The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Sober: Long Island Bar

02/12/2014 4:00 AM |

Long Island Bar
110 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn Heights

Sixty years ago, the western stretch of Atlantic
Avenue was populated with bars and restaurants frequented by longshoreman from nearby dockyards. Until recently, one of the few surviving relics of that era was the Long Island Bar and Restaurant, which operated from 1949 to 2007 under the ownership of Emma Sullivan. For the last six years, the red-and-green neon sign on the corner of Atlantic and Henry remained dark, while the perfectly preserved interior features—red-and-white leather booths, terrazzo floors, original Art Deco bar—gathered dust. All that changed last year, when stewardship of the coveted corner spot passed to Toby Cecchini (formerly of Passerby) and Joel Tompkins, who turned on the neon sign and reopened the space as Long Island Bar.

On a recent evening, the air outside was clear and cold and the sidewalks were lined with mountains of snow—at least what passes for mountains in this city. And maybe it was the cold weather or maybe it was the clarity of the night or maybe it was that I hadn’t really eaten all that much that day, but I was already lightheaded when I stepped into the bar’s warm yellow glow and slid into a booth. I was unsure if the Bombe 75 (Apple Brandy, Calvados, Lemon, Prosecco) would help or if I would just wind up bouncing against the Formica walls on my way to the ceiling. It can be hard sometimes not to be tied down.

The drink helped. It was both warm and bright, the sweet richness of the brandy balancing the bubbly Prosecco. It was also an ideal lead-in to the Rip City Fizz (Aquavit, Cynar, Honey, Lemon, Hard Cider), which tasted, my friend said, “like salad in a glass.” A lot of the cocktails taste like other things (the Boulevardier is not dissimilar to cough medicine, though in the best possible way, and the Carronade is a dead-ringer for French Toast), but I like that. I liked everything, actually: John Prine singing at just the right volume in the background; decades-old lamps with pull chains affixed to the wall at each booth; and the waitress, who was always there when we needed her, whether for water or something stronger. I liked that I walked in cold and lightheaded and left feeling grounded—from the warmth of the drinks, yes, but also the warmth of the bar itself. The Long Island Bar of today might not be representative of the area’s longshoreman past, but if it’s an indication of the neighborhood’s future, then it feels—against all odds—like everything’s going to be all right.