Even in a bar scene as evolved as NYC’s, it can be frustrating how frequently what you drink determines where you drink. Seeking out good beer often requires a tolerant attitude toward televised sports, while hunting for haute cocktails can easily translate into an evening of bartenders dressed like Newsies extras. What we appreciate most about Proletariat—a slim ten-seat suds parlor behind Jane’s Sweet Buns—is that it offers a new stage for craft brewing. Co-owner Ravi DeRossi (Death & Company, Cienfuegos) has a knack for these types of high-concept spots, having built an impressive stable of niche cocktail joints in the ’hood. For this beercentric newcomer, he’s wisely handed the reins to beverage director Chris Elford, who honors the motto on the wall—rare, new and unusual beers—with one of the most exciting brew lists in town. Of course, flouting convention doesn’t mean everyone will like you. The tight quarters, semicovert location and aggressive markups can make Proletariat feel like a Portlandia sketch in the making (the name, with its connotations of downtrodden 99-percenters, is laughable at a spot that will charge you $10 for an eight-ounce pour). But for beer nerds looking to escape the pub, the place has a curious magnetism.
DRINK THIS: Elford does a laudable job sorting through cutting-edge trends from New Jersey to New Zealand. Among the ten rotating taps and roughly 30 bottles, you’ll find collaborations between gypsy brewers (Stillwater Mikkeller Our Side), local suds that mimic English session beers (Wandering Star Mild at Heart), English varieties that take their cues from American hop bombs (Thornbridge Raven Black IPA) and everything in between. The knowledge of the staff and sense of discovery—we geeked out over the Mahr’s Bräu Mastodon, an unfiltered lager custom-made by a centuries-old German brewery for a heavy-metal band—goes some way toward justifying the price hikes. If you need time to wrap your head around the unfamiliar offerings, warm up with one of the beer cocktails on tap, including the cinnamon-and-clove–tinged Edward Forty Hands (Old English, Angostura bitters, lime cordial).
GOOD FOR: Adventurous drinkers looking for a direct line to the craft-beer zeitgeist. The place is so small that apparently there’s not even room for menus (to access the bottle list, scan a QR code with your smartphone, or ask to borrow an iPhone from behind the bar). The benefit of this intimacy, though, is that bartenders can take the time to educate noobs or talk shop with industry folks.
THE CLINCHER: Jane Danger, the cocktail-slinging baker behind Jane’s Sweet Buns, caters to the beer-swilling crowd in back with a few savory sandwiches made on house-baked pretzel rolls. And for a cubbyhole, the place is neatly appointed: Swivel around on your barstool to check out the wall covered in framed tattoo flash art.
By Chris Schonberger