Anyone who’s ever listened to the Arcade Fire (most people) or have worn a pair of skinny jeans (again – and perhaps unfortunately – most people) know that there is one neighborhood in New York that, at some point, became the unofficial capital of Hipster-dom in New York City. That place is Williamsburg, and that place is in Brooklyn.
I won’t front; it had been a few years since I’d been to NYC, and I’ve only had fleeting run-ins with Brooklyn in the past. However, lacking a ton of cash and needing a place to stay the night before a good friend’s wedding upstate, a generous buddy of mine offered my roommate and I a brief couch residency at his apartment in Williamsburg. I was in. I was so in.
After an unusually calm cross-country flight (compared to the following chaos of figuring out the JFK AirTrain and restoring my creaky subway prowess on the fly), my roommate and I found ourselves with a couple of hours to kill before our Williamsburg host would be off from work. Curious to check out the ‘hood, we did what anyone would do – we walked into the first bar we came across.
What we found was The Shanty on Richardson Street. I’ve always been a lounge guy; nightclubs are hot and loud and crowded and you can’t wear a backwards snapback or leave your luggage by the bar. The Shanty did not fit this description, which was the first thing (of many) that I loved about it.
The Shanty is a fairly new establishment, having opened up less than a year ago according to the friendly lad with the Gaslight Anthem hairdo behind the bar. (Whose name escapes me; I’m terrible with names.) The interior is pretty unassuming – the lights are dim, there’s hardly anything on the walls and not a TV in sight. It also had communal-style seating and a bar crammed with black steel stools. Basically, if you can’t strike up a conversation in this place, odds are you’re not amazing with people.
Anyways, what makes The Shanty worth writing about is the fact that it’s a liquor distillery. Seriously – they make their own liquor. How do I know this? Because there’s a window with views of the attached distillery on the wall opposite the bar, just like you’d see at a brewery. The set-up is super-clean and, let’s face it, sort of complicated-looking to a layman like myself. But it’s really something to see… and taste.
Generally I’m not a hard liquor guy, but if you tell me you make your own gin, then naturally I’m going to have to try it. I ordered a 16 oz. Brooklyn Lager can (such a cliché) with a side-shot of their pink gin for a mere $8, a steal for NYC. The gin was darkish-pink, but this wasn’t a (excuse the term) girly drink by any stretch. Rather, it had some serious bite and taste. You don’t throw this shot down in one quick motion – you preserve it, returning every couple of beer sips for the perfect 1-2 punch.
It didn’t hurt that the bar’s clientele was made up of young, attractive women and dudes that (probably unfortunately) look a lot like myself, and they played exclusively indie-rock at a moderate noise level so you didn’t have to shout through the bass all night. Overall, I couldn’t have been more impressed by The Shanty. (However, my roommate, a cocktail drinker who got a little overzealous when he discovered they were a distillery, had an exceptionally brutal Friday morning – you’ve been warned!)
Once our host met us for one final round at The Shanty, we dropped our luggage off at his apartment, fed the wedding’s Best Man a critique of his speech via phone (inhibitions, at this point, were a non-issue) and then headed for the next Brooklyn bar – Union Pool.
Union Pool is the epitome of what I imagined a Brooklyn bar to be. The entrance is indoors and is admittedly pretty typical (this isn’t meant to be knock – it’s actually just fine, albeit a little forgettable), but the real gem is the courtyard out back. The courtyard is essentially a beer garden, with picnic tables, benches, and fashionable 20-somethings occupying every square inch of seating area.
There were dozens of people in “the pool” but it certainly didn’t feel crowded. The communal tables made it easy to make new friends; we made several, and have the photo booth pictures to prove it. And finally, there’s a taco truck in the back left-corner of the courtyard that may as well have a halo hovering above it after you’ve been drinking for a couple hours and are in dire need of some greasy Mexican food. The truck is cash-only so make sure to hit the ATM before hitting the pool.
My only knock on Union Pool is that I was violently overcharged for the round of beers I bought. (I won’t mention the actual price. Just know that no one in the history of the world has ever paid more for a can of Tecate. I’m bringing Guinness in on this.) However, even that one hiccup wasn’t enough to spoil my mood. If you want the Williamsburg atmosphere, definitely give this bar a try.
A couple things I failed to mention about Williamsburg that you should know, in no particular order:
Best Pizza, located between 8th and 7th on Havermayer, has just that – the best pizza. Not only that, but the man behind the counter was extremely friendly and, for a mere $4, they actually let you POUR YOUR OWN BUDWEISER. It’s like house party meets pizzeria in here, and the bumpin’ IPod that was heavy on the Nas was unmistakably NYC. Go here. And draw them a picture on a paper plate. (You’ll see.)
Take a walk (or run or, probably ideally, a bike ride) on the Williamsburg Bridge. More on this later…