Botanica 220 Conover St, Red HookRating: 3L's
The first time I visited Botanica there was a group of patrons sitting outside, enjoying the summer weather. Then I realized they were actually using the sidewalk seating to wait for the B77 bus. After all, this is Red Hook, where people take the Ikea shuttle to the methadone clinic, and where, despite the success of a few higher-end eateries like the Good Fork and Baked, dive bars have ruled the social scene. But now, with a gaggle of fancier post-Ikea spots threatening the dilapidated charm we’ve come to expect from the neighborhood, the question is: Is Red Hook ready for a premium cocktail, wine and beer bar offering a stout that costs more than most Swedish storage solutions?
Botanica — no relation to Manhattan’s bar of the same name — is the brainchild of the Red Hook engineer who founded Atair Aerospace, the parachute factory next door that also dabbles in GPS and jet packs. The bar space was previously a storage room for the company and, while still a work in progress, is coming together nicely: worn wooden floors and tables contrast the sleeker full-length windows and Venetian lighting.
The cocktails — ranging from $10-$12 — involve plenty of fresh fruit and old-timey inspiration: go for the Blueberry Gimlet (other fruits can be subbed) or Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon (champagne and absinthe). They also offer a brief but worldly lineup of wine, and a beer selection picked, it seems, by throwing darts at a distributor’s list — hence the odd pairing of costly Italian beers (like the $34 Grado Plato Chocarrubica) with Beck’s, Guinness and (ugh) Sam Adams Cherry Wheat.
According to manager Marshall Hansen, Botanica won’t be just a bar for long. They’ve already hosted a handful of music and art shows but plan on building a dance floor and DJ booth in the basement, screening movies in the lot across the street, hosting alternative transportation workshops and installing a found sound installation — and they’re looking for a chef.
Hansen admits he’s worried about the challenge of drawing people to Red Hook, and Botanica’s barren, cobblestoned stretch of Conover Street does seem too dingy to draw the frou-frou drinking crowd (and a seemingly premature opening didn’t help). But the owners are well-intentioned, and if they can funnel their schizophrenic to-do list into one coherent realization, it could be enough to lure Red Hookers, more distant Brooklynites and the occasional lost Ikea shopper desperately in need of a drink before attempting to assemble a Grevbäck.