To be honest, I don't make it out to SoHo often. I generally prefer a quiet, plain setting to enjoy my drink, which I suppose makes me a bit boring. There's some irony there, considering it's literally my business to visit an endless variety of bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants and anywhere else that managed to obtain a liquor license, but it's true most of the time.
That said, SoHo offers a unique, high-energy vibe that I have appreciated on many occasions, and this is not lost on the million or so people I encounter during an average trip to that area. It's no surprise; there are several noteworthy drinking and dining establishments all within a short walk of each other.
One such establishment is Yard of Ale, a place dealing with a subject matter that I don't mind researching one bit, even if it means diving headfirst into one of the busiest blocks in SoHo. A full liquor selection was recently added to the previously-beer-and-wine-only drink list, which had me concerned that the place might end up full of vodka-tonic-sipping bar-hoppers rather than true beer enthusiasts. I would hate to head to the Yard of Ale and find the Yard of Jäger in its place.
But exclusion is no fun either, and SoHo bars are going to be full of all kinds of people — often in groups — no matter what. Whether your bar specializes in Belgian ales or single-malt Scotch, someone at some point is going to order a Midori Sour. Accommodating a wider clientele is a good thing, but retaining focus is still key.
Fortunately, Yard of Ale still feels like a beer bar, and a unique one at that. The interior is like some sort of farmhouse brewpub, with wood, wrought iron and rustic farm equipment incorporated heavily into the decor. I half expected to find a bale of hay in one of the corners. Beer signs from international breweries adorn the walls, themselves embedded with faux beer barrels doubling as impromptu chalkboards, announcing the various weekly specials (of which there are many).
The interior is divided into two rooms, with a small loft above. The main bar is to one side, a large portion of the street-facing wall cut out to provide an open-air feel, with access to the front courtyard. Opposite is a large seating area, with tables and booths. In the middle are stairs to the loft, a smaller and more intimate area with just a few tables, a dart board, video bowling, and balcony views of the rest of the bar. Out front is a courtyard filled with people playing comically oversized versions of Jenga and Connect Four; around the corner is a second, smaller outdoor bar.
Selectionwise, there are beers, and a fair selection at that. Twenty-two beers on tap span a few continents and a dozen or so styles, with many local brews in the rotation, as well as a conspicuous number of Abita beers: Amber, Jockamo IPA, Turbodog, Andygator and Purple Haze. Hey, I like Abita, too, so no gripes from me. Another 75 or so bottles reside in the cooler, bringing the total to around 100 beers in all. Draft beers are served in pints, or in "yards" — 24-ounce vessels based on the old-timey British glasses of the same name and shape, those often hold an alarming 1.5 liters of beer.
The wine list is varied and a fair shade better than in most beer bars, and the liquor selection is adequate, if not standard. Again, focus is key, and Yard of Ale has its spelled out right in the name.
Yard of Ale does go a step or two beyond simply offering the hard stuff, though; there are some interesting liquor-centric specials, like a $10 open bar on Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. (wells and Bacardi are included) and $10 yards of Long Islands, margaritas, Sex on the Beaches and Yard Punches on Saturdays starting at 7.
Finally, and of much import to me: Despite the usual SoHo crowds, Yard of Ale always had a spot at the bar and room to have a conversation while enjoying a beer. That's all I really ask of any good beer bar, other than good beer itself. Now the cocktail crowd can enjoy the bar as well, and who knows. They may end up becoming craft beer converts in the process. — firstname.lastname@example.org