2019 Beer Bar of the Year: Harlem Hops

“Sky’s the limit!” is a phrase Kim Harris, Kevin Bradford and Stacey Lee repeat often when discussing the growth of Harlem Hops. It’s an apt description for their beer bar, which has already skyrocketed Harlem into a beer destination since opening last June.

The bar’s momentum is thanks to the trio’s mission to bring fresh, delicious brews to their Harlem home. The bar itself—all warm lights and copper—is a self-funded venture and serves as a visual ode to the glamour of the Harlem Renaissance, with subtle (and not-so-subtle) nods paying neighborhood tribute throughout.

Harlem Hops’ 16 taps center on what’s piquing Bradford’s palate at a particular time, which lately has included hazy IPAs from Other Half and Harlem Brewing’s spiced Renaissance Wit. Beers are served in custom Teku and tulip glasses, and “Crowlers” are available to take beer to-go. Featured breweries are largely local or regional, and they place a priority on small brewers and those run by people of color. The food—including Brooklyn-produced sausages and Virginia-made Guma pies—follows the same small-producer lane. “Everything we do is kind of mom-and-pop,” Harris says. “Your mom isn’t going to give you anything bad to eat if she can help it.”

Harlem Hops’ owners aimed to create a home- away-from-home vibe centered on community and education. This includes educating guests about beer’s origins in Africa’s earliest civilizations and facilitating general enhancement of education within their community. The owners are all graduates of historically black colleges and universities (Bradford still spends his days in the classroom as a middle school math teacher), and in May they’ll award a college scholarship to a graduating Harlem high school senior. “It’s really about serving our community the best way we can,” Harris says. And what began as a neighborhood-driven venture has quickly crossed boroughs and borders, Lee says. “It’s become a destination bar.”

Click here to check out a custom playlist from Kevin Bradford.