Last year, Earl’s Beer and Cheese emerged, seemingly from the ether, along the northern edges of the Upper East Side, bringing youthful buzz and craft brews to a ’hood that had long been a wasteland for both. Now, the previously drowsy area has received another boost from the oenocentric ABV, the latest piece of a loosely affiliated mini empire that also includes the musically inclined Vinyl Wine shop and an in-the-works cocktail bar called Guthrie Inn. With exposed-brick walls, filament bulbs and orange banquettes, ABV lacks the scrappy, fish-out-of-water charm of Earl’s. But while the look is more familiar, the menu is rife with eccentric touches: vino on tap, an exotic all-European beer list and head-scratching grub from Corey Cova, who has left Earl’s to take a starring role at ABV’s chef’s counter. Not surprisingly, the place has struck an immediate nerve, filling up with off-the-clock Mount Sinai residents, thirsty East Harlemites and other locals eager for another new neighborhood joint to call their own.
DRINK THIS: While Earl’s makes do with just four beer taps and a handful of craft cans, ABV delivers a hefty binder of drink options. More than 50 wines are organized under user-friendly headers such as “rich, earthy, exotic reds” and “clean, crisp, refreshing whites,” with an eye toward offbeat producers. And those Continental brews, including classics like Kulmbacher pilsner ($6) and beer-nerd bait such as Evil Twin Hop Flood ($7), offer a refreshing detour from the all-American drafts that are de rigueur these days. With all these choices, you may want to skip the creative but unsatisfying low-alcohol cocktails, which bartenders build with amaro and sherries in lieu of a hard-liquor license.
GOOD FOR: A refuge from the frat-driven UES bar scene. With its versatile offerings, the bar can satisfy plenty of tippling urges that go beyond Bud pitchers and Jägerbombs. Even teetotalers can find a thoughtful selection of “0% ABV” choices, including hibiscus lemonade and local pop from P&H Soda Co.
THE CLINCHER: Cova is a chef worth watching, and his high-low experiments are a welcome subversion of the usual wine-bar fare. The “pocket cheeseburger,” stacked with pork belly and a thick waffle fry, recalls the comfort-food wizardry that helped put Earl’s on the map. There’s plenty of appeal, too, in a basket of fried smelt and meaty dill pickles ($7); the hunks of fish could be crispier, but they get an unexpected lift from a Japanese-style tobiko sauce. The cooking can be uneven, though. Some promising dishes, like a seasonal snack of mushy shishito peppers paired with greasy nubs of linguiça, had technical flaws, while other mash-up creations—a bland steak tartare pizza with anchovies, Ouray, pepperoni and olives ($12)—were more weird than appetizing.