This past Polar Vortex winter, I do believe I set a personal record for bourbon consumption. As temperatures plummeted and sidewalks turned to tundra, I steadily drained liter bottles of Benchmark and W.L. Weller. Brown spirits warmed me as banshee winds whipped through my poorly insulated Crown Heights apartment and provided courage as I took my dog on teeth-chattering walks, praying he’d relieve himself before hypothermia took hold.
Before my will and liver were permanently broken, temperatures ticked north, degree by degree. The sun said hello. Black glaciers of filth slowly drained into gutters, and garbage men finally toted away Christmas trees. Sunny days were here to stay. And that meant it was time to toast the climate shift with a drink.
During Brooklyn winters, we imbibe to blunt yet another nor’easter, to give those dark skies a bright little glow. We huddle in dark bars, clinking glasses over candlelight, loudly cursing California friends’ Instagram pictures. Drought be damned, maybe Los Angeles wouldn’t be so bad, right? But then spring arrives, green and bloomy, and thoughts of escape are abandoned. Beer gardens open, movies play at parks, and outdoor concerts flood ears with free music.
Invites to picnics and rooftop BBQs roll in, beaches open for business, and restaurants and bars line sidewalks with tables and seats, beckoning you for a round or two. On blue-sky Friday afternoons, work is no longer the most important thing to a New Yorker.
Over the last 15 years, summer has been a spark to rekindle a winter-dulled love affair with Brooklyn and the city at large. I boogie-board at Rockaway Beach, scream myself silly on the Cyclone, fling flying discs in Prospect Park, and ride my bike to far-flung bars, where my reward is a shady backyard and cold, cold beer. Be it on a Bushwick rooftop, at the Red Hook pool, or walking along the Williamsburg waterfront, summer is a reason to reconnect with the city’s soul—well, at least when a heat wave isn’t turning New York into a stinky, humid sauna.
Alcohol isn’t an essential ingredient to enjoy our fair metropolis’s open-air pleasures. You don’t need booze, per se, to have fun. But answer me this: Has a frozen margarita, glass of sparkling rosé, or condensation-slick pint of locally brewed IPA ever made a situation worse? Summer is fleeting. It’s time to hit pause, sit outside, and drink in the season.
Six Great Spots for Outdoor Drinking
Named after the military bunkers found at Fort Tilden in the Rockaways, the sunny Williamsburg complex takes its design cues from the Caribbean. The star of the bright and breezy bar is the sprawling deck, where you can claim picnic tables and beach chairs to soak up sun while you down a frozen dark ’n’ stormy or perhaps a pitcher of Ithaca Flower Power. For sustenance, there’s jerk chicken, tofu, and calamari, plus some of the tastiest patties this side of Jamaica.
64 Frost Street, Williamsburg
This mom-and-pop outfit—owners Bill Pace and Molly Bradford live upstairs—is the platonic ideal of a neighborhood beer bar. The 16 taps dispense of-the-moment breweries (Transmitter, To Øl, Ballast Point), and the fridges are filled with bottles available to-go- or-better still, to stay and sip in the grassy backyard alongside
a DIY spread of charcuterie and cheese from Crown Finish Caves.
730 Classon Avenue, Crown Heights
Since its December debut, the Gowanus brewery and performance space has become one of our favorite hangouts, offering rotating pop-up restaurants (see pg. 64) and house-hewn IPAs, saisons, and wild yeast–spiked curiosities. They’re best out back, where an asphalt lot has been reconfigured into a verdant refuge outfitted with trees and trellises. Plant yourself at a picnic table with several pitchers and drink away the day.
333 Douglass Street, Gowanus
This former cop-car repair shop (the Crown Victoria sedan was used for police cruisers) has been converted into one of North Brooklyn’s choicest venues for outdoor imbibing. The front and back patios cover 11,000 square feet and are filled with umbrella-topped picnic tables, which are perfect perches for sipping Allagash White and Founders All Day IPA, or perhaps a Pimm’s Cup while breezes rush in off the East River. For your amusement, there’s bocce, ping-pong, and badminton, as well as Tuesday night films.
60 S. 2nd Street, Williamsburg
Superfund? Try super-fun! After your next kayak outing on the Gowanus Canal—it’s actually pretty excellent—hightail it to Lavender Lake, a former horse stable rebooted as a charmingly low-key drinkery with nicely priced drafts ($6 pints of Captain Lawrence Kölsch) and $11 cocktails like the tequila-steered Electric Funeral. Drink them in the greenery-filled 1,600-square-foot patio, which is lit up with strings of light bulbs and loaded with communal tables begging for a half dozen friends.
383 Carroll Street, Gowanus
Five Great Local Beers to Sip This Summer
SINGLECUT KIM HIBISCUS SOUR LAGRRR! (3.5% ABV)
As pink as a teen punk’s hair, the Astoria brewery’s hibiscus-infused hot-weather seasonal is a seriously tart refresher that’ll leave your taste buds tingling. Pay attention when you taste: That curious note is black currants.
SIXPOINT JAMMER (4.2% ABV)
Forget Gatorade. For an electrolytic recharge, go for Sixpoint’s floral, lemony, and lightly tart Jammer, a German-style gose (“goes-uh”) that’s seasoned with Jacobsen Salt. Crush it by the can.
THREES TABLE BEER (4.2% ABV)
After months of tweaking, brewer Greg Doroski has totally dialed in his Table Beer, a wheat-driven saison suited for sipping by the pitcher. The low alcohol will keep you upright; the touch of citrus keeps the beer exciting.
BROOKLYN ½ ALE (3.4% ABV)
So many modern saisons are booze bombs, a far cry from their origins as thirst-quenchers for Belgian farmhands. Not so Brooklyn Brewery’s dainty and deliciously refreshing ½ Ale, a hazy delight loaded with lemony Sorachi Ace hops and orange peel.
OTHER HALF FOREVER GREEN SESSION IPA (4.8%)
Over the last year, Other Half has become New York City’s top hop house, turning out aromatic, flavor-charged IPAs of every stripe. Though light in alcohol, Forever Green is a fragrant blast of pine and pot.
Tips for Drinking With Toddlers
My excuse for drinking most every day stands two and a half feet tall, weighs 22 pounds, and calls me “Da-Da.” Violet is a whirlwind of joy and curiosity, a wildly active 18-month-old who runs full throttle from sunrise to bedtime. The days are long. The days are demanding. The days require drinking.
In 19th-century New York City, German beer halls were bastions of family friendly imbibing, alcohol a socially acceptable part of everyday life. Post-Prohibition, beer never recovered its familial sheen. Alcohol and kids are often seen as oil and water–two things that should never mix. As a beer journalist, drinking is my job, but so is being a good dad. Though tricky, I’ve found ways to responsibly integrate imbibing into parenthood. (Some folks are vehemently against kids being in bars, but most weekends I wake at 6:30am. By 2pm, I deserve a drink.) Here are my guidelines for tippling with toddlers.
Last call is 5pm. At night, bars are about pleasure and potential, about shirking responsibility and letting your id take control. I love my daughter, but man, babies are a buzzkill.
Breweries and beer gardens are parents’ best bets. Many taprooms are incredibly accommodating. Also, seek bars with backyards. But don’t let your kid run loose. Bars are no place to experiment with free-range parenting.
Avoid dives and sports bars. Hard-drinking, emotionally charged settings with lots of screaming are not ideal—no matter how delicious the chicken wings are.
Skip hard liquor. Drinking as a parent is perfectly acceptable. Slurring your words? Not so much. Save the bourbon for after your kid is home and adrift
When your kid wants to leave, you leave. No amount of alcohol can make a temper tantrum tolerable.
How to Drink in Public Without Being Arrested
Brooklyn has entered a golden age of intoxication, with scores of breweries, distilleries, wineries, and bars—so many bars!—helping folks shake the shackles of sobriety. Despite the very many venues, I often turn Brooklyn into a sprawling bar crawl, imbibing atop Coney Island’s sand and Prospect Park’s grass, as well as on dog walks with my mutt, Sammy Bernstein, sipping something strong, cold, and seriously mood-elevating.
In no small way, this rekindles the thrill of underage drinking, of being a 19-year-old shooting vodka and mainlining malt liquor. The buzz came from both the alcohol and breaking the rules. For me, there’s nothing better than gathering friends at the beach or park and sharing a growler, or maybe jugs of just-squeezed margaritas. Yes, it’s illegal, but boozing outside doesn’t mean being a drunken lout, sucking down airplane liquor bottles on the street corner. Here are my tips for respectfully drinking outside:
Ditch glass. Nothing screams, “I’m drinking” quite like bottles, which are banned from beaches. Opt for boxes of wine, growlers of beer, and cans. Pro tip: Modern designs for many craft beers are indistinguishable from energy drinks, meaning you don’t always need a sweaty brown bag,
If you’re drinking mixed drinks, cups with straws are your best friends. One of my smartest purchases was a cheap plastic straw cup. From gin and tonics to greyhounds, daiquiris, and Aperol spritzes, no one is ever the wiser.
Don’t urinate outdoors. That’s piss-poor behavior.
Clean up. No matter how drunk you get—and you really shouldn’t be getting too day-drunk—make sure you toss your trash.
If you get caught, face the music. Look, you’re breaking the law. You know it. The cops know it. Be polite when you receive the ticket. At just $25, the fine is far cheaper than a round of drinks.