There’s such a fine line between a boisterous beer hall and a loutish beer barn. At the former, raucous groups of friends swig big, frosty brews at festive communal tables. And at the latter? You’re crammed in like cattle with loud drunks splashing their warm pints everywhere. Fortunately, Houston Hall stays true to its name. Inside an artistically gritty former parking garage, the high, wood-raftered ceilings and 8,000-square-foot room keep personal space intact and conversations are surprisingly audible. It’s less barnyard incivility, more free-range drinking.
DRINK THIS: Huge, sudsy mugs of beer. The dude-heavy crowd hoists comically large one-liter steins ($13–$17), all delivered by waitresses in low-cut red tanks and eyebrow-raising short black skirts. More manageable are the 12-ounce and half-liter mugs, affording a greater range of sampling from the ten rotating taps of Greenpoint Beer Works. On a recent visit, the Black IPA (half liter $8.50) was an inspired dark-beer choice for the warm weather, balancing rich, sweet malt with grassy hops and a crisp finish. For something lighter, tilt back the easy-drinking R&D Pale Ale (half liter $8.50), with mellow tropical notes, or the American Wheat (half liter $8), which offers hints of lemon and honey. To sop it all up, the kitchen turns out carby bites—fancy grilled cheeses ($8.50–$10) courtesy of Milk Truck, and mammoth salty pretzels ($9.50), served soft and warm with a mildly spicy mustard for dunking.
GOOD FOR: Weekday drinks with the crew. There’s a DJ spinning Top 40 tracks on Saturday nights, but that comes with a $5 cover, long waits and the point at which that line between hall and barn starts to blur. This kind of format is better enjoyed earlier in the week, when a group can commandeer entire tables to clink glasses, share a meal and take in a game on the massive drop-down projection screens.
THE CLINCHER: A giant brick room packed with bodies may sound like a special level of hell on a hot summer’s day, but Houston Hall stays mild as a breezy October afternoon. With six large skylights covering much of the roof and a huge window on the far wall, it offers a beer-garden-like experience, without the threat of sunburn and sweaty pits. Perhaps a beer hall at its very best is one that barely feels like a hall at all.—Ruth Brown