Volume 75, Number 30 | December 14 - 20, 2005

Villager photos by Elisabeth Robert

Jason Curtis, left, and Peter Welles, right, converse as Mike Wolf listens at the Blind Tiger Alehouse.

Can’t hold that tiger, as cult alehouse set to close

By Daniel Wallace

Another West Village watering hole has been nudged by the billy club of gentrification and told to move on. After nearly 10 years of business, Blind Tiger Alehouse, the specialty bar at 518 Hudson St., will close on Dec. 27.

“Our lease is up,” said owner Dave Brodrick. “The landlord is building expensive apartments upstairs, so he doesn’t want a bar here. He’s looking for something like a clothing store.”

But for many residents, one more boutique clothing store or winery will make the urban transformation complete.

“It’s terrible,” said Jeremy Fox, sitting in the bar with a group of friends. “It’s sad that a great, mellow place like this has to move.”

Blind Tiger is crouched on the corner of Hudson and 10th Sts. beneath construction scaffolding topped with coils of razor wire. Beneath the barbed awning, the bar’s cream walls traversed by diagonal wooden beams give it the aspect of a Bavarian timber-frame cottage under siege.

The outcome of this particular battle is determined, but Brodrick is not giving up.

“We’re looking for a new place somewhere in the neighborhood,” said Brodrick. “We’ll probably reopen sometime in the spring of 2006.”

Inside Blind Tiger, which derives its name from the Prohibition speakeasy custom of using stuffed tigers to secretly announce the availability of alcohol, one feels as if transported back to a simpler time. Old wooden planks, fastened with nails whose heads are worn smooth and shiny, cover the floor. The walls are a patchwork of bare and painted brick, periodic sections of wainscoting and unadorned plywood boards. And an exposed air duct traverses the old-fashioned tin ceiling.

But, like most things in New York, even a weathered and worn-looking atmosphere comes with a price.

“Actually, about six years ago we hired a girl to redesign the place,” Brodrick said. “She does that for a living — makes things look old.”

Brodrick originally constructed Blind Tiger himself, with the aid of a contractor; it opened for business on March 15, 1996. He said he didn’t alter the floor and ceiling. But the zebra wood bar top, along with most other amenities, were brought in.

Along the left wall, bare wooden booths enclose tables made of weathered planks, which, according to Brodrick, were gathered from a Brooklyn surplus lumberyard. On a recent weekend night, as the dim room was filling up, bartender Chris Wertz was holding court in his thick Boston accent.

“I’ve been working here for over five years,” Wertz said. “We have dozens and dozens of regulars. I usually know everyone sitting at the bar.”

Wertz leaned against the counter. Behind him, an antique breakfront cabinet held shelves of old books, glasses and, on top, deer antlers.

“What’s up sweetheart,” Wertz said, leaning across the bar to hug a girl wearing a baseball cap with a flashing B, who walked in with a group heavily clad in Red Sox paraphernalia.

Paul Ohr, a Korean man who is a regular at Blind Tiger, sat alone at the end of the bar, nursing a dark brown British beer.

“This is probably the best beer house in Manhattan,” he said. “Although, I came tonight because I thought it wouldn’t be crowded,” he said, ducking as some people reached over his shoulder to get their brews. “Anyway, the great thing about Blind Tiger is the number of beers, and the free food.”

Blind Tiger offers 26 beers on tap and about 40 bottled beers. There are 30 selections of single-malt scotch and there are about 12 bourbons and 12 tequilas. Aside from its drinks, Blind Tiger has gained a reputation for its special events.

“Every Monday, from 6 p.m. to whenever they run out, we offer free hotdogs,” said Brodrick. “Every Saturday and Sunday we offer a free bagel brunch. And Wednesday is our special events day.”

Brodrick said he hosts about 40 special events each year. There are V.S.K. (very special keg) days. There is a Vermont beer and cheese festival and a Pacific Northwest beer and oyster festival. And the tavern regularly promotes individual breweries.

“We always put out five cheeses, and pair them up with whatever brewery is being featured,” Brodrick said. “On Dec. 14, Adam Avery of the Avery Brewing Company is flying up and we’ll offer seven or eight of his beers.”

Brodrick said Blind Tiger is a neighborhood bar that mainly attracts locals during the week. But on weekends it becomes a destination bar for college kids and people from all over the city. Dress is casual.

“This is the best alehouse in Manhattan,” Wertz said as he rushed to fill an order. “Experts agree.”

The Red Sox fans debated that. One of them, John Quinn, who said he’s a regular, wasn’t actually from Boston, but Brooklyn.

“This is a good one. Which six guys played first base for the Sox in 2005 — name them,” Quinn said, slamming his hand down like Curt Schilling notching a strikeout.

Bartender Wertz came back and set upon the bar a drawer full of large index cards. “It’s the Connoisseur Club,” he said. “Anyone who fills out a card, having drunk 51 different beers, gets their name on a gold plaque.”

A board by the women’s bathroom bears about 450 of these plaques. By the men’s bathroom, is a large black plaque, a “certification of appreciation” from the Fire Department’s Squad 18 to Blind Tiger for its community support following 9/11. There are no plaques in the men’s room, though, but rather some creative graffiti.

By the door a young man named Geoff sat on a stool sipping a coffee with newspapers spread on his lap. “I’m the doorman,” he said. “I’ve been working here for over two years.

“It comes and goes,” he said as the crowd had started to thin out a bit. “I’ve been here when it’s dead at midnight but gets suddenly slammed at 3 a.m.”

Asked if he ever has to throw anyone out, he said yes, but it’s usually just people who’ve had a bit too much too drink and have fallen asleep at the bar.

So how does everyone feel about the Blind Tiger closing?

Geoff looked around. “It’s a big deal to a lot of people.”

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