Too often, a New York beer hall means a vast room overpopulated with rowdy, brew-slamming bros and a staff who, understandably, can’t keep up with the demand for pints and pretzels. Narrowing that craft-beer concept into a small-scale operation, this Harlem tavern cherry-picks the best parts of biergarten-ing without all the red-faced fuss, serving craft beers and bourbon in an easygoing, lodgelike space, decked out in flea-market finds like mountain-landscape paintings, hunter-green wainscoting and even a taxidermy boar. It’s an outdoorsy, all-American spot that almost feels like summer camp—this time with good booze.
ORDER THIS: Pints hop across the country, from local drafts like Blue Point Lager ($6) and Ommegang Witte ($6) to Midwestern options like Bell’s Two Hearted IPA out of Michigan ($7) and Colorado’s Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout ($8). Not a hops-head? Bourbon flights ($25–$30) are quaintly served in vintage muffin tins—just pick any three on the list, ranging from woodsy Knob Creek Smoked Maple to small-batch Elijah Craig 12-year. Or venture to the wide-ranging cocktails ($12), like a hickory-smoked Campfire Manhattan laced with maple-infused bourbon and bobbing with house-made beef jerky, and a jalapeño-cranberry Dante’s Punch ramped up with tequila and a fiery chile-salt rim. For lighter sips, the Garden Party, a tart-and-tangy vodka refresher, is muddled with basil and lime, while the Messy Lady whirls together herbal elderflower liquor with bright juniper-forward gin and sweet lavender sprigs.
GOOD FOR: An uptown alternative to downtown boozing. Hunker down at one of the shortie beer-hall tables or head to the back room lined with gentleman’s rails to spend some quality time with your buds and brews—and even catch one of the old flicks (Sunset Boulevard, Laurel and Hardy comedies) projected on the wall.
THE CLINCHER: With just a pair of drinks slingers tending bar, Mess Hall combines a posh cocktail club’s attention to detail with a neighborhood dive’s charm. But it’s not just the intimate setting that lends itself to personalized touches: Barkeeps make a point to keep you well imbibed and even ask for feedback—an about-face compared to some of the city’s large-scale beer meccas, where you’re often left to fend for yourself. The one-on-one experience means staff members learn your name, check in well before your glass nears its end and pass you extra rounds of complimentary smoked-salt popcorn and puffed cheese balls to pad your stomach. The name may be untidy, but this pub ain’t messing around.