Ambitious beer bars seem to be everywhere in New York, but the newest one in Harlem has been attracting lots of attention for more than just its selection.
Kevin Bradford, Kim Harris, and Stacey Lee’s opened Harlem Hops, a hip beer bar at 2268 Seventh Ave., between 133rd and 134th streets, earlier this year, and right out of the gate, people have flocked to try it for both its beers and its community focus.
They transformed the space that had been vacant for a decade into a modern bar with industrial and cozy touches: A flashy light sign spelling out “Harlem” looms over the long bar, anchoring Harlem Hops in its neighborhood. As with any proper place for drinking beer, there’s a garden, too. “We funded this venture ourselves, because we believed in ourselves,” Harris says. “I think it shows in everything that you experience when you get there.”
Here are some reasons why it’s buzzing, from its neighborly ethos to its ambitious beer list.
The team of beer geeks wanted to make craft beer more accessible in the neighborhood
Bradford was introduced to craft beer when his college roommate brought home a Pete’s Wicked Ale from the grocery store where he worked, and since then, he’s become obsessed. He’s traveled as far as South Africa to try different beers and has a personal collection of hundreds of bottles and cans of beer. He and Harris got together, wanting a local option for craft beer. “We both like craft beers, and we were tired of traveling to Brooklyn and Queens to get them,” Harris says.
Education and supporting young people in the neighborhood is a priority
The community has already been very supportive of the bar in its first few weeks, Lee says. All three owners are alumni of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and have received support from schools in hyping up the bar, she says. “Education is really important to us,” Lee says. “In the Harlem community, we want our young people of color to see us and to know that this is something that they can achieve.” As part of this, the team plans to give a Harlem Hops college scholarship to a graduating senior in Harlem in May 2019.
They prioritized local beers — and paid particular mind to supporting brewers of color
Harlem Hops has 16 rotating taps, serving a diverse array of locally brewed beers — from goses to Mexican-style lagers. Bradford and Harris spent a year going to different breweries in the surrounding area, like Brooklyn’s Interboro and Other Half, Industrial Arts in Garnerville, District 96 in New City, and Brix City in New Jersey. As noted on the bar’s website, a lot of the beers featured are made by local, small batch, family-owned, and small businesses, as well as by people of color.
Currently on tap, there are offerings from Harlem Brewing Company and Harlem Blue, which Harris says are both black-owned brewing companies based out of the neighborhood. “We are always looking for other brewers of color to add to our rotation as soon as they get NYC distribution,” she says.
Beers are served with a side of history
The team worked with food historian Tonya Hopkins a.k.a. The Food Griot to incorporate the history of beer-making in the bar’s messaging, Harris says. “Historically speaking, it started in Africa,” he says. “We have to remember and reclaim parts of our history and retain it.” They ultimately decided to display historical facts on a column by the bar so that everyone coming into the space would see it. The chalk board column notes, for example, that beer ingredients were left in tombstones of Egyptian kings for brewing in the afterlife, as well as information about how enslaved Africans brought brewing techniques to America.
There’s food, including fare from an African business
The space has a small kitchen and offers a straightforward beer bar menu of snacks like locally sourced sausages and bratwurst, and pretzels. There are also spicy pies — which are sourced from an African company, Harris explains — filled with beef, chicken, lobster, or vegetables.