Belgium produces a wide range of interesting, delicious and well-crafted beers that are considered among the world’s best. Fortunately most of these Belgian beers are exported to the USA, and thus are readily available at numerous bars and restaurants in New York City.
However, even in such a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city, only a small percentage of beer drinkers are familiar with the diverse styles and flavors of Belgian beer. By default, your average bar fly’s concept of Belgian beer doesn’t extend beyond the usual lackluster big-name choices such as Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Leffe. Even worse, patrons often associate Belgian beer with extremely sweet Lindeman’s fruit beers, an ubiquitous offering in New York City bars.
There is hope, though. Anyone eager to explore beyond this world of mediocre Belgian beers simply needs to find places which have great Belgian beer selections. Luckily, New York City has quite a few of them. Here are four suggestions to get you started on the road to drinking great Belgian beer.
111 E29th St
New York NY 10016
A restaurant located in an upscale Midtown neighborhood, Resto hides behind a generic name but its standout Belgian beer selection features some hard-to-find ones in New York City. A few Belgian beers that I’ve sampled there are hoppy Popperings Hommel, the dark Troubadour Obscura, and Scotch Silly. These are just a few of the extensive selection of notable Belgian beers available – Gulden Draak and De Ranke XX Bitter are among the beers on my list to try.
Resto also hosts multi-course beer and food pairing dinners, with the theme either featuring a specific brewer (e.g. Ommegang), or theme (e.g. Trappist beers). The attendees, mostly avid Belgian beer geeks, sit as a group in long, communal tables, washing down Resto’s well-prepared dishes with the night’s brews. Most can’t resist sharing stories about their favorite Belgian beers and comparing tasting notes with fellow connoisseurs.
Vol de Nuit
148 W 4th St
New York, NY 10012
Discreetly set back from the street behind an open driveway, one can walk past Vol de Nuit countless times without noticing it. But once you step inside this discreet Belgian bar, your first visit to Vol de Nuit surely won’t be your last. Frequent patrons like how it retains a sense of low-key charm and sophistication on a busy Greenwich Village block full of dining establishments.
Vol de Nuit’s Belgian beer selection doesn’t strike one as extraordinary, composed of the usual Inbev suspects (Leffe, Hoegaarden, Stella), the more common Belgian beers like Lindeman’s fruity concoctions, Triple Karmeliet, Duvel, and a variety of Abbey and Trappist brews, to mention a few. However, Vol de Nuit’s dark, wood-panelled interior offers an air of authenticity and hipness at the same time. This feels just like a perfect Belgian beer lounge to meet with friends, drink, and taste the mussels and fries accompanied by a choice of over ten dipping sauces. Very popular especially on weekends.
11 E 36th St
New York, NY 10016
Ginger Man has one of New York City’s best beer selections, period. It is quite simply a beer mecca for discerning drinkers. Not only for their ever-changing, extensive, and top-notch Belgian beer selection, but for their craft beers from the USA and all over the world. Seriously, you didn’t quite associate Norway or Italy with craft beer, right? But these countries are among those well-represented on Ginger Man’s beer menu.
Ginger Man wide-ranging collection of Belgian beers include offerings from miniscule one-man breweries like Alvinne, highly-regarded ones such as De Dolle and Rodenbach, to the usual favorites (Duchesse de Bourgogne, Duvel) and Trappist monastery brews. The beer menu at Ginger Man is revised and published daily depending on what’s on tap, and every time I stop by for a drink I am amazed to discover yet more new beers, Belgian or otherwise.
A “grown-up” bar with no blaring music nor huge TV screens, Ginger Man’s main focus is serving the good stuff, and is definitely a must-visit for any beer lover.
Whole Foods Bowery
95 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002
Not a bar nor restaurant, but Whole Foods Market Bowery deserves a place on the list. This branch is the only one of the upscale supermarket’s New York City stores with a dedicated beer room offering nearly 1,000 different beers, encompassing different styles and origins. There is a great emphasis on local beers from New York State, but their selection includes beers from Belgium, Japan, Ireland, and other countries as well.
It is always fun shopping for Belgian beers at Whole Foods because of the unexpected finds you might find sitting on the shelves. On my last trip, I came across some lambics from Boon (a respected brewer of spontaneously-fermenting sour beers) which I had not previously encountered at any other beer store. My friend, who was from Belgium, opted to purchase a few bottles from American brewers who produce excellent “Belgian-style” beers. As they say, imitation is the best form of flattery.
So there you are. Four places offering outstanding Belgian beer in New York City. The next time you’re at a night out with friends, try out these places and do yourself a favor – don’t ever ever settle for Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, and Leffe again.