AN ACCIDENT OR JUST IN THE DNA
Benjamin Pratt, the 33-year-old who co-founded As Is with a partner, Brandon Duff, is an ultra runner (his favorite race distance is 50 miles), but he didn’t intend for As Is to become such a big part of New York’s running scene when it first opened in 2016. Back then, As Is was mostly a high-end beer bar that typically brought in beer nerds, out-of-towners, theater crowds, and a few neighborhood regulars.
“The first two years the bar was open, I was completely out of running, because I just didn’t have the time,” Pratt says. “It was constantly, just, late nights and having to be here every day.”
When the stress of starting a new business began to subside, Pratt began to run again, joining a Tuesday group at Paragon Sports near Union Square. One evening in 2018, his coach at Paragon suggested that Pratt consider hosting runs out of As Is. So he did just that, first drawing a group of about 10 runners, including some bar regulars who also happened to run. The seeds for As Is Run Club were sewn and a community began to take root.
As Is also started organizing small races in collaboration with local breweries in the city, for example, a Friday evening race from As Is to Threes Brewing or Other Half in Brooklyn, with beer specials and an afterparty awaiting finishers.
“It’s been a good way to expose runners to different breweries around, and just kind of mesh the beer and running worlds together,” Pratt says.
One of these participants was Daniel Lamonaca, the owner and operator of Beer Karma, a beer bar and bottle shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Lamonaca is also an ultra runner and running with As Is inspired him to host his own weekly runs at his shop.
“As Is is definitely one of the best beer bars in New York City,” Lamonaca says. “And it’s great to see the running community tied in with the craft beer scene—it’s a lot of fun.”
When Deb Kim moved to New York last spring, she connected with Darcy Budworth, the co-founder of Take the Bridge, which puts on unsanctioned, no-rules races in cities worldwide, who suggested that the two of them meet up at As Is during one of the bar’s weekly Monday runs.
“I went after work and it just happened to be, like, a very relaxed group who went on casual runs together,” Kim says. “I kept going on my own after that.”
Running with As Is eventually connected Kim with Colleen Mcgurk and other women who were running with The Distance Project, an all-female running collective whose members have qualified for the Olympic Trials.
“We just found that it was a natural fit for me to join the team,” Kim says. She’s been running with The Distance Project ever since. When team members ran the New York City Marathon, As Is was where the Distance Project and many other running crews went to celebrate.
“As Is was sort of the place where all that was born,” Kim says. “I’m definitely very grateful for it being a hub for how I’ve found a lot of connection in the running community in New York.”
RUNNING CULTURE HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
A patron who walked into As Is on any given day might not be aware of the bar’s close ties to New York’s running scene, but there’s subtle evidence everywhere for anyone who is perceptive enough.
The bar’s bathroom contains a vintage Michelob Ultra running advertisement, back when the company was trying to promote light beer as a good beverage for runners. On occasion, the beer menu will include something specific for runners like “Out and Back”—a lager with electrolytes that was a collaboration between As Is, Hudson Valley Brewery, and Forrest Running & Recreation, a running brand co-founded by David Kilgore and Brendan Clarke.
And then there are the large, framed black and white portraits of runners taken by the photographer Ashley Gilbertson, which Pratt hung up in 2020 in preparation for hosting an OSR30 race put on by Orchard Street Runners, in which participants run a roughly 30-mile course with checkpoints around the perimeter of Manhattan.
It was March—yes, that March—when the early days of the pandemic swirled with misinformation and dread. As Covid cases increased dramatically, the OSR30 race was called off. A week later, the city was put on lockdown.
As Is, like countless other restaurants and bars in the city, found its operations hampered and was forced to pivot to other ways to maintain its business. But unlike many other places, what it still had was its community.
“The running community really helped carry us through that time,” Pratt says. “Beyond the run club, we would all just hang out outside, in the shed, in the freezing cold and drink beer. Runners would come through on different days and buy cans or bottles to support us.”
On March 26, As Is hosted the OSR30 race for a second time, drawing in a horde of runners and supporters from all around the city.
“When Ben opened As Is, it was a no-brainer that we were going to start using it to host our events,” said Joe DiNoto, the founder of Orchard Street Runners. “There’s a real magic behind this community.”
It was cold and windy, but there was a crowd of people standing and sitting around outside the bar, sipping beer, ready to shower cheers and applause on the finishing runners.
Travis Hawkins finished first, running the course in a time of 3:05:01—the fourth year in a row he has been crowned the men’s champion. The women’s winner was Faye Stenning, finishing in 3:33:10.
A week prior, Stenning, a professional obstacle course racing athlete, had no idea she was going to be racing OSR30. Pratt was the one who convinced her to do it after the Monday group run and told her he’d help pace her.
“Ben and I were having a few drinks this last Monday,” Stenning said. “So five days ago, Ben was like, ‘you should do this.’ I guess I was easily convinced,” she added with a laugh.
“As Is is awesome,” Hawkins said, after he had taken some time to recover. “Ben’s great, he’s so great for this community. I used to live two blocks from here. I would come here all the time if I didn’t have two young kids and didn’t live out in Brooklyn.”
The cheers continued as runners filed in to finish, exhausted, exhilarated, ready for a cold beer, or at the very least, a warm place to sit inside and recover, among a crowd of people all there to celebrate them and the feat they had just accomplished.