The Brooklyn Voodoo Lounge
273 13th Street, Park Slope
The Brooklyn Voodoo Lounge is a sight to behold in Park Slope, where the accepted aesthetic standards hover somewhere between tony and twee; everything is just so. And because I love disruptions to the acceptable order of things—the sore thumbs, if you will—I was happy to walk into this newish bar just off 5th Avenue, with its awkward purple glow, plywood floors, and oddly miniature tables un-artfully carved out of church pews. And while I won’t pretend to know much about New Orleans (I’ve only been there once and was full-throttle drunk the entire time), the Voodoo Lounge definitely has that Big Easy feel.
On the dismal, dreary night I visited, a tank-topped and tattooed young woman with bleached blonde hair stood behind the bar, which rather strangely looks like some sort of cage for trapping bartenders. The “cage” is decorated in the kind of memorabilia easily bought at the French Market: a Bourbon Street sign, The Nightmare Before Christmas figurines, and felt voodoo dolls that look more like gingerbread men than diabolical amulets. Dozens of tiki skull mugs hang from the rafters, and these serve a fine purpose: During happy hour they are filled to the brim with any tap beer for just $3, or a cocktail from the menu for just $6.
That night the bubbly bartender’s attention was split between chatting with her customers (one decked out in the type of mall goth attire I haven’t seen the likes of since I went to Warped Tour as a tween) and watching Beetlejuice on the TV high up in the corner opposite a glowing, purple Abita sign. She and I agreed that Alec Baldwin is strikingly handsome as Adam in the film.
The centerpiece of the room is a softly crackling (fake) fireplace that is awkwardly small-to-scale. It’s flanked by two snug, high-backed purple upholstered chairs. Heavy purple curtains are drawn just enough so dog-walking norms can peer through the window and ogle the freaks, which I saw happen not once but twice while I sat at the bar. Even though the Voodoo Lounge is a more goofy than freaky spot to hang out (you probably won’t find a suit sipping a craft beer here after work), there’s something very rebellious about this place, and the fact that it sits inside such a wealthy neighborhood is supremely satisfying.
The drinks are predictable enough. For beers, there are two requisite Abita brews on tap: Purple Haze (of course, but yuck), and Amber (OK, delicious); there’s a Sazerac, naturally; and sweet tiki drinks, like a Mai Tai and Singapore Sling. I sipped on pints of beer against a backdrop of Screaming Jay Hawkins, Wanda Jackson, and other vaguely spooky blues, country, and rock. My Sazerac was a little too syrupy, or is maybe just an overrated drink to begin with. I toyed with the idea of ordering a Gingerbread Old Fashioned just because it sounded like the most nihilistic thing anyone could ever drink, but decided against it and therefore cannot speak about it beyond my assumption that it tastes like a Frappuccino.
I couldn’t help thinking the entire time I sat there: How does this place exist? My companion agreed that it’s a “really weird space,” but is still really likable if a little bit in a be-nice-to-your-dorky-sister-who’s-into-witchcraft kind of way. Or maybe I’m wrong, maybe the place is 100 percent self-aware and is taking the idea of a theme bar and turning it on its head. Brooklyn is permeated by heavy-handed theme bars, but they all give off the smell of investors and lots of money. Take for instance, Rocka Rolla in Williamsburg—a fine bar, to be sure, but one that made me blush as a Midwesterner because of the overwrought look of the place. It’s meant to be a middle-American dive bar, but it comes off as more of a cynical cackle than a tipping of the hat to its muse. No respect.
But Brooklyn Voodoo Lounge is like the New Sincerity of bars. It’s honest about its intentions and eschews the irony of countless other Brooklyn theme bars. The owners aren’t trying to bring Brooklyn to New Orleans by making an otherwise Brooklyn space into a New Orleans-ish bar; rather they’re delivering the vaguely trashy, devil-may-care, outsider vibes found everywhere in New Orleans and depositing them on Brooklyn’s doorstep.