Expert beer knowledge, magic tricks, and marathon stamina – is there anything Benjamin Pratt can’t do?

Benjamin Pratt behind the bar at As Is on 10th Avenue. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Let’s start with the obvious question. As Is – explain the name.
It came to us when we were conceptualizing the bar and how we wanted to present ourselves and what we are serving. One thing we love about beer, and beer bars in particular, is that there are generally no frills. Beer bars are very comfortable and welcoming to all types of people, with little pretense. Beer is served “as is” – either it’s good or bad. There’s no smoke and mirrors to hide behind. We serve our cocktails the same way, on tap.

You’re passionate about beer – what’s the deal with that?
I’d been working in coffee, and everyone knows coffee people love beer. They go hand in hand. The qualities we look for in good coffee – acidity, flavor clarity, balance etc. – are quite similar to those that make a good beer. I took a job roasting coffee after college up in Boston and at that time I started homebrewing beer. That’s when I really started to come to understand beer. Boston has a great beer scene so it was a good place to learn.

If beer, like wine, can be matched with food, match the following with the perfect bevy…
Dollar slice pizza: Keep it simple. A good clean, crushable lager should be fine. The lighter the better: Helles or Pils for me.
Mac and cheese: Maybe something nutty and robust like an American brown ale or a nice malty Oktoberfest.
Wings: For me, I really love drinking an IPA when I order wings. The bitter hoppiness is one of the only things that can stand the heat of the wings.
Steak frites: This is Belgian cuisine, if I’m not mistaken. I’d personally go for something malty and strong like a Belgian Dubbel. Dubbels are essentially Belgian brown ales. There are some malty flavors like chocolate and roast, but the Belgian yeast creates some unique dried fruit and leather flavors that hold up well with meat.

Beer is served “as is” – either it’s good or bad. There’s no smoke and mirrors to hide behind.

The craft beer scene is going from strength to strength, but how should a beginner ease their way in?
Whenever people say they don’t like beer, I’m very skeptical. Beer is such a diverse beverage and there’s really no one flavor all beers have in common that someone could not like. When I hear someone say they don’t like beer, I generally assume they haven’t experienced much in the way of craft beer. People often mistake beer with being the cheap stuff everyone drank in college. We have a range of styles, from light beers like an effervescent Belgian Witbier to heavy imperial stouts brewed with chocolate in coffee. Along the way, there are a range of complex styles like fruity and floral IPAs to mouth-puckering sours that have been aged in wine barrels. We try to have something for everyone and hope we can turn someone who “isn’t into beer” on to something new.

Running a bar is hard work and long hours. How do you wind down after a late shift?
Winding down after a shift almost always entails a beer. A lot of my friends are bartenders. I’ll usually go visit a friend at another bar when I get off work. My go-to spot is the Blind Tiger in the West Village – one of the best beer bars in the city with some of the nicest people I know.

Where else do you hang out in the neighborhood?
I most often find myself at Pony Bar, because they have a great beer selection and the staff are really friendly. I’ll sometimes go by Valhalla, or if I’m really lazy I’ll go next door to the Waylon. It’s a great country bar and the guys there are really nice.

Someone tells us you’re super fit – how on earth do you find time?
Super fit may be an overstatement, but I am a somewhat serious runner. I do marathons and ultra-marathons. Opening the bar has definitely cut into my running time and it’s been hard to find time to run as much as I used to. I’m training for a 50K in October. I’m also pacing a friend for about 40 miles of a 100-mile race in the fall, so I’m trying to be prepared for that at the moment. We’re going to try to start a running group at As Is in the fall.

You also do magic! What’s your go-to party trick when things get quiet behind the bar?
Ha! As far as magic goes, it’s true, I am interested in sleight of hand. I don’t really perform magic these days but I do love it and have studied it for years. On Tuesday nights, my friend Ricky, one of New York’s best sleight-of-hand magicians, hangs out at the bar and does tricks for people who want to see something truly amazing. It’s a good day to come by for a beer.

AS IS is at 734 10th Avenue – W50th/51st Street.

This story originally appeared in the Style Issue of W42ST magazine in September 2016.

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