329 Henry St, Brooklyn
Rating: 4 out of 5 L's
Is that someone crank-starting a Model T? No wait, it's the sound of another old-fashioned bar opening up.
But fine, the folks behind Henry Public pushed old-time revivalism back when most bars flaunted Cosmos—they opened Brooklyn Social over six years ago—so they're allowed all the antique lighting fixtures they can screw to the wall. And phew, no mention of Prohibition and/or speakeasies. Cobble Hill's newest addition is "more of an early Brooklyn tavern," insists co-owner Jen Albano, "the kind of place where workmen might have hung out, and Brooklyn thinkers like Walt Whitman."
As Albano points out with a grin, Whitman would've been stuck with Henry Public's $5 egg cream—he was a teetotaler—but you know, poetic license. Besides, the overhauled space, formerly a decaying TV repair shop, is gorgeous. With the help of crafty co-owner Tracy Meyer, the dimly lit bar—Edison bulbs!—and rear dining room were cobbled together from salvaged parts and flea-market finds. Plant yourself at iron-legged marble tables, little wooden booths or a bustling walnut bar stocked with old-timey tinctures like Regan's Bitters, absinthe and lots of whiskey.
Henry Public's cocktails are snake oil perfection. Strong, herbal and pleasantly medicinal, the Brooklyn Ferry combines rye, vermouth, maraschino liqueur and absinthe. Housemade fennel dram, Champagne and Benedictine form the spicy Patience Cocktail, while the fruity Ward Six is blended from applejack, lemon and orange juice, and pomegranate molasses: our party feared a melted bag of Jolly Ranchers, but it arrived perfectly tart. Henry Public also pours five mostly local draft beers for $6 and a few wines deemed "Quality products from NY."
Eats are limited but enticing. Artisanal small bites serve as Brooklyn foodie beer nuts—I'm looking at you, juniper pickles and fancy almonds. Fresh oysters and awesomely rich bone marrow (On a bar menu? Where do we live?) please bolder bargoers. And then there's the burger: or, as it's called in Henry Public parlance, a "hamburger sandwich." The small patties are formed from grass-fed, freshly ground beef (hence the $13 price tag). They're smartly salted, intensely beefy and certainly HP's standout dish.
To finish, a lone dessert begs the question: "What are Wilkinsons?" Turns out they're a type of Danish pastry called ebelskivers but re-named for an owner's friend. The Munchkin-sized orbs are half pancake, half doughnut, and all delicious when dunked in sweet rum-caramel sauce.
It's antiquey, it's cozy, and Henry Public is easily one of Brooklyn's finest cocktail bars. I think I'll re-read Leaves of Grass and ponder temperance over a whiskey drink.