of Salt Lake City for her racism earlier this year, there was an outcry for Ramona to face a similar fate, but it fell upon deaf ears. Ramona just continues to get promoted, hired, and to enjoy a fan base. Sound familiar? I mean, how many times a week do you still see Founders counted in a “best of” round-up or featured on some beer Instagrammer’s feed?
Luann de Lesseps: Modern Times
I always feel like Luann is a hair behind Ramona. I don’t know if it’s that she’s equally insufferable and elitist but genuinely not as racist, or if she’s better at covering her own ass because, when not 11 margaritas deep, she’s much more composed and poised than ol’ Turtle Time Singer. Let’s assume the former. Luann had some dark seasons there, clustered around her disorderly intoxication arrest—it wasn’t just her rap sheet, but the way she treated her castmates. However, at least as much as you can take anything from a reality show seriously, Luann seems to have been making an effort, getting clean (with some missteps, but those happen with humans) and working to raise money to help women get their lives on track after prison (not without condescending, performative comments). That’s why I’m putting her with Modern Times. She has fucked up—bad. She’s—seemingly—been working on changes, and some of those have worked and some of them haven’t.
We’re sort of cautiously watching, not completely shunning her but not completely dropping our defenses, and personally, that’s how I’ve felt about Modern Times since it reacted pretty quickly to the reports of its toxic environment last year. The story now has been mostly taken over by financial struggles and four closing taprooms, but Modern Times is still one of those breweries about which you’re like, “Okay, they made some changes without hemming and hawing…but how effective are those changes long-term? Let’s see.”
Kelly Killoren Bensimon: Omnipollo
All of Omnipollo’s beers make me think of Kelly Killoren Bensimon agreeing to go to sleep after everyone telling her she’s acting drunk and strange, then re-emerging to offer everyone jelly beans. That’s it, that’s the tweet.
Carole Radziwill: Athletic Brewing Company
The name’s an easy grab, since Carole’s biggest storyline one season was running the NYC marathon (honestly, good work, Carole). But for the most part, Carole was an incongruously intelligent, pulled-together presence on RHONY who often resisted getting pulled into the fray and kept her sights set on her personal growth, even if that meant missing her book deadline by, like, two years. Athletic’s own growth and non-preachy sobriety makes it a match here.
Dorinda Medley: The Brewers Association
Don’t get me wrong. I’m #TeamDorinda when it comes to FishRoomGate, as well as plenty of the other drama that arises when Dorinda invites the other castmates to her Berkshires house for a weekend of hospitality and they behave like feral teenagers. But really, Dorinda doesn’t have too strong a leg to stand on when she uses all that hospitality as a grab for immunity from judgment about her own behavior. It’s nice that you cooked, it’s mean no one was gracious about it, but that doesn’t mean you get a free pass to say vile things to your “friends.”
I feel like Bob Pease and the Brewers Association were arguing that they “made it nice!” with their silence amid the craft beer industry’s reckoning with its racism, sexism, and overall shittiness. Trade organizations aren’t supposed to get into the weeds with these issues, anyway, right? Wrong—not when those issues are this earth-shattering and urgent. The most important issues to grapple with, in fact, before then addressing anything else. Any progress with the BA has been painfully slow, and along one-step-forward-two-steps-back lines.
Leah McSweeney: Other Half
Leah was like an HDHC Cryo Incognito IPA walking into a group of West Coasts. She was younger than we’re used to seeing on RHONY, and an entirely new concept for the cast, tattooed, tiki torch-hurling, and streetwear-clad. She effectively changed the entire dynamic of the show, sometimes for the better, sometimes not so much. She is Other Half; she is really any new guard, buzzy, hype brewery—but definitely one that makes hop smoothies, and not love letters to traditional Czech-style pilsners.
This week, I pulled the Page of Wands.
The suit of Wands speaks to intuition, communication, and travel. The Page of Wands speaks to getting inspired, having ideas, discovery, and potential. This is one of those personality cards, calling out to all you creatives specifically here. But for anyone, really, the Page of Wands is an urging to let your imagination run wild, embrace whatever inspires you, believe in yourself and your ideas, and see their potential and pursue them. I am sorry that all sounds trite and cheesy; it’s true and I don’t make the rules and frankly, I think we could all use a little encouragement these days.
Simply put, indulge your creative hobbies or start new ones, and don’t think they’re wasting your time. They’re important whether they lead to some new career path or just help you unwind, and either way, they’re helping you unlock all your work and life potential. Don’t downplay your ideas and/or talents. Invest in yourself and whatever your vision or concept is. Thousands of different beers could be tied to this card and its message, as opening a brewery in and of itself is to tune out the doubts and invest in a wild dream. But let’s stick with a theme and pair the Page of Wands with Back Home Beer’s Sumac Gose—because as a reminder, Zahra Tababatabai’s story is definitely inspiring.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
How could this week’s ex-beer-ience be anything other than the Opening Bash? So, you know, see above.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
Similarly, how could this week’s rec be anything other than the season two premiere of Brews with Broads?! (This prompted me to finally change this section to “media rec” instead of “reading rec” because there will probably be a lot more podcast mentions to come.) I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new season of Hannah Kiem’s brilliant podcast with as much anticipation as I await my prestige TV addictions, so today is a very exciting day. The first thing I did today was take a long walk to listen to the first episode of season two, on which Other Half Centre Street Lead Brewer and Other Half Women’s Forum creator Breeze Galindo guests. What an inspiring episode; what a great kickstart to your day to listen to and what a great kickstart to the second season of Brews with Broads.
I want to get the ball rolling on another one of Hugging the Bar’s goals, which is hearing from guest writers and creators. I’m looking for pitches from Black, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and/or differently abled individuals…truly anyone from any underrepresented community who wants to write anything having to do with craft beer. Essays, Q&A’s, poems? Maybe not poems—but also idk maybe poems! I’m hoping to get this rate up in the future, but right now, it’s $150. That means whatever you pitch, it shouldn’t be a bigger project than makes sense for you to do at that rate. Send pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org and please tell your friends!
Until next week, here is Darby lounging at Montclair Brewery.