I have been coming to New York for business and pleasure since 19… cough, cough… and on virtually every visit I have made a pilgrimage to McSorley’s Ale House in Manhattan’s East Village. (If you’re not familiar with McSorley’s, I encourage you to read Sean’s review. It is one of the most iconic and historic bars in America and should be on the itinerary of any visitor to New York.) But located on the very same block is an almost invisible pub that should be added to every beer-lover’s to-do list: the amazing, miniscule and oddly named Burp Castle. Funny I should have missed it.
Blink or sneeze as you’re walking down 7th street and you are likely to pass the Burp Castle. Buried beneath a web of scaffolding and behind an imposing wrought iron fence, the Burp Castle makes very little effort to make its presence known. There is no electric signage, no neon beer ads to attract passersby, not even a website to promote its wares. The Burp Castle is one of those neighborhood secrets, which relies on word of mouth to sustain itself, a strategy that’s worked since they opened their doors in 1992.
The Burp Castle is not so much a castle, as it is a miniature monastery. With seating for less than 20 inside and two cramped outdoor tables, the Burp Castle is best enjoyed in small groups of beer worshipers. Medieval-inspired murals adorn every wall. The antique architecture of the building itself and the surrounding decor have the effect of making the16 year old bar look about 200 or so. Gregorian chants waft softly from the speakers. Lighting is subdued. Signs encourage patrons to whisper. The bartenders, or brewist monks, dress in brown robes, identical to those worn in that old Friar Duck cartoon. (“Dodge, Perry, Thrust & Drink”) The result is essentially a gimmick that avoids being cheesy because the Burp Castle truly pays reverence to the product they serve.
The Burp Castle is strictly a beer hall. They do not serve wine or spirits of any kind. While they used to stock several hundred varieties of beer in the bottle, the limited space made the practice impractical. Popular brews were often out of stock. Dozens of others collected dust. The Burp Castle now specializes in 50 high-quality offerings, ten on tap and another 40 by bottle. Belgian, German and English craft-brews dominate the line-up. Most are rarely available elsewhere, with Chimay and Duvel and Delirium Tremens among the few exceptions. For example, I tried a Weihenstephan, an unfiltered wheat beer from the self-proclaimed oldest brewery in the world, dating back to 1040.
Want an extra-treat? The best french fries in New York (according to Citysearch: New York) are served at Pommes Frites, just around the corner on 2nd Avenue. On Sunday, Monday and Wednesday evenings between 5 and 8pm, the Burp Castle orders free fries for all guests. (Try the peanut satay and Mexican ketchup dipping sauces.)
If you find yourself in New York, a trip to the fun and funky East Village is an experience not to be missed. The people-watching alone is epic. And if you’re there, you could do a lost worse than a double-dip of McSorley’s Ale House and the Burp Castle, where history literally pours from the taps.