When Tara Wholley, the owner of the recently-opened Hilltop Park Alehouse on 159th Street and Broadway, was looking to name her new pub, she couldn't believe Hilltop Park hadn't been taken.
The famous uptown ballpark, once located just six blocks north from where she was planning to open her tavern, had served as the home of the New York Yankees from 1903 to 1912, when they were still known as the Highlanders. (It was demolished in 1914 and is today the site of the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.)
"How has no one capitalized on this concept?" she remembers asking herself. It was then that she decided: "That's the name, no matter the style." Wholley promptly started researching everything she could about the baseball park, digging deep to find old photographs of the team, the players and the park.
The pub, created by BHDM Design to feel like a New York tavern "that has been there for 100 years," says Wholley, is now a cozy, subtle temple to Hilltop Park. Its main colors–dark blue with touches of maroon–match the Highlanders' old uniforms, and those painstakingly-researched pictures hang throughout the space.
What is frequently called baseball's "most famous photo"–an image of the Detroit Tigers' Ty Cobb sliding into third base in a game against the Highlanders–hangs in pride of place behind the bar; the snap was taken at Hilltop Park in 1910.
Of course, baseball history isn't the sole attraction here. On a stretch of upper Broadway lined with takeout joints, Hilltop stands out for its step-above pub food and drinks served in a roomy space filled with booths, tables and a welcoming bar.
Wholley, who also owns Hogshead Tavern in Hamilton Heights–a spot for "beer geeks" to sample rotational ales–wanted Hilltop to offer craft beer that was "traditional, accessible and high quality." Think Lagunitas IPA and Allagash White. The food, too, is meant to be "comfortable and elevated," she says. Everything's made in-house, and even the wings are dry-brined overnight.
And then there are the burgers. Made in the smash-burger style with Pat LaFrieda beef, each one comes with two 4-ounce patties. The menu features seven–a happy abundance of choice in an area where craft burgers are few and far between.
Some have already become customer favorites, including the Hilltop, piled high with bacon, blue cheese sauce, caramelized onions and whiskey glaze, and the Frenchie, loaded with Brie, sweet onion confit, arugula and roasted garlic aioli.
And if baseball history or thoughtfully-prepared pub food isn't enough of a draw, a tribute wall honors the neighborhood's biggest stars. There's Freddie Prinze, Maria Callas and, of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda–so famous, he appears in the gallery twice.