It's no secret that for many, an ideal late night vibe involves consuming some amount of alcohol. That could mean sipping on a glass of fine wine, throwing back cocktails, or indulging in one of our finest alcoholic institutions: the beer and shot combo. No matter what you call it—a boilermaker, a kopstootje, a Sean O'Farrell—the trusty beer and shot combo is one of the most efficient ways to loosen up and get drunk.
"It's part of the ritual that transitions you from work day to leisure evening," Jack, the proprietor of the @nyc.beershot Instagram account, told me. "Having that shot to get you over that little hump, it's like taking a big exhale." While there's "nothing wrong with just a beer," drinking a shot of whiskey is a full-body sensory experience. "The chaser happens to be another drink... I find it a really pleasing way to drink."
Jack, a 28-year-old PhD student in sociology at Columbia, has been running @nyc.beershot for just under a year, but his love of the beer and shot combo can be traced back to his college days in Philadelphia. "There's something called a Citywide Special—basically every single dive bar in Philadelphia... will have a beer and a shot." At around three to five dollars, the Citywide Special kept a broke, 21-year-old Jack in high spirits despite low funds.
Jump a few years ahead and Jack, now in New York, was "building this knowledge of 'where are the good beer shots?' I go into a bar, they have a $9 beer shot, I'm like, 'Fuck this place, this is stupid.'" Inspired by his friends who had secondary Instagram accounts to document hobbies and passions like cooking, Jack created @nyc.beershot to archive the "critical work" of cataloging combos from across New York (and his travels)—everything from the $6 Bud and well at Marco's (4 out of 5) to the $7 "Low life" Miller High Life and well whisky combo at Blue and Gold (3.75 out of 5) to a free Smuttynose and J&B at his mom's house (5 out of 5, "love you mom.")
You might thinking—aren't all beer and shot combos pretty much the same? How do you separate the bad from the good? "I don't have claims to a real systematicity, but I would say there's a few things."
"If it's $5, you're not going to get worse than four out of five," Jack told me. A low price shows an understanding of the beer shot ethos. "If you offer a beer and a shot for $5, you're doing your job."
"If it's a Bud and a shot of well, it's hard to get that excited or mad about." But a "thoughtfully paired" beer and spirit with some intention behind it can help a combo stand out from the crowd. An interesting combo can also withstand price sensitivity—"I'll happily pay more, sometimes considerably more... You may be departing from the real spirit of the beer shot, but you're doing something original with it."
Being able to choose your beer and your bottom shelf liquor is always appreciated. When a bar is "really dogmatic about it, I'm like, what difference does it make, man? Why can't I have a PBR instead of a High Life?"
Part of this goes back to novelty—"I like variety. I don't think any cheap beers are really that much better or worse than any of the other ones." If you're drinking the same cheap beer over and over again, another cheap beer can excite your taste buds just by being different. Jack's only true rule is that the shot has to be whiskey.
("But gun to my head, if I had to choose a brand, it would probably be between PBR and Narragansett for the beer, and then I like Evan Williams as a cheap bourbon.")
4. The subjective
"Do I like this bar or not? Was the bartender cool? Is it located well? Can I watch the NBA there? Stuff like that." While these subjective measures don't make or break a rating, they can easily shift it a quarter to half a point in either direction.
Of course, the subjective portion of the review comes down entirely to what matters to Jack. On one of his more negative reviews, someone commented that the bar was a "great place for live local music. And I was like, I'm sure that's true. That's not really within my purview as a reviewer."
So, now you know how to evaluate a beer and shot combo. But how do you go out and find them? "My number one advice is follow my page," Jack says, but otherwise, look for "a true, proper dive." The kind of place that's "kind of dark and gross and has a Miller High Life sign in the window. If a real cheap, good beer shot is what you're after, those are the most reliable places." (And if you're in Ridgewood, Queens specifically, head to Windjammer Bar on Grandview. "My favorite dive, a true neighborhood bar of a dying breed.")
I couldn't let Jack go without asking him my favorite question—what are your ideal late night vibes? "I live to chat. Chatting with my friends is just like, kind of what I live for." The @nyc.beershot account is, to Jack, one vessel for chatting. "Sitting around a table smoking cigarettes indoors with four or five of my best buddies. If you didn't specify late night, I would say there's a 76ers game on in the corner... but yeah, with a bottle of wine, or even your own beer shots."
If homemade beer and shot combos are a part of your late night vibes, just make sure you send in a review.