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Pony Bar in New York City

Barkeep by | Feb 2013 | Issue #73

Photo by Joanna Muenz

Pony Bar founder Dan McLaughlin got bitten by the beer bug in the mid-’90s, but it wasn’t until he was bartending at The Blind Tiger in New York City’s West Village back in 1999 that he first started thinking about running his own place. He and Pony Bar partner Pat Hughes opened their first in the mid-2000s (Lansdowne Road in Hell’s Kitchen, which is still open), but one wasn’t enough. “I felt I had the know-how and financials to pursue opening a bar that centered on American-made beer from small breweries,” McLaughlin says. From there, Pony Bar was born.

The Manhattan establishment, with spots in Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper East Side, exclusively sells American-made craft beer, at $5 each on draft. But more than just a cozy spot for trying affordable pours of the best that US craft has to offer, Pony Bar is about forging a sense of community. “Because we have such a small location, we do not offer table service,” McLaughlin says. “But because three of our four tables are communal, you might meet some new friends before your visit is over. When we get busy in the evenings, we turn the music down so people can focus on the conversations they’re having.”

Bars as social spots are nothing new, but this sense of adventurous conversation and surprise friendships truly defines the vibe at Pony Bar. “The special moments are many,” head bartender Susana Melendez says. “[Like] when I’m able to introduce the craft beer experience to someone new to it.” She speaks warmly of a Pennsylvanian couple who return to the Pony every year and remember her name, for instance.

This is also the attitude that keeps craft flourishing in this country despite possessing only a 6-percent market share of the beer sold in the United States; good stories and good people getting together to do what they love—be that making or drinking beer. “The fact is that there are few places in which one feels they can build a community around,” regular Scott Winship says. “I’ve been able to do that at the Pony. I’ve met a whole community of folks that I would never have met otherwise and have been able to build lasting friendships—all around the shared joy of the craft beer industry.”