Eataly is a phenomenon. A 50,000-square foot mecca to artisinal ingredients packed in the heart of NYC, adjacent to Madison Square Park.
It is a foodie's wonderland. To wander its packed lanes is like being in the hustle and bustle of Oz but where the Munchkins are full-size…and hungry. Seriously, you can see the saliva hanging off people's lips as they voraciously feast there eyes on the wondrous meats, cheeses, breads and pastas presented in glowing cases in every direction.
When it first opened a year ago, many predicted its failure. It was too large, too luxury (read: expensive) and with too many ego-fueled players involved (Mario Batali's face meets you at nearly every turn. Ah! The clog-wearing, pony-tailed, ginger bearded man again, Mommy!) A year in — they're currently celebrating their anniversary — and its a resounding success. Feel free to read about it on the hundreds of blog posting and magazine articles peppered throughout the planet.
What I am interested in is what's going on on top of the building: the Birreria Beer Garden, which requires one to enter on the ground floor with the slobbering masses, then take a side route to the elevator banks. A zip up to the 14th floor and you find yourself on top of the world, in plain sight of the Empire State Building.
Originally scheduled to open alongside (or on top of) the rest of the food and beverage operations below, Birreria was delayed (something to do with problems hoisting in the copper brew kettle system) and only in the last 60 days opened its roof.
Its a vast, somewhat industrial space decked out with a dining area, a retractable roof, and a long bar featuring large wine barrels that dispense wine. The wine is not actually in the barrel, mind you. "Nah. From boxes," was the reply when I asked if they actually held the vino he was pouring. Last night, it was packed with scenesters, financial types and tattooed beer geeks alike.
Featuring a revolving set of three cask beers which are brewed right there (oh mercy, this is a beautiful set of brewing equipment they have. As a homebrewer, I just might forever give up the taste of beer to own this shining, copper gem). Also, there is a rotating cast of draft and bottled beers from as close as Brooklyn (Six Point), upstate New York (Ommegang), and all the way from Italy—as well as from the far corner of the very patio on which you stand.
The Birreria Rooftop Beer Garden is a collaboration between some of the sickest, most creative, most entreprenurial (in my humble opinion) brewers in the scene today. Sam Caligione of Dogfish Head in Delaware; Teo Musso of Birra Baladin in Piedmont, Italy, Leonardo di Vincenzo of Birra del Borgo in Rome and Birreria’s own brewmaster, Brooks Carretta. The beers brewed on-site are cask-conditioned, unpasteurized and unfiltered ales.
I tried the Sofia, a Belgian wit brewed with peppercorns. Medium bodied, hazy and unfiltered. Spice notes on the nose and palate of cinnamon, clove, gingerbread and yeast with a dry finish. It had an interesting apricot flavor accented by black peppercorns and banana (from the yeast).
I'm curious to see the crowd that will settle in here once the trendsters and scenesters move on to the next newest, hottest, shiniest place. In the meantime, the concept is strong (artisan beers and artisan snacks), the beer selection is on-point and the service was great — although when I asked the bartender which brewery one of the rare Italian beers was from, he replied "Birrificio." I asked again, "which brewery?" He said again, "Birrificio." I didn't have the heart in me to tell him that just means "brewery" in Italian. Perhaps Teo needs to fly over from Piedmont for a little crash course in Italian beer culture.
Birreria Beer Garden, in Eataly, 200 Fifth Avenue (entrance on 23rd Street, West of Fifth Avenue), (212) 937-8910