Just as New York City is not a craft beer destination—yet—it ain’t much of a Metal town either. All bands play here but rarely call it home, for similar reasons that microbreweries have struggled in the city since Prohibition: too much hardware, too little practice space at a very high premium. If you’ve ever carried a heavy rig on the subway or apartment brewed, you know exactly what I mean. As a result, we get stripped down forms of music like folk, ‘art rock’, punk, not to mention mass-produced lager (domestic and imported). Occasionally the roots of some super group will form in Manhattan as did the idea of contract brewing. Anthrax, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t drink. Lou Reed, RIP, deserves mention despite his collaboration with Metallica. One can only imagine Rob Zombie at Parsons and I haven’t completely forgotten about Helmet. Nevertheless, taste in music and beer remains much the same in New York as it did circa 1985. Case in point:
Here we have one of the first guitar straps made by Heavy Leather NYC, based in Greenpoint since 2008. Don’t get me wrong—my own strap along with Tony Iommi’s are products of the same company and most definitely Metal, but they should try partnering with some craft brewers. Imagine slinging an Arrogant Bastard over your shoulder. If the strap above was embossed with Pabst Blue Ribbon, we’d brand this dude a hipster (his shoes are velcro). As it stands, the strings on that Jackson are probably thin as Budweiser anyway.
While in Brooklyn, let’s begin our crawl. There are three commonly known Metal Bars in NYC, established for disciples of the True Music. Duff’s Bar in south Williamsburg, Three of Cups lounge and Otto’s Shrunken Head in the East Village. Duff’s is all horror show and taxidermy. Jesus Christ competes for wall space with Kerry King. The interior reminds me of 3 Floyds Brewpub with one crucial exception; no beer on tap. Duff’s Bar serves the MillerCoors equivalent of Duff’s Beer.
$1 PBR for happy hour is $1 too much. The bartender was legitimately surprised when I asked what else and their beer menu remains divided between domestic/import with token offerings like Brooklyn and Boston lager. Reminds me again why the term *craft* is necessary, despite all buzz within Billyburg’s lexicon. Duff’s either doesn’t understand the connection between heavy metal and craft beer, the metalheads behind microbrews, or more likely just doesn’t care. This is where you do shots, and I still wonder whether Jack Daniels or Lemmy came first. Good news is, rather than wait for a JMZ train, one can walk the Williamsburg Bridge back to Manhattan.
Give me fuel. We didn’t drink anything at Duff’s so why start with an empty stomach? Thankfully, Orchard Street between Stanton and Houston is the most Metal pit stop in the city. Georgia’s Eastside serves heavy metal home cooking and BBQ by the carcass. Cash only, no bathroom, nothing on draft, but you also have the option of Metallica-ritas at Taqueria LES next door. Both are decorated floor to ceiling with band merch. A general word about food in NYC: it sucks. Much like craft beer, most of it’s imported, rarely fresh and always overpriced. Quite unusual to find authentic barbecue or Mexican fare, much less on the same block with the same playlist. Georgia’s and Taqueria LES will nurse, prevent or provoke any hangover. Pick your poison.
Heading up 1st Ave…what Three of Cups has going for it is the element of surprise, like Chris Cornell’s falsetto in Beyond The Wheel (if you don’t think Soundgarden is Metal neither are you). The unassuming Italian restaurant upstairs promises good wine—not metal—while the downstairs is illuminated only by a neon sign marked ‘Lounge’. It’s a descent to where all rock stars go when they die. Three of Cups pours similar swill as Duff’s with the notable exception of Anchor Steam. At $4 a pint, I haven’t been as happy to pound this beer since my first time, and how many of us get to enjoy our first time again? Ladies drink free some nights, but it’s dark enough that with the right amount of hair and spandex bartenders probably can’t tell the difference.
Last stop, Otto’s Shrunken Head, 14th St. Not a metal bar per se, more of a rockabilly club from hell. Too bad this place wasn’t around for White Zombie to go inspiration shopping when they lived in Alphabet City. Otto’s outdoes Duff’s as well as Three of Cups with Pabst on tap, but they also have Harpoon IPA and no shame in Yuengling. Try ordering one in a tiki mug. There’s performance space in the back with customized drumheads, a photo booth where you might prefer to squat rather than sit, and freebasing in the bathroom. I didn’t know what freebasing is either though now is not the time; this is about beer.
Recently deceased Lower East Side rock and roll bars worth salute: Motor City went bankrupt like Detroit, St. Jerome’s is dead as Lady Gaga’s career. However, Idle Hands is pairing microbrews with Black Sabbath on Avenue B so there is hope. The number of taps downtown is booming. All these places give me some weird faith in NYC, that you don’t have to be a corporation to survive here. Maybe an industry as unconventional as craft beer can help to reclaim part of this island from bankers and brokers. Less suits and heels, more “dreamers in sneakers” to quote Tom Acitelli’s Audacity of Hops. Or combat boots. \m/