It happens all too often, especially these days. Leases expire, developers swoop in, and the neighborhood watering hole decides to close its doors and look for greener pastures. When I got the email that my old neighborhood bar was closing at the end of the month, memories of enjoying countless nights over refreshing beers and satisfying comfort food started to bubble up to the surface and I realized the magnitude of this loss. It’s like losing a good friend.
We were spoiled by the Craftsman Ale House, a hidden gem in Harrison. Situated just around the corner from the train station, the bar barely had a sign. In fact, the awning just said Bar & Grill. Nobody would have looked at this place at first glance and said “now THIS is where I want to open a bar”. It was divey and pure, with absolutely no frills. There was no trendy lighting, chairs, or bar top. The heat and AC barely worked. It was clean enough to not be dirty. The crowd was not your typical judgey Westchester scene. You could show up in your pajamas or your finest job interview outfit, and nobody would think twice. It was truly just about the beer – and the endless beer swag that decorated the place. Beer books and magazines lined the shelves, signs covered the walls, and brewery pint glasses filled the back of the bar. If you came on a good night, sometimes you’d even leave with some swag of your own.
We were spoiled with access to some of the best beers in the country, and this place was one of the first to really embrace the craft beer scene in the suburbs. Different breweries would come in each week for tap takeovers and to showcase their latest, greatest, and often rarest. I should mention that craft beer lovers really enjoy bragging.
This was a beer joint where you were not-so-subtly shamed for wanting a Bud Light. They simply didn’t offer any big name (ahem, crappy) beers. You’d be greeted with a smile upon asking for their constantly updated beer menu, and it was maybe one of the easiest icebreakers to get to know the bartenders when they asked what kind of beers you liked. Bonus points when they automatically remembered your preference and would suggest what they’d think you would like, or pour you a sample of anything they had on tap to get you out of your comfort zone.
From releasing the stress of the long work week at happy hour, watching an epic game with some chicken wings (special shout out to the onion rings with chipotle mayo!), or even just needing to get out of the house at the first winter thaw – this was THE place. It was a no-brainer.
I’d get off the train and head down to the bar and always knew I wouldn’t be alone even if my friends weren’t there yet. I guess that’s the beauty of being a regular in a friendly place. The owner would randomly take out his special reserves and pass them around the bar in sample cups. Or the bartenders would even bring beer from their collection and share in a communal tasting with their favorite customers. These small gestures were certain to keep us coming back, and couldn’t wait to bring out-of-town visitors for a unique and homey experience.There was even that one crowded Saturday night when we walked in and there were no tables available so the manager pulled a table literally out of storage and placed it on the floor for us. What a way to make someone feel special.
How do we say goodbye to a neighborhood institution? Sure, we may have moved away, but it was always going to be there if we needed that small dose of nostalgia, to meet up with our friends in the area, and of course enjoy a delicious pint. It may be moving to a new location, but it just won’t be the same. Just remember where you came from and what so many people loved about the OG. Thank you for the memories. Cheers! This one’s for you.