A couple of weeks ago, an old friend reached out to me and invited me to come uptown to his new restaurant.I knew my old pal from five years ago when he ran a small gastropub on a chic block of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.I knew he had sold that space, and I lost track of him after that.It turns out that he went to work for a fancy hotel then moved over to a hospitality chain that owned several notably large Manhattan restaurants.He was working at one that was trying its hand as a craft beer oriented spot, having failed in a few other incarnations previously.
I figured my pal wasn’t just inviting me up to talk about the NFL playoffs, so I perused his beer list before my visit.His place is just around the corner from one of NYC’s craft beer destination bars, so I thought he had his work cut out for him.Yet the list suggested that someone had rolled up their sleeves and gotten busy.There were almost ten hard to find, geeky beers.I was pleased they were setting themselves up to compete.My friend greeted me and we caught up while I ate some delicious smoked chicken wings and drank some nice beers by Mikkeller and The Bruery.
My pal left me to my beer, which gave me a chance to peruse the list some more and look at the clientele.That’s when I saw the disconnect.The restaurant’s constituency was much broader than your average craft beer bar.And I could see from the interactions with the servers and the bartenders that a lot of dialogue was being expended in the name of ordering a beer.I looked at the list again and noticed, there weren’t any quick and easy choices.Even the lager, the wheat beer and the pale ale were slightly obscure choices. Pilsner Urquell was probably the best-known beer on the list.When my pal returned he explained that the list was put together by a young guy with beer related tattoos on his fingers.The young man had passed the cicerone exam, and was planning to take his master cicerone.
That was the problem in a nutshell.When you’re young, it’s hard to grasp that the world is a good bit bigger than your peer group.My pal’s place needs to attract a general audience to make its overhead as Manhattan real estate prices per square foot might as well be stated in gold rather than dollars.The craft beer world is full of obsessives, but a much larger group are the people who know that their palates deserve better than mass market beer but don’t really care to parse the flavors of one hop versus another or dry hopping versus wet hopping.They just want a very good beer without playing 20 questions.Some of those drinkers will have something that inspires them to explore the next level, but others may comfortably stick with good, locally brewed beer.Either result is fine.What the craft beer crowd cannot do is repel those drinkers by turning the ordering of a beer into a five-minute conversation.I’m fine with that five-minute conversation and rather enjoy it, but I’m almost 56.I know through decades of experience that most people are not like me.
The craft beer constituency is growing exponentially but the only way to keep traffic moving is to have plenty of on ramps, so that the uninitiated can come to the party.
Martin Johnson is a beer buyer and merchandising manager for Westside Market East Village in New York City.When not selling or drinking beer he writes about jazz and beer for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate, beer for Eater and about a variety of cultural and culinary topics for The Root.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.