A lot of my stories start with a bar. I think it’s probably genetic. My parents are nothing if not talented drinkers, who raised me to love the finer things (aka beers and gins) in life. Their friend groups seem to have a high bartender to lay person ratio, and, ever their offspring, I’m always saying “my friend so-and-so, who works at such-and-such bar…” because a large segment of my friends (in New York especially) have some affiliation with the alcohol industry. But despite the vast variety of bars and restaurants available to me in the city — a veritable cornucopia of dives, swanky cocktail lounges, and everything in between — I spend approximately 90% of my time in exactly four places.
The first things I scope out when I move to a new apartment (because two times is totally a trend, right?) are a good coffee shop (i.e. one that will allow me to sit for upwards of two hours without feeling intrusive) and a good bar — preferably a beer bar — that is open during the week at early hours so my midweekend day-drinking needs can be met.
So when I moved to my current apartment in the outer recesses of Bushwick, the almost Bed-Stuy-but-not-technically part, these two places were my primary objective. I was in the middle of writing my master’s thesis at the time, so the coffee shop was the first priority. But once I had located a good cold brew and submitted my first chapter, I sought alcoholic refreshment, as a reward.
One July afternoon, I stumbled upon a little craft beer bar called The Sampler, only just opened. It was a mere 10-minute walk from my apartment, it was on the way home from my subway stop, and it offered a very good and affordable selection of delectable craft brews. In the beginning, they didn’t quite realize what they were working with — they had the goods, but not the knowledge to use it to its full potential — but by the time October hit, my thesis was complete, they had found their groove, and I joined the merry company of the other regulars.
Since then, The Sampler has definitely become a home away from home for me. I’ve always been good at talking to people, especially if there’s beer involved. Over time, I made some of my closest friends in New York sitting on those bar stools in the middle of the day, chatting with bartenders and other regulars with weird schedules.
Something about The Sampler just fits for me. I’ve been to a lot of beer bars, in New York and otherwise, but I’ve rarely come across one that instantly felt quite that homey. I think it comes down to the people: the regulars who are quick to converse with whoever is around, talking beer and Brooklyn and backstory, and the laidback bartenders who get shit done when they have to, but are always down to chat if they’ve got the time. Casey and Jeremiah are probably my two favorite bartenders in the city. They know their shit when it comes to beer, which is really my first rule when picking out a beer bar, but they never make you feel like an idiot for what you like or what you do or don’t know (if you’ve been to some of the other craft beer bars in the city, you know why sometimes people call us beer snobs, so you’ll understand why their attitude is such a great find). Whether you’re a beer aficionado or a craft newbie, if you’re celebrating good news or you’ve just been evicted, fired, and dumped in the same day, they’re there for you, with an ice cold glass of something delicious in hand.
I love The Sampler because it’s unassuming. It doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. It’s great beer (plus, more recently, bourbon) and great people, It’s a pint on a bad day, a place to layover when the rain starts while you’re on the train and you’re without an umbrella. It’s the sound of a welcoming y’all from the Atlanta transplant bartender. On one occasion, for me, it was a safe place on a walk home that had taken a bad turn, and a pack of brotherly types to chase off the creeper who followed me there. As cliche as it sounds, we all need that place where everybody knows your name… And for me, that’s The Sampler.
I suppose I’m getting a bit sentimental here. What can I say: My love for this place runs deep. But there are plenty of reasons for you to love it, too! If all the reasons above haven’t convinced you, here are a few more. If you’re into craft beer or whiskey, the selection is reason enough for you to be there (join me at the bottle share, aka potluck for beer, every third Tuesday). You want your trivia a little difficult, but not inundated by trivia pros? They’ve got it every Monday. Want to expand your palate? They do special tastings almost every week. Plus there’s Super Nintendo Fridays, all the soft pretzels you can eat, and pickles (if you’re into that). Whether it becomes another slot on your Bars of New York dance card, or something more, The Sampler welcomes you. As they like to say, “Y’all come drink.”