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Best beer bars 2016: Northeast

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Covenhoven, photo by Erik Carter

Covenhoven, photo by Erik Carter

Armsby Abbey
Worcester, Massachusetts
armsbyabbey.com
It’s the only place in The Bay State to score Hill Farmstead, but the classic wood-and-brick pub has also recently added more local favorites to its draft list. Get ready to tick Honest Weight and Medusa brews in addition to Trillium and Oxbow drafts. Feeling peckish? Pair those drafts with an impressive roster of New England farmhouse cheeses.

Beer Street
Brooklyn, New York
beerstreetny.com
A focus on rare and exotic beers from around the world has, over time, expanded to more selections from NYC and the rest of the state as the area’s beer scene has grown. That translates to regular appearances from Other Half, Threes and Barrier to supplement ultraspecial arrivals from far-flung locales. No time to sit down for a pint? Bottles are also available to go.

Blind Tiger Ale House
New York, New York
blindtigeralehouse.com
Whether you’re a local or a tourist making a pilgrimage to this pioneering beer bar, here’s a tip: Avoid the evening crowds that pack this place and stop by for lunch, which features table service. You can take your time examining the ever-changing, always fresh draft choices, which include notable sours and IPAs from top breweries as well as sessionable lagers and ciders. Because of its killer firkin program, Blind Tiger also snags super-interesting one-offs on cask.

Brouwerij Lane
Brooklyn, New York
brouwerijlane.com
The stone- and brick-dressed sister spot to Greenpoint Beer and Ale (formerly Dirck the Norseman) is a one-stop shop for both take-home and drink-in beers; it recently began accepting credit cards, so that’s extra temptation to peruse the 19 taps and glowing fridges full of choice bottles. Draft beers can be obscure, especially in the case of international picks, so make use of the straightforward chalkboard descriptions (“cloudy, malty, cloves German hefe,” for example). Want to know what’s new on draft? Check the shop’s website for conversational and entertaining descriptions of new brews.

Churchkey, photo by Powers and Crewe

Churchkey, photo by Powers and Crewe

Churchkey
Washington, D.C.
churchkeydc.com
The capital’s beer scene can really trace itself to one man: Greg Engert. At six-year-old Churchkey near Logan Circle, his stellar eye for spotting the best of what’s now—and more importantly, what’s going to be happening next in beer—is on display via five casks and 50 draft lines, which are always meticulously cleaned, even during tap takeovers that might require all 50 to change over twice in 24 hours. Staff members are smart but not pretentious, and a new chef means more global flavors that complete this seminal D.C. beer pilgrimage.

Covenhoven
Brooklyn, New York
covenhovennyc.com
Truly a mom-and-pop shop—its husband and wife owners live above the storefront—the two-plus-yearold bottle shop and bar is part neighborhood gathering spot, part beer destination. Sixteen drafts pour mostly New York brews from buzzy breweries Other Half, Greenpoint and Transmitter, while more than 150 cans and bottles cast a wider geographic net. Order a draft or open your bottle on site, then make a beeline for the grassy backyard (lawns being such a rarity in NYC that on weekends, the 30-seat yard often fills up 15 minutes after the bar’s opening).

Deep Ellum
Allston, Massachusetts
deepellum-boston.com
Devotees of historic European beers will find their temple at this 65-seat spot: Unfiltered German lagers, funky Belgian styles and classically made British milds and porters, properly pressurized and carbonated, share space among the 28 tap handles and one cask. A recent facelift has polished some of the cosmetic details at the 10-year-old tavern, which has also stepped up its menu of European small plates and housemade charcuterie.

Fountain Porter
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
fountainporter.com
Off East Passyunk Ave.—ground zero for cool restaurants in South Philly—the 3-year-old neighborhood bar has quietly distinguished itself among locals with a draft-only, 20-tap beer lineup and a killer $5 burger. It’s quality and freshness first when it comes to both: Kegs of Maine Mo, Hill Farmstead pale ales and Jolly Pumpkin sours rotate quickly, and that scrumptious burger is made with beef picked up daily from Philly’s Italian Market. Plentiful bar rails and low-key table seating keep the vibe casual, as do the wallet-friendly $3 pints of Philly Brewing Kenzinger.

Grey Lodge Pub
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
greylodge.com
Events are what set this two-story bar apart—that and its somewhat out-of-the-way location in Northeast Philly. (The distance from downtown has a silver lining, though, as it keeps this bar full of regulars.) One of the most beloved days at Grey Lodge comes each Friday the 13th, or Friday the Firkinteeth, when a day and an evening session each see a dozen plus special casks tapped, with requisite photo-worthy flying foam. Beer Olympics and warm-weather “Front Stoop Lounging” events during Philly Beer Week are also a draw.

Khyber Pass
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
khyberpasspub.com
There’s a timeless, cavelike sensibility to Khyber Pass: The bar dates to at least 1850 and was known for live rock shows from the 1970s through 2010s; now its focus is beer. Twenty draft lines plus two beer engines pour a thoughtful mix of locals (the bar was one of the first to offer Yards and Victory) as well as eye-catching national stuff, all alongside a menu of Cajun, Creole and Southern bar fare with plenty of vegetarian options. It’s no surprise that this place serves as a training ground for many of the city’s best bartenders.

Lord Hobo
Cambridge, Massachusetts
lordhobo.com
Last year’s launch of Lord Hobo Brewing Co. created some confusion around the six-year-old beer bar from the same owners (no, you can’t fill growlers at the bar; no, it’s not in the same town as the brewery), but this six-and- a-half-year-old institution retains its autonomy. You can find coveted Lord Hobo one-off casks and drafts such as the in-yourface Boom Sauce double IPA, but the rest of the 44 draft lines and three casks cover beers from New England and points farther, like jewels from Maine Beer Co., Grimm, Fiddlehead, Wormtown, Ballast Point and, recently, Artifact Cider. Enjoy local art on display as you sip.

Max’s Taphouse
Baltimore, Maryland
maxs.com
Five casks, 105 draft lines and a 1,200-deep bottle menu will make beer geeks salivate, but the Fell’s Point bar isn’t a hushed library; TVs line the walls, sports fans cheer with abandon and no one’s going to shame your friend for ordering wine if that’s his preference. A steady stream of events, including Tuesday night beer socials and annual shindigs Belgian Fest and HopFest, introduce drinkers to new breweries both local (Burley Oak, Manor Hill and RaR) and global.

Memphis Taproom
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
memphistaproom.com
The 20 taps here reflect co-owner Brendan Hartranft’s personality and relationships with top breweries, which translate to awesome local finds from Yards, 2SP and St. Benjamin alongside well-chosen Belgians and classic American brewed standbys such as Allagash White and Sierra Nevada Porter. The motto? “Quality over quantity,” which we can totally get behind. A narrow but convivial alley-style, warm-weather beer garden is just icing on the cake.

Monks_FeliciaPerretti_9413

Monk’s Cafe, photo by Felicia Perretti

Monk’s Cafe
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
monkscafe.com
Responsible for bringing incredible Belgian beer to Americans for more than 19 years, co-founder Tom Peters (three times nominated for a James Beard Outstanding Beverage Professional award) could coast on his reputation alone. But he doesn’t. The bar is still ground zero for Cantillon’s Zwanze Day in Philly and is the first place to look when a coveted beer is said to have hit town.

Novare Res Bier Café
Portland, Maine
novareresbiercafe.com
It’s not easy to find this tucked away, brick-walled basement bar (hint: It’s down the alley!), but the reward is sweet. The 33 draft lines give diverse attention to hoppy American gems from Night Shift and Sierra Nevada, German classics like Einbecker Pils and Kultbücher Monchshof Schwarzbier, plus Belgian darlings and “best of” Maine breweries. You could also go for the 500-deep bottle list, or the seasonal proprietary beer brewed by Liquid Riot (served in its own glassware, naturally).

Proletariat
New York, New York
proletariatny.com
A sign out front beckons with “Rare, New & Unusual beer,” and the 12 draft lines pour just that, from the likes of The Bruery, Hill Farmstead, Maine Beer Co., Grimm and international breweries. The interior is just as we like our hideaways, dim and well-suited to contemplation over a beer or two. The staff, likewise, is as one would hope: attentive and interested in finding the right beer—be it hoppy, sour or something else—to suit your mood and preference.

Standard Tap, photo courtesy of Standard Tap

Standard Tap, photo courtesy of Standard Tap

Standard Tap
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
standardtap.com
Philly residents revere this Northern Liberties bar for championing the area’s scene before local was the buzzword it is today. When it opened in 1999, in fact, the idea of all-local drafts was novel; now the menu of 20 draft-only beers is one of the smartest in town. It’s expanded to include breweries from within a 100-mile radius, snagging choice beers from Jersey’s Flying Fish, Delaware’s Dogfish Head and Ardmore, Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands.

Strangelove’s
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
strangelovesbeerbar.com
The Center City bar’s devotion to Keystone State breweries is evident in collaboration brews with outfits that have included Free Will, 2SP and Yards. The draft list (including two casks) has drifted toward nearly all-local or regional in the past few months but stays well balanced, stylistically. If you show up with a newbie beer drinker, staff will happily recommend an approachable, high-quality option from the 16 draft beer lines.

The Jeffrey
New York, New York
thejeffreynyc.com
From the same group that owns Alewife and Fools Gold, this Upper East Side beer bar isn’t resting on its laurels: Partner
Patrick Donagher, an electrician by training, constructed a new service bar out of repurposed sewing machines and a bathtub this spring. It adds a handful of new draft lines to the thrumming beer garden, complementing the indoor bar’s 30 lines, which are specifically pressure-calibrated to match the rotating selection of international and local beers, usually including some head-turning rarities.

The Publick House
Brookline, Massachusetts
thepublickhousebeerbar.com
The impeccably chosen drafts at this come-one, come-all Bostonarea bar don’t sacrifice quality for local pride, or vice versa. With space for both venerable pioneers (Dupont, Petrus) and worthy area newcomers, it’s possible to sip a world-class Belgian kriek followed by a stellar Trillium delicacy. Pair that with decadent, gooey mac ‘n’ cheese, and beer bars don’t get much more comforting.

Three Penny Taproom
Montpelier, Vermont
threepennytaproom.com
Most beercationers to Vermont come seeking Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s, and yes, you can certainly find those among Three Penny’s 24 drafts served in a narrow, low-key, chalkboard-menulined room. But the staff here also likes to champion world-class local breweries you may not have tried, such as Zero Gravity and Upper Pass. Education continues further on the bar’s wacky, whimsical blog, updated weekly with beer- and non-beer musings from operator Kevin Kerner.

Top Hops Beer Shop
New York, New York
tophops.com
This clean and amicable Lower East Side bar and bottle shop continues its tradition of unpretentious service and has expanded its roster of classes on topics from sour beers to hops to Trappist breweries to fruits. Local breweries continue to be an active focus; look for choice pours from Grimm, Other Half and Barrier.

TØRST
Brooklyn, New York
torstnyc.com
Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso of Evil Twin consults on the beer list, pushing the boundaries at this sleek Greenpoint stunner attached to Michelin-starred Luksus restaurant. Stemmed glassware and a mirrored menu present the day’s draft offerings, which likely represent every of-the-moment brewery you need to know: Westbrook, Logsdon, Hill Farmstead. Meanwhile, snack on bar plates from Luksus chef Daniel Burns without the tasting-menu price tag.

Tria Taproom
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
triaphilly.com/tria-taproom
The narrow, minimalist beer and wine bar takes the “tap” part of its name literally; there’s not a bottle to be found. Instead, 24 draft beers join a dozen draft wines and two ciders to offer a little something for all tastes, especially for seekers of unusual beer. Brews are balanced between stellar European offerings and one-offs or rarer American offerings; a lineup might include AleSmith Speedway Stout variations next to an Australian gose next to a wine barrel-aged Belgian sour ale.

WHYM Craft Beer Café
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
whymportsmouth.com
When Alex Aviles and his wife set out to open WHYM more than three years ago, he wanted to learn from the best. A stint at Lovell, Maine stalwart Ebenezer’s Pub and sister bar The Lion’s Pride in Brunswick, Maine provided him that training, which Aviles puts to use in curating a tight, 10-draft list that ensures super-fresh pours of both Granite State locals and global brews. A snug, TV-free bar and outside-the-box events set the tavern apart.

See the other regions’ best bars here.

 

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16 Comments

  • Emlen Evans says:

    The definition of Northeast is a bit wacky. As any reasonably well educated person should know anything below the Mason/Dixon line is a SOUTHERN State. This means Delaware & District of Columbia shouldn’t be on this list. The list also seems very metro centric. If you like traveling into big cites it has some use, but I’ll only be checking out the more easily accessible ones.

  • Bertie Wooster says:

    Why so many in Brooklyn? http://www.alsofhampden.com/

  • Dave says:

    There are no taprooms, bars, or other establishments serving terrific beer outside of a large, metropolitan area on this list. I find that hard to believe.

  • Ian says:

    The fact that there are so many in Philly listed (many of which I’ve visited) and not one in Pittsburgh (some of which beat those in Philly hands-down) shows me that they didn’t put forth much effort with this article. Maybe next year they’ll branch out a little.

    • steve says:

      I think everything is relative . When your town’s signature sandwich is based on Wonder bread, I am not sure we need to delve any deeper .

  • Brad Kaye says:

    I don’t know where you draw the line between northeast and south, but the fact that Mekong is on either list is a little questionable. Maybe it’s “overhyped,” just a little but a bar that routinely ranks #1 on the US (and most who have visited would agree, I assume) should probably find it’s way into the top 100, even if it’s days belonging in the very top spot are probably over. Maybe there is an anti-establishment bent to this thing?
    Look on the bright side — perhaps in place of Mekong, a bar everyone knows, they’ve included a bar many of us wouldn’t have otherwise known about. Win.

  • Rich says:

    You use Brooklyn, New York to indicate the borough in the city of New York and you incorrectly use New York, New York to indicate the borough of Manhattan. New York, New York refers to all five boroughs of the city.

  • JJ says:

    Not saying this is an easy list to put together – a lot depends on perspective – but I’m not sure they picked the best 8 bars in Philly! No love for Pittsburgh or Jersey? C’mon. Don’t punish a bar because you have to drive to it!

  • Dan says:

    TJs, Teresa’s, and Cloverleaf Tavern are 3 big misses in the Northeast.

  • Lou says:

    Re: Armsby Abbey being “the only place in The Bay State to score Hill Farmstead”: it’s not even the only place in Worcester to score Hill Farmstead. Check out The Dive Bar: https://untappd.com/v/the-dive-bar/1071

  • Sam says:

    There are a lot of great beer bars in the NE. But, this one place in Northampton, MA called – The Foundry is unparalleled. Superior well curated selection with excellent beers! They keep Rothaus Pils on tap often! Don’t know what Rothaus Pils is? Then you have a lot to learn.

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