Those of us on the Lower East Side of New York for whom “the late Michael Jackson” will always refer to a Beer Hunter and never a Gloved One are enjoying Top Hops, a small beer emporium (there’s really no other word for it) that opened earlier this year at 94 Orchard Street, just up the street from and a pleasant early stop before dinner at Cafe Katja.
Top Hops is the brainchild of Ted Kenny, a former beer salesman for Anheiser-Busch. The front of the space is a pleasant, dark and airy bar, behind which a large blackboard offers a list of the beers-on-tap for the day (with enough information to satisfy the taste of any beer enthusiast, including the date tapped, the last time the lines were cleaned, the alcohol content of any of the beers — a regularly updated list of beers on tap and in bottles is available here), and past the bar is a cave-like canyon lined on either side with refrigerators that hold hundreds of bottled beers from around the world.
A knowledgable bar staff is at the ready to offer suggestions based on your own preferences, but by and large you’ll be left alone to your private conversation in this comparatively quiet space. A big-screen TV tuned to ESPN is installed above the bar — perhaps an inevitable nod to the times, but not intrusive or invasive for all that. Top Hops is also an enthusiastic supporter of Lower East Side neighborhood businesses, offering a bar menu of appetizers from local purveyors such as the Essex Street Market’s Pain d’Avignon, Heritage Meats, Formaggio Essex, and Saxelby Cheesemongers.
After a few beers (at $6.50 a pint the price is on the high-moderate side, but the care with which the beer menu is chosen, and the attention paid to its proper storage, is worth the money), you’re also welcome to purchase growlers of any of the beers on tap or make up your own six-pack from the hundreds of bottled beers available for purchase.
Like The Lo-Down‘s food critic JP Bowersock, I also used to brew my own beer, learning along the way the secrets of malts and hops and getting something of a taste for the remarkable spectrum of beer styles and flavors. (Early on in my journalistic career I interviewed Michael Jackson himself at a Belgian beer-bar in Philadelphia — a lunchtime appointment that ran for a full six hours, at which we consumed more than enough of those fine beers for either of us.) It’s a pleasure to rediscover this enthusiasm again on the Lower East Side in the company of my wonderful wife and the congenial strangers (who don’t stay strangers long) both behind and in front of the bar.
Top Hops is only a few steps away from the F train’s Delancey Street stop.
Ah, beer — and how it has inspired Austrian avant-garde filmmakers as well. Back at Bard College, when I was taking courses in experimental film, I saw Peter Kubelka‘s 1958 Schwechater for the first time. Kubelka had been commissioned to film a commercial for the Austrian brewer — a commercial which, sadly, never aired. But it’s become a minor classic of avant-garde filmmaking; you can watch it below.