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Apr 18, 2014

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Burp Castle

By Gregg Smith

Recently the music industry set a new milestone, reaching back over centuries to "re- release" Gregorian chants and yield a top ten album. (number 1 in New York) Even more strange than the renewed popularity of Gregorian chants is how the trend may have started in a Belgian specialty beer bar. A bar with a name which embodies New York's strange ability to combine the crude with the sophisticated - BURP Castle.

Orders of Monks are known as the world's first true students of brewing and their discoveries are still used in making virtually every beer consumed today. The Lord's work continues in present day on Seventh street in New York City. Opened in August 1992 BURP Castle was built as a place of beer worship and what a place it is. Though the exterior lacks elegance it's interior splendidly recreates the feel of an abbey. One of the best jokes is the wall murals which mimic a sistine chapel effect, but in this case the illustration of good and bad is the monks inescapable relationship with beer.

Peter the Great of Russia was famous for his beer drinking club which imitated the church, and surely the old Czar would be at home in BURP. Upon entering you are ushered to your 'pew' by one of the order's members who, in hushed tones befitting the surroundings, introduces his first name prefaced by the reverent title brother. Clad in brown robe and hood the clerics immediately begin to instruct you in the ways of their worship. It is then you notice the music. Quite catchy, no wonder Gregorian chants have made a come- back.

As you settle into the surroundings the best of all awaits as you pick up your hymnal, a list of the 9 taps and 80 bottles to help celebrate the pious service. Though selections are generally fixed there is a certain amount of rotation as the holy order celebrates the changing of the calendar and the different season's special beers. And though there are some British beers like Traquair House, and German brews such as Paulaner Hefe- Weizen, the main emphasis is on Belgian beers which may number as high as 60 of the selections. The bar has one of the largest selections of Lambic beers to be found.

For some newcomers the menu can be intimidating especially for those brother Alex refers to as "The Bridge and Tunnel Crowd who come in looking for [name band] light. We explain this is something a bit different. Some leave but others we win over to a higher form of worship. We start with something like Pilsner Urquell and within a few visits they are fully converted. Its so pleasing to see to the Lord's work."

When asked about the "abbey's" name, brothers Alex and Peter both agree it's not a problem, even though it is odd to hear locals on the street declare they're 'going to BURP'.

"We get about a hundred comments a week on the name, but it's a name you don't forget; most church members think it's a good name. True, it's not very reverent, but the Lord is a forgiving God."

Praised be the creator. Unfortunately the clergy is deficient in one respect. In regards to sisters of the cloth there are none, but its an addition the monks would welcome. They are quick to explain their order requires neither separation of the genders nor vows of celibacy.

But all this is only part of the service. The brothers try to capture the complete feel of their brethren back in Europe. They even entertain requests for specific music. The most popular are requests for the Ride of the Valkyries, Bolero and the darkly ominous Carmina Burana. Even if you don't know the name of the piece the order will try to accommodate. They've played movements worshipers hum and even identified music from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Don't scoff, the "toon" in cartoons is a reference to the classical music background used in early animated features. The music has been a part of the bar since it opened, preceding by a year and a half the renewed popularity of Gregorian chants. Could BURP have been the catalyst for the resurgence?

There aren't many baptisms at BURP, the flock just doesn't spill very often, but several sacraments can be performed and confessionals are located in the back for those who must go. One aspect of the services at BURP may be a bit distracting to devoted beer evaluators - burning incense. But if it interferes with your enjoyment of the beer just ask them to offer up a different cleansing. As brother Alex points out each worshiper needs to find their own way to the good word and the order's job is to ease the burden of the spiritual journey. In short, if the smell is too much, speak up.

BURP plans for the future include a continuation of the quality the congregation has come to expect. Another priority is to address the growing numbers of the flock by expanding down into the catacombs. Indeed the number of church go'ers has grown so large the best night to assure quick entry is Monday. Brother Alex explains the basement expansion will retain a dungeon motif from the days wheninfidels needed stronger persuasion to convert, but he adds the devices will be largely ceremonial. The brothers also wish everyone to know that the worship is non-denominational and all the Lord's flock is welcome and encouraged to partake of their unique communion practice.

BURP Castle is located at 7th street Manhattan, New York City between 2nd and 3rd avenues. It is situated between other notable 7th street bars of McSorley's and Brewsky's.

Gregg Smith

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