When Paolo Tagatac-Chan and Rose Chan took over a former hair salon space in the Two Bridges neighborhood six years ago, they knew of only one other brewery in Manhattan. By the time the husband and wife finally opened their quaint nanobrewery, That Witch Ales You, in October of last year, a few more had popped up. But Manhattan breweries are still a rarity.
“There is a severe lack of beer culture here,” Rose says. “Everything is mixed drinks, the club vibe.”
Still, Paolo and Rose took over what used to be a salon, crammed six tanks into the space, filled them with hops, and are hoping to expand Manhattan’s brewery scene to laid-back locals.
Quite hidden in the Two Bridges area, between a rock (the concrete jungle of the Financial District) and a hard place (the graffitied bricks of Mechanics Alley) lies That Witch Ales You, a hub for stereotypical brewery-goers (in the best way possible). With the industrial steel brewing tanks visible right when you walk in, the place emits a relaxed feel, nothing too fancy. Familiar ‘90s grunge and alt-rock music is always playing, reflecting both Paolo and Rose’s love for ’90s music. As for the name, Rose tells me don’t ask. “I’ve always been into the dark stuff.”
The space at 116 Madison Street is small, with a total capacity of 75 people. Current NYC COVID restrictions only allow for 50% capacity and no walk-up bar; the lack of standing-while-drinking option nudges people towards That Witch Ales You’s covered back patio where groups (and their dogs) chill at 55-gallon steel barrels that have been flipped upside-down to serve as tables. String lights, stacks of hay, a hanging festive hammock, and a projector make it all feel a bit like your tattooed, homebrewing uncle’s backyard.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Paolo was setting up the back patio to make room for corn hole. “We like the brewery scene because it’s family-friendly,” says Rose. “We want people to come here and feel laid-back, grab a drink after work.” But don’t think of coming much later. That Witch Ales You closes at 8 pm even with their weekend-only schedule.
“Who decided that?” I ask.
“The kids,” says Paolo. “It’s residential here; we don’t want to stay out too late.”
Before they had children, Paolo and Rose often went to breweries and wineries. After a brewery tour in Virginia, the two decided they could do it at home and soon realized,“Oh, let’s just do this instead of visiting other breweries.”
Rose and I chatted while I sipped my lychee red ale in the (not too early) afternoon. As Red Hot Chili Peppers played in the background, Paolo served me cinnamon-sugar fried biscuits, since COVID directives require a food item with a drink. “Everything is fried,” says Rose, laughing. “It’s a combination for my love of fried food and beer.” Rose says the small bites they offer are really just simple palate cleansers, much like what cheese is to wine. The fried-whatever helps the brewery visitors make the switch from one beer to a different beer, sometimes a daunting task for our taste buds.
The four beers on tap right now at That Witch Ales You include a ginger IPA, a lychee red ale, a toasted coconut porter, and a jackfruit Kolsch. Rose thought of two of the flavors and Paolo thought of the others. Each That Witch Ales You first-timer gets a complimentary tasting of the four flavors. This is important. Everyone has different beers that suit them, and there’s always a chance that the one you think you will like best isn’t your favorite.
“I get the taster every time I come here,” says Courtney, a local who has visited That Witch Ales You a few times. “I never remember which ones I like!”
“All of our beers are super drinkable,” says Rose. “Usually, I don’t prefer IPAs, but our ginger IPA…it’s good. That’s Paolo’s baby.”
Paolo and Rose have their own competition, asking people after tastings which beer was their favorite. They both agree the ginger IPA seems to be the most popular among the customers for now. It also has the highest alcohol percentage. (Coincidence?)
“I always get the ginger IPA,” says Mary, Courtney’s friend. Score one for Paolo.
Courtney and Mary came the day before too, they admitted to me. The two found That Witch Ales You within the first month it opened. “There’s not many other breweries in Manhattan. I’m always going to ones out in Brooklyn,” says Mary.
“Which is weird,” adds Courtney, “because I feel like there are breweries in every other city.”
One might say Manhattan’s brewery scene is expanding as slow as the fermentation process. Which is why we welcome That Witch Ales You, with open arms and empty mugs.