With all the talk of New York’s summer-ready beer gardens in the New York Times recently, I was really excited about the opening of Eataly’s La Birreria. I have to admit that I have some mixed feelings about Eataly itself. The 50,000 sq. ft. Batali-Bastianich mega-Italian-market is amazing, but I find it to be overly produced (Ashley likens it to a theme park). That said, how could you not get excited about a collaboration between some amazing beer producers–including the brewmaster at Dogfish Head–set on a historic rooftop above Madison Square Park?

On opening night, we both got off work early and jumped at the chance to get over there before the crowds arrived. We got in-line (or on-line, as New Yorkers would say) before most, but within minutes the line was weaving throughout the store and out onto the street. We figured we would be amongst the first up there, but instead we waited 45 minutes before we were invited. That said, they took my number and texted us when it was time to return, which allowed us to wait outside in the park–and being outside was a goal anyway.

We ended up riding in the elevator with co-owner Joe Bastianich and he explained that they were doing their best to keep things low-key and controlled. That explained, we supposed, why so many of the tables were left empty when we arrived upstairs.

It was great getting back into the light, and the view of the top of the Empire State Building was a lovely background to the kegs of wine and beer.

 We decided to make a night of it, and so I ended up picking up Ashley’s slack by being personally responsible for drinking her beer selections as well as mine. Being the husband of an expectant wife is hard work.They plan to brew cask-conditioned ales on-site, but they are still working out some kinks, which meant they had only a similar cask ale from Dogfish Head’s site in Delaware, seasoned with fresh Thyme. It was amongst the best beer I’ve ever had. I look forward to sampling the forthcoming dark ale, seasoned with Chestnuts.

The food was great, too–a mix of Italian and Austrian-inspired offerings that pair wonderfully with the beer. I thought the pork shoulder panino with its apricot glaze was amazing on the super buttery roll. Ashley loved the rich Cotechino.

From the few words we spoke to Bastianich, I think they may actually have in mind a casual place for people to drink craft beer and eat good food. And while I wouldn’t go there again if I had to wait in a line, nor does one go to get the best views of New York (the bit in the NY Times article claiming that the views are “epic” is a gross overstatement)–it is a great addition to the beer-garden scene in the city.

(P.S. If you, like Ashley, are tempted to try non-alcoholic beers these days, you might check out this little taste-test we conducted.)

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