First Annual Taste of Bushwick Scorecard: A for Effort; C for Swag Bag

This has been an incredibly hectic (and beer soaked) couple of months for The Bitch. I recently cleaned up both my cameras (phone and Canon) and realized just how many amazingly cool events I have attended without reporting on a single one of them. This has everything to do with the fact that I recently moved (from what was once uncool Williamsburg to what is currently uncool Bushwick). I was deliberately trying to get out in front of the gentrification in order to maintain a level of rent that is not spiraling out of control at exponential speeds.

But damn if I’m not in a culinary desert out this way. So, when I saw there was going to be a Taste of Bushwick within walking distance (keeping in mind that I now average 5 miles of walking every day just getting back and forth from the L Train, which was a mere two blocks from where I previously lived, so my idea of “walking distance” is probably a lot farther than most peeps’), I was only too happy to fork over some money and be in attendance (I probably could have finagled a press pass, but I have been so busy with work—another reason why I have been remiss in my events coverage—that I didn’t have time to track down a contact person).

So how was this inaugural event?

First the good: Despite having only a baker’s dozen worth of vendors, there was plenty of delicious food to go around. Offerings included:

  • A raw bar with sushi-grade fish atop an artisanal pickle, along with an excellent cantaloup soup from French Bistro Mominette
  • Arepas and milk shakes from Arepera Guacuco
  • Chicken wings courtesy of Fritzl’s Lunch Box (more on that below)
  • Sliders from Tchoup Shop @ Heavy Woods
  • A Boar’s Head hot dog cart
  • Tortillas from Los Hermanos Tortilleria
  • and other food offerings from Northeast Kingdom, Café GhiaCafeteria La Mejor, and  wine tastings from Archie’s Bar+Pizza

TasteofBushwick4Wines from two vendors—The Bodega and Henry’s Wine & Spirit—and a couple craft beers from The Sampler were complemented by Sixpoint served from the bar at the venue, The Bushwick Starr.

The standout food was beyond a doubt Chef Dan Ross-Leutwyler’s Salsa-Brined Chicken Wings with Queso Cotija, Scallion and Sesame. Upon having a first bite, I was blown away by the incredible flavors; I was literally ready to lick the paper plate on which it was served. Instead, I went back for a second one. Thinking it was just me (How on EARTH do you do that with a chicken wing?!), I was relieved to hear someone else call her wing “addictive as crack.” Furthermore, I learned from an attendee who is a frequent guest of the Irving Avenue restaurant that they serve great burgers. I’ve been seeking a new burger joint since the move and—as I discovered a few days later when I paid Fritzl’s a visit—they have an amazingly impressive bottle list for a joint as small as they are (lovely back yard for dining under the stars).

Thus, I was thrilled to be at an event that not only offered up so much in tasty delights but also introduced to the thriving (albeit small) restaurant scene here in central Bushwick. I’m sure there will be more to come to my new hood in the coming months.

Another positive was the venue. I had no idea The Starr was even there. I am all about supporting arts where and when I can, so it’s fabulous to see an independent theater doing cool things so close to home. One of their art initiatives includes puppetry, which was cleverly woven in to the event with two actors dressed all in black with finger origami cranes and flamingos flying around the attendees.

All-in-all, this was a very successful event, punctuated by the appearance of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, whose comment, “Galileo got it wrong: Brooklyn is the center of the universe!” resonated well with the crowd.

So, where did the organizers come up short? Without a doubt, it was the poorly curated “swag bag” that they were selling for an additional $40 purchase. I get it. This was an event designed to raise money for the venue, but this description:

A limited-edition Taste of Bushwick tote bag, filled with over $200 worth of awesome local items, including goods from Roberta’s Pizza, FINE & RAW Chocolate Factory, Brooklyn Grange, Bucolic Bushwick, Boswyck Farms, Circo’s Pastry Shop, Sweet and Shiny, and more.

TasteofBushwickSwagThe contents of the bag were probably worth exactly what I paid for them, but certainly nowhere near the $200 claimed. And the quality was spurious (while I love the idea of getting heirloom seeds from Brooklyn Grange, it’s almost July… seeds should be started by mid-march if you’re planning on letting them grow outside; maybe they think I’ll want to be harvesting tomatoes in September, but I doubt the quality or quantity I’ll get from seeds planted mid-way through the season). Lard soap? Glad I’m not a vegetarian. A can of Sixpoint and a bottle of Anchor IPA? Okay, but those would have cost me $4 at the corner bodega.

I know these kinds of VIP bags are designed to be something of a promotional gimmick, but this wasn’t VIP pricing; the cost of the bag actually was more than the cost of the (early bird) ticket. If you want to upsell, then at least be honest as to the worth of what is in the bag. Retail pricing that might be reasonable at an art fair (I will undoubtedly never open the comic, although my son will probably use that Bushwick Starr Frisbee), really shouldn’t be the price point for selling a $40 gift bag.

That said, I can’t wait for next year’s event, as Bushwick continues to grow and mature on the foodie (and beer) scene. More photos can be found on the Brooklyn Beer Bitch Facebook page (like me!).

You Say NCAA? I say #BARchmadness

Okay, so two things you should know off the bat:

  1. I love NCAA basketball and the Madness of March;
  2. I’m not prone to piques of jealousy.

However, when I saw the awesomely cool #BARchmadness bracket designed by friend and colleague, Chris O’Leary over at Brew York New York, I felt like throwing both these positions out the window. I mean, what could be cooler than figuring out which of the 64 men’s basketball teams could go the distance? Choosing which of 64 bars could be in the final four!

And, damn, I wish I had the wherewithal to have thunk this one up on my own. But I’m always riding on Chris’ coattails, it seams. He is, in my mind, the best beer blogger in NYC, who always seems to be on top of trends and information in a way that consistently overwhelms me (okay okay, I’m a single parent, but he has a day job… how do you manage it all, Chris? The Bitch wants to know!).

But I digress…

I didn’t invent this bracket, but I’m sure as hell playing! I just need to find a group to put some money where their mouths are, or maybe pony up a beer from our cellars to the eventual queen (or king… or BITCH!) of the #BARchmadness competition. So here are my picks and my votes for who will make it into the next round (note: I sometimes voted with my heart or my wallet, but the picks are where my brain prevails).

Chris explains his methodology, which is based on Untappd check-ins. Since this is essentially a popularity contest, it’s as good a measure as any for deciding the top 64 bars in the city, but it does beg the question of whether or not we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater vis a vis technology. If you have sketchy wi-fi (I’m looking at you, Jimmy’s No. 43 – a basement bar is a terrible place to do check-ins) or no Internet presence (surprisingly, several of these bars fall into that category), you are probably SOL when it comes to inclusion.

But going with what we have, here is the first bracket:

Round 1: The West Side

BARchmadness_West

#1 The Pony Bar v. #16 Bronx Beer Hall

This was a pretty easy pick for me, and I think The Pony Bar will garner the most votes. I voted for it more on proximity: Arthur Avenue is on my bucket list but will never be a go-to spot for me. Unless, of course, I get priced out of Brooklyn and must reinvent myself as the Bronx Beer Bitch.

But since The Pony Bar UES is also ranked #1, it would be a great thing if Bronx Beer Hall could scrape out an upset.

My vote: The Pony Bar My pick: The Pony Bar

#2 The Gingerman v. #15 The Diamond

Oh, this one won’t even be close, which is a double-edged gift I suppose. I mean, The Diamond is a very cool, off-the-beaten path (well, it used to be… now Dirck and Northern Territory sit right across from it) Greenpoint bar. So, I’m sad they’re gonna get their patooties handed to them in this match-up. But, then again, it’s gonna be The Gingerman v. Jimmy’s No. 43 in the second round, and who doesn’t want to see that?!

My vote: The Diamond My pick: The Gingerman

#3 Alewife v. #14 Adobe Blues

My call? This will be an upset. Honestly, both these bars are great, but only one is “destination worthy” (and if you’ve ever walked from the G-train in shitastic weather, you know what I mean!). I love love LOVE Adobe Blues, and—despite other Staten Island entries on the list—this is the only Randolph County bar truly worthy of making it to the Sweet 16.

My vote: Adobe Blues My pick: Adobe Blues

#4 The Jeffrey v. #13 508 Gastrobrewery

Oh, well. This is a split decision. I love 508 Gastrobrewery and Chris Cuzme, so I’m with him in spirit. But there’s really no contest here. Maybe next year, but I think 508 can honestly say, “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”

My vote: 508 Gastrobrewery My pick: The Jeffrey

#5 The Owl Farm v. #12 The Queens Kickshaw

There are several bars on the list that are owned by a single entity, in this case it’s the Wiley Brothers who own some amazing bars in Brooklyn, including The Owl Farm and Mission Dolores. But The Queens Kickshaw is a worthy adversary for them, and I’m hedging my bets when I say I think they’ll eek out an upset, probably at the 11th hour of voting.

My vote: The Owl Farm My pick: The Queens Kickshaw

#6 Jimmy’s No. 43 v. #11 Burp Castle

Another lopsided match-up, and I honestly think that Jimmy’s No. 43 coming in a 6th seed is because their star player was benched half the season (i.e. the aforementioned wi-fi situation: the East Village Rastkeller—ironically directly beneath Burp Castle: they share the same street address along with Standings and are sometimes referred to as the “Brewmuda Triangle”) used to offer free wi-fi but had to change things up when they went to a wireless POS system. I think this has hampered their check-ins for Untappd but it won’t get in the way of them trouncing Burp Castle in the first round.

My vote: Jimmy’s No. 43 My pick: Jimmy’s No. 43

#7 George Keeley v. #10 The Gate

These closely situated seeds are pretty much a “flip the coin” choice. Both bars are awesome, but they don’t call me the Brooklyn Beer Bitch for nuthin’! And I think Park Slope is gonna have more than one bar advancing.

My vote: The Gate My pick: The Gate

#8 The Stag’s Head v. #9 Astoria Bier & Cheese

I have never been to Astoria Bier & Cheese, but I love the name. That said, I don’t think this place has a high enough profile to break out of its first match-up.

My vote: The Stag’s Head My pick: The Stag’s Head

Round 1: The East Side

BARchmadness_East

#1 Rattle-N-Hum v. #16 The LockYard

I need to get out more, apparently. This is the only #16 seed I’ve never even heard of. Of course, it’s cool that Bay Ridge even has a craft beer place, but no offense, The LockYard, I think you’re out of your league.

My vote: Rattle-N-Hum My pick: Rattle-N-Hum

#2 Tørst v. #15 Press 195

This is another lopsided match-up. Tørst is a #2 seed for a reason: great bar and a great beer geek following. It may not make it to the final four (even beer geeks need an affordable pint now and again), but it will easily breeze through the first few rounds.

My vote: Tørst My pick: Tørst

#3 Beer Authority v. #14 124 Old Rabbit Club

Is this the most egregious absence of (online) presence among the 64 contenders? Nope, but 124 Rabbit Club will lose by default because nobody who hasn’t already been there knows anything about them. Which is too bad, because it’s a cool stop in the West Village where trendy or dive-y bars are otherwise ubiquitous.

My vote: 124 Old Rabbit Club My pick: Beer Authority

#4 Good Beer v. #13 Third Ave Alehouse

Wow, this is a very interesting match-up. And while I think it’s a long shot for a growler shop to win, I do think Good Beer is going to break through the first round, along with Breukelen Bier Merchants (up against decidedly different competition, see below).

My vote: Good Beer My pick: Good Beer

#5 Bierkraft v. #12 Randolph Beer

Arguably another bottle shop, but I’m putting Brooklyn ahead of crossing Delancey any day of of the year.

My vote: Bierkraft My pick: Bierkraft

#6 Double Windsor v. #11 Pacific Standard

Oh, fuck all. This is probably the most difficult match-up of the entire bracket. Both are cool Brooklyn joints; both need a boosted profile. I guess in that sense, they’re both winners.

My vote: Double Windsor My pick: Double Windsor

#7 Proletariat v. #10 The Growler

I think this one comes down to location, location location. Too few people venture to the FiDi to drink, even fewer to Stone Street. But I do want to check out The Growler one of these days. It seems like it would be worth it to walk the cobblestones to get a drink there.

My vote: Proletariat My pick: Proletariat

#8 Stationhouse v. #9 4th Avenue Pub

Another tight seed, another flip of the coin. Gotta go with Brooklyn!

My vote: 4th Avenue Pub My pick: 4th Avenue Pub

Round 1: Downtown

BARchmadness_Downtown

#1 Blind Tiger v. #16 Killmeyer’s

My immediate reaction to this match-up is an allusion to boxing, not basketball. This is like putting a Bantamweight up against one of the Klitschko brothers. Awe, hell: It’s like putting a Bantamweight up against both of the Klitschko brothers. Blind Tiger will go the distance, although its match-up against Mugs in Round 2 will be a better battle to watch than The Gingerman/Jimmy’s No. 43 fight.

My vote: Blind Tiger My pick: Blind Tiger

#2 Top Hops v. #15 Snowdonia

What can I say? Maybe it’s time to move to Astoria. Nah, just kidding. But obviously there’s a pub crawl in there sometime when I want to brave three trains to get there. In the meantime, it’s all Manhattan for the win!

My vote: Top Hops My pick: Top Hops

#3 One Mile House v. #14 The Sampler

Um, yeah, did I mention I need to get out more? I think this one comes down to “if it’s in my backyard,” because both these bars are off my radar (at least I’ve heard of The Sampler, which is why I voted for it).

My vote: The Sampler My pick: One Mile House

#4 Mission Dolores v. #13 Crescent & Vine

This is another no-brainer. And no real competition. In fact, I’m calling it now: Mission Dolores will be up against Blind Tiger for division champ. And it’s gonna be a boozy… er, doozy.

My vote: Mission Dolores My pick: Mission Dolores

#5 Mugs Alehouse v. #12 61 Local

It’s Age & Treachery beating out Youth & Skill. No question.

My vote: Mugs Alehouse My pick: Mugs Alehouse

#6 Valhalla v. #11 Bohemian Hall

Honestly, I’ve never been to Bohemian Hall, but I plan to check it out. In the meantime, I’m going with the higher seed and a bar that was packed-to-the-gills the last time I was there. It almost makes it worth shlepping to mid-town. Almost.

My vote: Valhalla My pick: Valhalla

#7 Sunswick 35/35 v. #10 Cooper’s Craft

There are many contestants from Astoria, and one is bound to get through to the next round. My money is on Sunswick 35/35, not only the best of the bunch but just an all-around amazing neighborhood bar with a hyper-loyal clientele.

My vote: Sunswick 35/35 My pick: Sunswick 35/35

#8 NY Beer Company v. #9 Buddha Beer Bar

I think it’s very cool that upper Man is getting some craft beer going. It desperately needs it. However, I think NY Beer Company is just too big to ignore, and little Buddha will be left back cornering the market in Washington Heights.

My vote: Buddha Beer Bar My pick: NY Beer Company

Round 1: Uptown

BARchmadness_Uptown

#1 The Pony Bar UES v. #16 Bondurants

I’d love to see Bondurants pull off an upset, but I don’t see that happening. That puts two Pony Bars in the second round, but I think their success will be short-lived, with both likely to fall victim to a sophomore slump.

My vote: The Pony Bar UES My pick: The Pony Bar UES

#2 Barcade v. #15 Clinton Hall

When I said no one looks to the FiDi as a beer destination, I include Clinton Hall in the mix. But they never stood a chance against Barcade anyhow. To recycle the boxing metaphor, it’s gonna be a TKO.

My vote: Barcade My pick: Barcade

#3 Draught 55 v. #14 Spring Lounge

I’ve never been to either of these places, but the GM at Spring Lounge is a very cool lady by the name of Jen Torriero. She’s got my vote. And my vote of confidence that Spring Lounge can manage a first-round upset.

My vote: Spring Lounge My pick: Spring Lounge

#4 Idle Hands v. #13 Pine Box Rock Shop

Awe, no fair. There’s no one who rocks social media quite like Rev. Ciancio, so Jeff and Heather are gonna be blown out of the water. Of course, I’m calling this on behalf of meat eaters everywhere, which is too bad because there’s only one vegan bar in all five boroughs whereas there are lots of places to chow down a good burger with your pint. If you won’t vote for them, at least drop by to try their faux bacon Bloody Mary, the best city-wide.

My vote: Pine Box Rock Shop My pick: Idle Hands

#5 Taproom 307 v. #12 Dive Bar

Taproom 307 is what Gastrobrewery 508 will look like in a few years. Hayley Jensen and Stephen Saga have put together one hell of a homebrew-to-brewpub experience, and they deserve to with this round.

My vote: Taproom 307 My pick: Taproom 307

#6 Spuyten Duyvil v. #11 ABC Beer Co.

Shameless self-promotion! Whenever I talk to small business owners who have not discovered the importance of social media, I am perplexed. The future is now, and for any bar to think it doesn’t need to be on Twitter they are missing out on growing their audience (and increasing their bottom line). Why does Jimmy’s No. 43 get so much foot traffic? Well, they have one hell of a PR person (if I do say so myself). Why does everyone think Spuyten Duyvil is a stop on MetroNorth? Because, well, it is. And if you try to find this cool bar with a great outdoor space on Twitter, you’ll end up at the Spuyten Duyvil public library, I’m guessing. They need to call The Bitch to get onboard; my rates are very reasonable!

But this lack of social media savvy is why they’re gonna lose their first round, despite having more check-ins (thus being a higher seed) than ABC Beer Co. The latter is gonna Tweet up a storm, and if they don’t, well, they deserve to lose the match.

My vote: Spuyten Duyvil My pick: ABC Beer Co.

#7 Bronx Alehouse v. #10 Beer Culture

Remember what I said about Bronx Beer Hall? Honestly, I think it’s probably a better bar than Bronx Alehouse. But you can easily get to Bronx Alehouse on mass transit. Blame it on the sketchy white folks, but we don’t want to stumble around drunk late at night too far from a subway line. We’re gentrified like that. And because the Bronx is truly a cool destination, Bronx Alehouse will get the nod. And a metro swipe.

My vote: Bronx Alehouse My pick: Bronx Alehouse

#8 Singlecut Beersmiths v. #9 Breukelen Bier Merchants

I noted above that it’s tough for Bottle Shops to come out on top, but I think in this case, Breukelen Bier Merchants will manage to do so. Singlecut Beersmiths has decent enough food, but it’s still a brewery (in fact, I’m surprised Brooklyn Brewery didn’t make the list). Add to the fact that they are very divisive in the beer community, and I think Singlecut Beersmiths will be down for the count in the first round.

My vote: Breukelen Bier Merchants My pick: Breukelen Bier Merchants

And there you have it! Round 2 starts Monday, March 24th, at noon.