The two sides of upper Manhattan have a rich history of one-upmanship, competing over high-society concerns like private-school acceptance rates and whose money is the oldest. Nightlife has never played much of a role in this posturing, until a recent spate of offbeat bar openings (Jones Wood Foundry, City Swiggers, Earl's Beer and Cheese) suddenly brought legitimate buzz to the Upper East Side. Consider Jacob's Pickles a retort from across the park. With a lot of ground to make up, it's not surprising the craft-beer-and-biscuit--slinging gastropub is trying a little too hard, shoehorning a grab bag of tippling memes—Dixieland grub, house-made bitters, wines on tap—into one rustic barroom. But while the results are hit-and-miss, the spot's instant crowds speak for themselves: The 'hood's drinkers need a pick-me-up, and for fans of pickles and beer, Jacob's is doing its part to raise the bar.
DRINK THIS: Once you get over the inflated prices ($7--$9 for a 15-ounce pour), you'll find that the bar's 25 taps offer uptown brew geeks plenty to get excited about. The all-domestic lineup is broken down by state, with a stable of Northeast breweries (Pretty Things, Allagash) complemented by cross-country favorites: the silky Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale ($7) from Cigar City in Tampa, plus Stone's Cali-Belgique ($8)—a hoppy Californian IPA brewed with Belgian yeast. The cocktail program, heavy on infused spirits and pickle juice, is too spasmodic, meddling with the Manhattan (made here with sage-infused Four Roses bourbon and apple-cinnamon bitters; $13) while also offering $12 mason jars of spicy brine margaritas. If it's booze you're after, stick with a Dickel Back ($12)—a double shot of George Dickel No. 12 chased with a glug of house brine.
GOOD FOR: Upper West Siders looking for a respite from fratty bars and faux-Irish pubs. With table service and a huge back room, Jacob's is spacious and adaptable enough to bring a mixed crowd.
THE CLINCHER: A sizable menu swings among predictable comfort foods (a dish called "the obligatory mac and cheese" is a little too on the nose), Southern-fried staples (house-made biscuits, creamy grits) and nods to the neighborhood (matzo ball soup for the Jews, grilled-salmon salad for the Real Housewives). The namesake pickles don't disappoint, especially the meaty, fried Kirby cukes ($9). The crumbly biscuits don't hold up well in sandwiches ($14--$16), but we liked them smothered in sausage-and-mushroom gravy ($9). Portions are reminiscent of the Cheesecake Factory, so sharing is advisable—on the way out, you can augment your doggie bag with jars of pickles, preserves, growlers and bags of biscuits from the refrigerators up front.
OVERHEARD: "He was top-of-his-class Ivy League, but they just didn't connect."—A mom bemoans the hardships of finding a good tutor for her son