5. A Beer Bar Eulogy & Big King Energy

Wondering whether pour-your-own bars are viable and staying the course with a Czech-style pilsner.

Pouring One Out for Pour-Your-Own

Am I an inferior beer geek because I did not get married at a brewery? Instagram says so. I did, however, have my engagement party at a beer bar, back in 2016.

Our friends and family still talk about Paloma Rocket, truly. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in August when we took over our favorite local beer haven on Clinton Street. For many members of our families, it was both an introduction to the Lower East Side and to craft beer in one fell swoop.

Paloma Rocket was a small but open-feeling bar wallpapered in James Bond imagery. To be completely frank, I still don’t know what a “paloma rocket” is, I’m very sorry. It’s a reference to the films, yes? My husband and I had several lovely conversations with the bar’s apparent Bond enthusiast owner Graham Winton, but we never got around to 007-related matters.

The main attraction of Paloma Rocket was that it was a pour-your-own bar. We saw the walls of shiny taps through the bar’s windows right after it had opened, wandered in, and practically never left. We had friends from other neighborhoods commute to meet us there, confident they’d be wowed by this novelty. Most of them indeed were.

The model seemed like such a crowd-pleaser that I’m not sure I understand why pour-your-own beer bars seem especially risky. Everyone I know who met us there, best and most easily surveyed at our engagement shindig, was instantly enamored by the ability to try new things in perhaps very small sample sizes, and then maybe keep mixing things up or commit to one favorite, all at their own pace.

I’ve researched now and again but no one who understands the financials of bar business better than me (lol, anyone) has written an article explaining why this might not be an easy path to success. Off the top of my head, Keg No. 229 near the Seaport is another PYO spot to have shuttered; I think in NYC only Randolph Beer has things figured out. A PYO bar I visited off a touristy square in Brussels with an outstanding selection seemed like a no-brainer goldmine, but it also closed within about a year of opening. Another I stopped into in Munich (StammBar, whose current statement about being shut down for Covid is…something) hummed along busily with a local crowd, but it had a very limited selection of easy-drinking staples and was one of the only bars open for blocks on a Sunday night. Meanwhile, based on my own travels and plenty of Instagram posts from others, the model seems to do well in places like Charlotte and Charleston. I apologize I have only observations for you, and welcome any insight—that’s what you came here for, right? To tell me stuff?

I’m sad Paloma Rocket didn’t survive for the simple fact that I’d probably be there once a week or so, even now that I live in Brooklyn. Beyond the whole PYO “unique selling point,” Paloma Rocket was one of several bars I consider integral to my getting lost deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of craft beer here in New York, in terms of both education and feeling welcome in the community. The bartender, who has since worked at other great NYC craft beer mainstays, knowledgeably walked me through different offerings, and patiently—I mean, so patiently—helped me learn how to pour properly from the tap.

The bar’s management had treated their departure from Clinton Street like a move, saying at the time that they were just going to take a beat to find a new location. I Googled the bar every now and then hoping it would magically appear with a new address, but sadly, you know what happened—or rather, what didn’t happen.

I’m only now reading back in some EV Grieve reporting that Winton was in talks to open something with Jimmy Carbone in the Jimmy’s No. 43 space, which brings things a little fuller circle, considering Jimmy’s is another one of those formative beer bars for me. I mean, of course it is; I’m a human who drinks craft beer and exists in New York City. Jimmy’s was extra special because in the first few years I lived here, it was a big splurge to go there and shell out ten bucks I earned writing baby furniture product descriptions or some such nonsense, all for one perfect Belgian beer that would unlock another little door in the beer discovery journey.

Of course, the trite but true message here is that the pandemic got us all thinking more than ever about the places we loved that are no longer here. What are yours, what places created those certain memories and maybe fostered your growing love affair with beer? Let’s keep thinking of them, and keep thinking of the places we turn to now so we remember to support them however we can in the midst of this absolute hellfire of an era.

Beer Tarot!

I pulled the King of Pentacles. Let’s break it down.

Pentacles are the suit of earth, and speak to matters of money, property, and achievement. Pages, knights, queens, and kings in each suit are the “court cards,” and represent personalities. The King of Pentacles is a generous dude, and a wise, experienced father type. They embody structure, authority, order, stability, and security.

None of this has to support the patriarchy or gendered thinking, though. Instead, let’s focus on the ideals of this card and how to interpret them. Essentially, this card represents the pay-off from long-term investments and work. Internalize it as a call to embrace your dedication, ambition, and vision, to work hard and pursue grounded plans for success, to plan your goals and the paths to them, to seek security, to take an opportunity to improve your work, home, or financial situation, and to truly enjoy and relish the results of your efforts.

The moment I pulled this card, Wild East Brewing’s Patience & Fortitude Czech-style pilsner came to mind. The name really nails what this King character is all about. They are resolute, they stay the course, and they do not let haters change their direction. They see the big picture and how they can strive toward it. Like the King, the Czech-style pilsner has the benefit of age, wisdom, and experience: it’s been around forever, it’s a classic, it knows what it’s doing! Drink this brew this week for Big King Energy.

This Week’s Boozy Reading Rec

I will pretty much click on anything when I see Aaron Goldfarb’s name in the byline. His piece for VinePair, “A Short History of Manhattan’s Forgotten First Wave of Brewpubs” was indeed as succinct as internet writing is forced to be, and yet, I felt like I’d watched a really good docu-series by the time it was over. I had been living my life thinking Chelsea Brewing Company was the only first-wave brewpub in Manhattan (memories of regularly sipping blonde ales while sitting on the Hudson and I think even going to a beer festival there are all flooding back; I am 100!) but oh, was I wrong. Learn all about it, friends, or, I don’t know, maybe relive some glory days, all from Aaron’s impeccable reporting.

Reading Rec Bonus: I highly recommend reading “Can the Beer Industry Be Saved?”, an impassioned blog post raising important questions by Ash Eliot, founder of Women of the Bevolution. Ash is working tirelessly behind the scenes to dismantle sexism and abuse in beer, as well as its misogynistic, racist reputation. Women of the Bevolution is a great hub for resources, accountability-holding, and support. And I think that when the current state of things just has you feeling exhausted, writing like Ash’s here can help get you fired up again.

There will be no newsletter next week! My vaccinated-and-ready-to-roam self is heading where it seems all the beer folx have been heading lately, Asheville—as well as Richmond—for something that has felt foreign for over a year: vacation.

Until the week after, here’s Darby with my Westmalle Dubbel at the Jealous Monk in Mystic, Connecticut, our favorite spot for Belgian beers and cheese plates when we’re visiting family. (I know literally everyone says this about their dog but y’all, she thinks she is a human.)