A former parking garage on Manhattan's West Side has become Houston Hall, a new 1900s-style beer garden with nothing but a chalk sign outside the door reading "Open."
The baby of Heartland Brewery owner Jon Bloostein, the new space, which opened Friday, January 4th, bears no resemblance to his chain of other breweries. According to Bloostein, his hope for the space was "to get away from the chain reproduction" that his Heartlands have become, and get back to the feel of his first location, in Union Square, opened in 1995.
Beer options are inspired, named after their creators and brewers, and boasting a range to please everyone from the heaviest and lightest of drinkers. Kelly’s Baltic Porter, named for the brewmaster Kelly Taylor, is a heavy option (perfect for likers of the Heartland Brewery Farmer Jon’s Oatmeal Stout) 6.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), with notes of coffee and bittersweet chocolate. Marco’s Wit, one of my favorites, is a taste-equivalent of a hefeweizen, with blood orange, coriander, chamomile, and citrus, at 5.5 percent ABV.
Other options include Peter’s Pils, a 5 percent ABV, crisp, herbal, clean, and dry brew; Patrick’s Belgian Blonde, 5.5 percent ABV, fruity, spicy, and effervescent beer; the Saison, an earthy, minerally brew with light fruit and a dry taste at 5 percent ABV; Sam’s ESB, a malty, mellow, and smooth option at 5 percent ABV; John’s Dunkle, 5.75 percent ABV, with toasted malt, light caramel, and a clean and bright finish; Sam’s Pale Ale, a 5.5 percent ABV hoppy option with a good malt background; J’s IPA, a 6.5 percent ABV with big citrus and bold hops; and Carey’s Imperial Black Saison, an 8 percent ABV that is rich, fruity, earthy, and filled with coffee and spice. (Both the IPA and Black Saison were sold out by my appearance on the second day of business.)
A menu of small dishes, shared dishes, and small salads, offers a wide range of items, although the mixed olives are the only selection I can yet vouch for, having not tried the rest of the menu.
The building still bears some of the floor markings of the former parking garage (a garage that at one point, according to Bloostein, used to hold carriages as well), and Bloostein and team built on the beauty of the space’s natural structure, keeping the gorgeous dark paneled beams in the ceiling and the brick composing either side of the structure’s walls. Additions included complements only, adding in the bar and bathrooms, of course, as well as office space and storage space, and creating stained windows and steel detailing, to enhance the 1900s communal space feel.
All décor items in the space were found and brought in by Bloostein himself, who is a collector of cool items and antique finds.
On the main wall is a painted reproduction showing what the 1900s artist thought New York City would look like in the year 2000. The story of the Hall is painted in the brick-walled entryway, and carriage house doors and propped open on either side.
Tables stick to the beer garden theme, using long wood-slab surfaces to host as many friends as can fit together, and providing mix-and-matched stools for seating. Bussers walk around with painted iron and steel trolleys to collect tables’ cups and dishes, and cups, mugs, dishes, and silver, all stick to the iron theme.
And the seating mentality also mimics image and design; there's no required party size for seating, no discrimination if you want dinner or just drinks, and they welcome a crowd of all ages into the party-ready space. The high ceilings and unobstructed open space make a crowded room feel unencumbered, and a well-concealed yet modern installment of a projector keeps the space ready for Super Bowl fans, company gatherings, and other like-minded parties.
So far, the beer garden offers a truly unique New York experience, and shows a very promising start.
Tyler Sullivan is The Daily Meal's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter @atylersullivan