234 Starr Street, Bushwick
In a borough with no shortage of weird combination businesses like Take Root (yoga studio/restaurant) and Juice Pedaler (juice bar/bike shop), The Sampler, a combination bar and bottle shop recently opened in Bushwick, is actually pretty intuitive. And all things considered—including the degree to which some of us think of bars as sacred places that should under no circumstances be sullied by something as comparably gauche as a retail business—the owners have done an admirable job of creating a space that maintains a sufficiently homey, comfortable vibe.
Just moments after I walked in late on a Tuesday afternoon, as I began to browse the hundreds of bottles on display, I was greeted by a jovial employee bearing a sampler glass of beer. “Would you like a refreshment?” he asked. “It’s hot outside.” In the glass was Newburgh Brewing Company’s Wild Ace, a hopped-up cream ale brewed with tarragon and mint. The herbal quality was overpowering, but I certainly appreciated the gesture. I sat down at the small six-seat bar (there’s also a smattering of high-top tables) and ordered an $8 flight of four beers: Peekskill Brewing’s Simple Sour, Stillwater’s Cellar Door Saison, Bridge & Tunnel’s Slaughter House Stampede Black Rye IPA, and Evil Twin’s Lil B Imperial Porter. There’s a total of 18 beers on tap, with a focus on the more adventurous offerings from local and regional breweries, but also plenty of the real nerdy shit you’d find over at Tørst. They do growler fills, too, which is a nice thing to find in a bar serving such uncommon beers.
If you’re somehow unmoved by the draft options, the bottle-shop portion of the business offers the perfect out: for a one-dollar “corkage” fee, you can sit at the bar and enjoy any of the bottles they have for sale. Lining two floor-to-ceiling shelving units as well as a huge, bodega-style refrigerator, the selection leans heavily on imports and high-end, lesser known domestics. Nearly every bottle on display gets its own handwritten tag with a thorough description of the beer, a welcome touch given how difficult it can be to decipher the increasingly cryptic labels craft breweries seem to favor.
Food options are fairly limited at the moment. You could grab a small bag of McClure’s chips for $2.50 or a $10 bag of Slantshack Beef Jerky, but ugh… you could also just use that money to buy more beer and then get something more reasonably priced on your way home. There’s talk that they’ll be working with other local eateries on a more elaborate menu in the future, but whatever: whether you’re looking to pick up a nice bottle to bring to a party or set up camp with a group of friends, The Sampler is worth a visit as is.