New York City. For those of you who don't call this crazy place home, you really can't understand the small town feel of this place. "The what?!," you ask dumbfounded. I said, the small town feel---community, routine, rhythm, familiar faces and integrity.
You may not know it from the outside, but NYC is a patchwork of neighborhoods, a mosaic of people with different backgrounds and passions, all stepping up to the same deli counters, walking the same grocery aisles and sitting down at the same familiar bar stools. It's these comforts that help release the steam on the pressure cooker. Were you to wander through Times Square for more than an hour, you might just implode.
One needs the neighborhood here.
I, myself, haunt the East Village. It's where I work, its where I walk each day, noting the usual characters, discovering new enclaves and befriending fellow mates in the food/wine industry. Cocktail joints, beer geek havens, pork chapels, we've got them all. We're a strange lot in the hospitality industry; usually quirky, a bit geeky, overworked but always passionate... at least those who are doing things right. It's artistry and craftsmanship of the highest caliber. One such gentleman is Shane Covey.
Shane is the proprietor of Upstate Craft Beer & Oyster Bar, a small, cozy joint at First Avenue and 6th street. Walking in the 28-seat joint, one steps through a set of French doors filled with windows, reminding guests where they are each moment: the heart of the East Village. Shane (and his talented wife) have done two things: create a neighborhood joint for its residents and built the place with their own hands.
After disassembling a barn in upstate New York and transporting it to the city, they fashioned the lumber into the bar top, the tables and the chairs (there's a great photo montage of them building out the space on their blog). You can feel the authenticity at every turn.
Shane is doing exactly what he wants to do. "Offering simple, fresh seafood and pairing it with great-tasting regional beers," is the way he describes it. And get this...he doesn't own a freezer. He hits the market daily and fills the place with the treasures of the ocean he finds anew.
Featuring a menu with 20 different oysters and 8 draft beer lines (7 of which featured New York breweries on my last visit), the place is a wee chapel to the grain and to the sea. Seriously, I break into sweats of ravenous craving when I think about just how damn good the grilled squid is; fresh, simply grilled, near heavenly. If you start with great ingredients, don't mess with them; they'll speak for themselves.
This is how I want to dine. This is how I want to drink. The proprietors are there and you get to know each other. You share stories and you break bread together. This is what small towns are all about.