Blind Justice

UPDATE: A few months ago the BT opened up. Go forth and imbibe.Beer is hell. Few New Yorkers understand this better than the owners of the Blind Tiger Ale House a tavern recently relocated to the corner of Bleecker and Jones in the West Village. Dave Brodrick, its co-owner and advance man, was forced to close shop last week, weakened by a long-running licensing battle involving the State Liquor Authority, 66th District Councilwoman Deborah J. Glick, and now, by internet petition, hundreds of the bar’s most fervid fans. For ten years the Hudson street incarnation of the Tiger (as it became known) offered a vast selection of artisan-made ales from around the world (nary a drop of Bud, Miller, or Coors to drink). But the surroundings took some getting used to.“The Blind Tiger Ale House is Dirty, Unhospitable [sic], Unpleasant, and served Terrible Beer,” protested Brian Ó Broin, an assistant professor of linguistics and medieval literature living in New Jersey, on a web site he created expressly for this complaint. “Ambience: 0 [not a single redeeming quality],” he declared. To the uninitiated, the pub seemed oppressively small; it could be sweaty and jostling, especially on weekends, when regulars shied away. Certain bottles could fetch $20 a piece (for choice oak-aged ‘Barley Wines’, and similar concoctions). Granted, a visit to the restroom, a malevolent place found at the bottom of a staircase—itself macabre, and steep—was not easily forgotten. Apparently the Irishman wasn’t much taken in by its charms. Nor was the Tiger’s landlord, who hiked the rent in 2005, forcing the tavern to make way for a new tenant, Manhattan’s 374th Starbucks. Broderick searched eight months for a new venue, settling on 281 Bleecker Street, a former bar across from John’s Pizzeria that would require extensive renovations. Tiger regulars, suffused in mourning, began counting the days.But trouble was (ahem) brewing. Glick—councilwoman for the neighborhood—wrote a letter to the State Liquor Authority urging denial of the transfer of the Blind Tiger’s license on the basis that it would be “a large bar that primarily serves beer.” The Tigers declared war—sort of. Brodrick parried that he’d been assured the transfer was OK’d, that the previous tenant had been a fully-licensed bar, and, most importantly, that the Tiger’s would be a sedate clientele, more into Belgian ales than beer-bongs. He admitted his lawyer also made a typo on a form, but…whatever. Glick assumed a pose of mock surprise when the license stalled (“While I appreciate the implied notion that a single letter from my office could have this effect, it is simply not the case,” she wrote). Brodrick, who possesses the air of a guy that spends a fair bit of time in a hammock by the beach (he recently opened a bar in Belize), countered with a charm offensive, opening the new Tiger sans beer—but armed-to-the-teeth with unusual cheeses, panini, baked goods, espresso drinks, even non-alcoholic birch beer. No Coyote Ugly, this. Then he invited Glick to come in for coffee. Business trickled in for several weeks; no Glick. The stalemate didn’t break, and, at 9 p.m. on November 19th, Brodrick and co. shuttered the doors again, to stanch the bleeding, and regroup.Like The Dove, the miniscule Hammersmith, London watering hole favored by Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway, or McSorley’s Old Alehouse, the haunt of Joseph Mitchell (now, alas, terrain controlled by the frat boy, and the tourist), the original Blind Tiger could be fusty. It was, at its best, Old World squalor exalted; the new Tiger, nearly double its size, was to be a beer boutique, a shrine to craft-brewed beers complete with floors, beams, and bar hewn from 150 year-old timbers, temperature-controlled cellar (for aging rare ales), and a selection every bit as Byzantine as the menu at Murray’s Cheese Shop, right down the block. Brodrick estimates he and his partners spent $1 million reinventing the place. “A well-dressed woman came in the other day and told me our bathrooms were the nicest she had ever seen,” he wrote in a newsletter, exorcising demons. The license remained denied.Vive la résistance! Starting in September, a Tiger militia—hailing from the New York area (particularly the West Village) and a handful of foreign countries—began circulating an e-petition destined for the State Liquor Authority. Thomas Paine, who 226 years ago this October cried out for fairness from the Crown on the taxation of beer—‘the humblest drink of life’—might well have been proud. “[The Blind Tiger] is far removed from those outlets who seek the sort of person that consumes cheap mass-produced drinks associated with binge drinking and uncouth behavior,” wrote Alex Hall, of Brooklyn—the document’s author and John Hancock—in the stentorian tone adopted by approximately 98% of his comrades. “Good beer is the new wine,” wrote David Gould, adding, perhaps unhelpfully, that “drinkers of yellow beer should be drawn and quartered,” a reference, no doubt, to both King George III’s preferred form of torture and the sort of mass-produced dross unfit for the Tigerian palate. Others struck a more conciliatory tone. The Tiger “will be a nice quiet place where you can bring your mother,” assured one. Chris Post, an Upper West sider, and signer #206, worried about neighborhood character: “What is the West Village becoming – Puritan?”Carry on, men. “Peace and quiet are to be found in the Catskills, not on Bleecker Street! Prohibition is over!” howled one insurrectionary. Another rallied the troops with a citation of Jane Jacobs’ manifesto, ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities,’ with its endorsement of civil, urban bars. Even the businessman who lives directly above the new location threw in his lot. Tough guys, too: “As a bouncer in good standing with local law enforcement,” wrote Raymond Lopez, #999, “I can attest to the well behaved manners of this crowd.” Paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin (“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”) was petitioner 1,054, Benjamin Mishkin. Yet another cast the closure in patriotic terms. “For a beer enthusiast, the closing of the old BT was as tragic as if they closed the Statue of Liberty,” he gloamed. Peter Flanagan—the 1,385th partisan to commit his name—rattled his musket in an attempt to end the debate: “Enough already; the people have spoken.”The Tiger remains dark. More than two hundred souls have since joined the fray.(Nov. 28, 2006)

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