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Bringing a Craft Beer Bar to Harlem

Harlem Hops’ founders on opening the neighborhood’s first black-owned craft beer bar

Kevin Bradford, Kim Harris, and Stacy Lee. Photo courtesy of Harlem Hops.

Craft beer is often typecast as the domain of bearded white dudes, a cliché that Kevin Bradford, Kim Harris, and Stacey Lee have detonated with Harlem Hops. The first black-owned craft beer bar in New York City’s uptown neighborhood of Harlem, it’s a welcoming portal to the world of hazy IPAs, tingly sours, and barrel-aged stouts, among others.

The founders, all graduates of historically black colleges and universities, have created more than simply a sleek bar with bare brick walls, beers served in stylish Italian Teku glasses, and harlem spelled out in lightbulbs on the ceiling. Rather, beer curator Bradford and his partners Lee and Harris operate Harlem Hops as an educational platform, with the goal of introducing fresh, local craft brews to customers who may never have met a hoppy beer—or knew how much they’d love one. —Joshua M. Bernstein

SevenFifty Daily: Tell us about your project.

Kevin Bradford: I’ve been drinking beer since the late ’80s, from Pete’s Wicked Ale to South African milk stouts to hazy IPAs. It’s my hobby to travel to get beer. I grew up in Detroit, and when I’d go home to Michigan, I’d bring back beer from Bell’s, Short’s, Kuhnhenn, Dark Horse—this was before the New York scene started popping off [in the last five years]. When it did, I started traveling to breweries in Queens and Brooklyn like Finback and Other Half. It seemed like Harlem really needed a place to drink the freshest local beer, not mass-market stuff.

Kim Harris: I would be home in Harlem, like, “I want to have a beer but there’s no good beer here.” This triggered the idea that, “I’m sure I’m not the only person who wants this.”

Bradford: I originally wanted to open this bar in my garden apartment, but the zoning for my house was residential. I tried to get that zoning changed, but it was an uphill battle. A mutual friend introduced me to Kim, and that’s why we’re here now.

Is there a particular issue that you’re trying to address?

Harris: Harlem is a predominantly African American community, and that community is not accustomed to drinking craft beer. We were inundated with malt liquor. That’s all we knew. It’s about educating people. That’s a major component of our model.

Bradford: It’s a market that was overlooked. Here, we’re very open. We’ll let people try samples to help Harlemites who might not be too familiar with the craft beer scene.

 

How willing were people in the industry to lend advice?

Harris: When we were planning Harlem Hops, Kevin and I would visit breweries once or twice a week. Everybody treated us well and helped us in our journey. We let them know what we were trying to do in Harlem, and they were excited that somebody was ready to serve their beers there.

Bradford: As a black man in a white male–dominated industry, I felt love everywhere I went—sometimes even extra. In the craft beer world, people genuinely want to see you do well. It’s not like, “Who’s this guy? I don’t want to share too much information.”

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Bradford: I ran out of money for our contractor, so I had to call my brother, a real estate guy who flips homes in Detroit. He’s like a Bob Vila. He can go to Home Depot and build a house. He finished the tap lines, bathrooms, and deck and hung the cabinets and TV. I was at third base, and I needed to get home. He took me home. It’s good to have family in your corner.

What’s been your biggest achievement thus far?

Harris: We’re introducing quite a few people into this world they’re not familiar with. Once they get a taste and are like, “Oh wow,” they become more passionate. It’s been fun transforming people into beer drinkers.

Bradford: Our initial thoughts were that we’d have more local people come in, but I’m finding that Harlem Hops has become a destination spot. There are a lot of people coming from Brooklyn, the Bronx—but our neighbors also call this home.



What’s your favorite thing to drink?

Bradford: If it were up to me, I’d probably have all New England IPAs on tap. It’s hard to name just one. I’m a dad and I have three sons. Naming a favorite beer is like picking a favorite son.

Which websites or social media accounts do you follow most closely?

Bradford: I look at BeerAdvocate, Untappd, and BeerMenus. I use Instagram to follow bars, including As Is, Bier Wax, and Tørst, as well as breweries such as Hill Farmstead, Grimm Artisanal Ales, Tree House, and Industrial Arts. It’s the best way to keep up with all the beer that’s being released today.

Read more about Kevin Bradford: The Craft Beer Community Broadens its Reach.

Joshua M. Bernstein is a beer, spirits, food, and travel journalist, as well as an occasional tour guide, event producer, and industry consultant. He writes for the New York Times, Men’s Journal, New York magazine, Wine Enthusiast, and Imbibe, where he’s a contributing editor in charge of beer coverage. Bernstein is also the author of four books: Brewed Awakening, The Complete Beer Course, Complete IPA, and the just-released Homebrew World.

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