Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Chumley's - New York, NY

The reviews I'd read about Chumley's mentioned that it was a former speakeasy, that the original entrance is hidden but they later added a new one that is more obvious. Armed with this knowledge, as well as the bar's basic location, Vicky and I set out to check this place out. That, however, turned out to be easier said than done; we walked around the block twice until we happened to see a group of thirtysomethings walking through an unmarked door into a random courtyard. We followed, through the courtyard and through another barely-marked door (fortunately, this one had the name of the bar written on a piece of paper taped to the door), into the bar.

What met our eyes was definitely an unexpected sight. The bar was fairly spacious, with interesting portraits and documents from over the years covering the walls. The bar wall was lined with taps, all Chumley's own beers it seemed. Also surprising was how full the place was. We had chosen to start our evening very early -- this was about 5 or 5:30 PM -- but the bar was packed! A very diverse mix of ages, but mostly centering around mid-40s to early-50s. But then I realized that the place was actually as much restaurant as bar. Perhaps everyone was just hanging out in the bar while waiting for a table? I didn't end up staying long enough to find out; more about that in a bit.

The place is laid out in an interesting way. Coming in from the main door, on your right is the kitchen; in front of you is the main bar; and on the left is restaurant seating. This led to a bit of a problem where the waiters and busboys had to push through the bar crowd in order to get food back and forth. This would be okay if there were few people in the bar, but we were constantly having to move for servers carrying trays of food.

My other problem with the bar was the prices. I'm usually not one to complain about the price of a drink, but $7 for a beer seemed excessive, especially considering the fact that their house beers (and the house cider as well) were rather weak. It would have taken more money than I had with me to get drunk at this place.

I really wanted to like Chumley's. I love the whole secret Prohibition speakeasy thing, secret entrances, etc. The bar experience just didn't live up to the gimmick. Now, Vicky's argument was that we did go early in the day; and maybe at night, once it's past dinner time, it's less annoying. However, everything I've read about the place says that the atmosphere actually gets much worse on weekend nights when NYU students venture out of their dorms for the night. I personally think it'd be more likely to be better on a weeknight, but that's of course just more speculation.

In closing, I think that there are people who will like this place. People not worrying about money, people who don't mind being crowded in somewhere, etc. Plus for all I know, the food could be out of this world. I mean it certainly looked good going past me. But it definitely wasn't my scene, and I most likely won't be returning.

86 Bedford Street (West Village)
New York, NY
(212) 675-4449

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hop Devil Grill - New York, NY

There's one thing you can say about Hop Devil Grill: it is unabashedly a beer lover's bar. I mean, "hops" (or, technically, "hop") is in the name. This can be good or bad; if you're into discovering new beers or always wanted to try an obscure favorite on tap, it's definitely the place for you. However, if you're not into beer or are looking for your run-of-the-mill light swill, you should probably try somewhere else.

We got there on a Friday night around 7 PM; there was a decent number of people there despite the fact that it was fairly early; it seemed like a lot of people, like me, had come to Hop Devil for their famous burgers (and by "famous" I mean that I read it on a website somewhere that their burgers are tasty). And those burgers did not disappoint! The bun had a greasy toasted texture, and the actual meat had that tenderness that suggests fresh, not frozen, ground beef. Fantastic.

As for the drinks: as I mentioned, they are really focused on beer at this place. I, someone who is always looking for a new heavily-hopped beer to try out, loved the extensive beer selection. Not a true beer connoisseur, I can't really vouch for the quality of their catalog, but it was certainly sizeable and the choices included way more than the usual suspects. My friend who'd come along, on the other hand, was quite displeased with the drink selection. A very health-conscious individual, he didn't appreciate the conspicuous lack of Michelob Ultra and the like. And while they did have a stocked bar, the only drink list I noticed was a beer one. I can see how someone who's not really into "different" beers or who doesn't drink beer at all would feel alienated, like this place really isn't for them. And perhaps it's not.

(Speaking of beer, I had a cask-conditioned IPA... deliciously hoppy and actually refreshing. Unfortunately I can't remember the name.)

Appearance-wise, the bar is like any other in the East Village; not a dive, not a club, somewhere in between. They had the standard-issue Internet Jukebox and the requisite banquettes and low tables lining the walls. Hipsters with white-guy-fros, mildly attractive bartenders/waitresses, etc. Honestly, the only thing that sets this apart from the hundreds of bars like it in town is the beer, so if that doesn't grab you then you probably won't give this place a second thought.

As for whether I'd return... I'm torn. On one hand, the beer was good and the burgers too; on the other hand, other than good beer the place is pretty generic. Let's say that I'd probably go back, but I'd definitely carefully plan who I'd take back. It's a cool place to bring a beer snob, but anyone else would most likely be unimpressed.

Hop Devil Grill
129 Saint Mark's Place (Lower East Side)
New York, NY
(212) 533-4468

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Richter's - New Haven, CT

If you're ever in the mood for a cozy, dark wood, laid-back bar where the bartender treats every patron like he's his or her friend, Richter's is just that.

I walked into Richter's with Keith after walking around in the freezing cold, and this place was just what I was looking for. It was about 2pm and we were quite surprised that there weren't two seats open for us to sit in, but no problem, we could stand. There were two sets of taps, and on one of the bar shelves were empty bottles showing us which other choices we had. Keith ordered a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale on tap, and asked the bartender for a bottle of Magner's Irish Cider, my very favorite hard cider.

As we sipped our drinks, we took some time to look around and enjoy our surroundings. The wall behind us bore a display of several oars from Yale's past crew teams. Scattered below, amongst old-time beer ads and photos, were a few other bits of Yale memorabilia.

Across that wall and behind the bar, we saw intricate shelves with all kinds of interesting glass shapes and styles. One of those, which they appropriately called the Half Yard, was just that: It was thin and half a yard tall, and was held up by a wooden contraption that the waitress used to carry it to one of the tables of Yale students in the decent-sized back room. This, my friends, is for serious beer drinkers... or people who really want to get drunk. Either way, this gave the place a bit of a twist, and made it a little different than other bars that are similar in style.

After a bit of standing around, talking, and taking in the view, we noticed that some seats had cleared up so we settled ourselves in. After a little while, the bartender noticed that we were running low on drinks and asked us if we'd like another round. Attentive bartenders make me happy. That's one of the reasons for sitting at the bar. I've been to a place or two where sitting at the bar didn't make it any easier to get a drink. Fighting for the bartender's attention is not something I love to do.

Anyway, fresh drink in hand, I began to look around a bit again and I was a bit surprised to notice a giant moose head hanging above Keith's head. We had to get a picture of that one. A bar with a stuffed moose head hanging proudly on its wall is okay in my book.

We were really having a great time -- the atmosphere made that easy -- but we noticed that we were going to run out of time in our metered parking spot. We asked the bartender if we could pay out and get some change to fill the meter. He informed us that even though the street signs don't say it, no one ever checks the meters on Saturdays. Now, in all honesty I was slightly concerned that he might be wrong, but Keith reassured me that there would be no reason for him to lie to us and he hasn't given us any reason not to trust him, so we stayed.

Some time later, after a few more drinks and lots of strange conversations, Keith and I decided it was time to take a walk and see if this were not the only awesome bar in New Haven. Unfortunately, at least in the fairly immediate area, that seemed to have been it. We sat down and had a quick drink at one place while warming up, but there wasn't much that made us want to stay.

After leaving the other bar, we walked around some more in hopes that we'd missed something, but we ended up coming right back to Richter's where we had a few more drinks and ate some dinner at the bar. I had their dill burger, which was fine, and Keith had a BLT, but I wouldn't make it a point to visit Richter's just for lunch or dinner.

To finish up, Richter's during the late afternoon and early evening is ideal for a throw-your-feet-up kind of bar. It's cozy, friendly, and a place where you can really just relax with a good beer. I loved it.


P.S. I asked the bartender about the crowd at night, and he told me that it gets pretty filled up, but no underagers from the college are allowed in and so they end up with a 24-and-up sort of crowd since the 21s and 22s want to go drink with their underage friends. I really would have liked to have been able to check out the place at night, but we had a 2-hour drive back home, so it was time to head out around 9pm for us.