The succulents really say it all: growing improbably from vertical containers and wooden crates against the bar’s facade, these non-native plants thrive, beckoning passers-by to take a peek inside. It’s not a plant shop, but a decidedly rustic bar-café called Alice’s Arbor, planted like a spaceship on a residential block just off busy Fulton Street on the border of Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy. This is far from the first sighting of gentrification in the area, but a compelling one nonetheless. And with its arsenal of reasonably priced cocktails with craft spirits and Southern-Creole inspired menu, it has the potential to charm just about anyone.
Aside from the succulents smothering the door, Alice’s Arbor is one of many restaurants in Brooklyn that just wants to be Marlow & Sons. There’s a mini market to one side of the entrance, selling charcuterie, local pickles, and organic products ranging from Cayuga Organics whole grains to Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap. There’s a cacophony of old light fixtures, including vintage green aluminum ones over the bar, and a cluster of glass globes strung with lights over the market. There’s reclaimed wood paneling, and patches of actual wooden twigs winding around one another in corners of the space (including the bathrooms).
There are oysters, of course, which are provocatively priced at $1 apiece during happy hour, and bar snacks that include (excellent, Cajun-spiced) fries and (disappointingly bland) house-made pickles. But if it’s a bar that you seek, then cozy up to a stool across from the stained glass kitchen walls, or a tall table with stools in the separate barroom from the spacious dining area.
Bar cocktails prove refreshing and relatively inexpensive, at $9 each. Moreover, they’re tended by a friendly French bartender and, for table service, by equally thoughtful and pretty waitresses. (The question, “Are you Alice?” was quickly answered by a waitress, who simply pointed to a red animal skull on the wall’s mantle: “No, Alice is the bull.”) Although I couldn’t taste the lavender-infused simple syrup in one of the night’s special, off-the-menu cocktails, the “Alice” cocktail was beautifully balanced between tart and bitter, with Buffalo Trace Bourbon and blackberries. A house margarita is made with El Jimador Bianca, house Curacao, and orange bitters, and the obligatory fizzy cocktail, the Brooklyn Fizz, accompanies Prosecco with Old Tom gin, cinnamon syrup, lime juice and grapefruit bitters. The beer bottle selection is extensive and varied, mostly consisting of American craft selections such as Captain Lawrence with a European straggler, Weihenstephaner. There are only three draft lines, but again, well-selected, with a refreshing Kölsch for the summer along with Sixpoint Crisp and Empire IPA.
The wine list was more expansive; our waitress was savvy in recommending the peach-colored rose and a Spanish white under $10 a glass (bottles of each were $30). Rather than getting drunk, my date and I devoured the fried soft-shell crab as a snack; it was served on a pool of salsa verde with its normally black and bulging eyeballs removed by the kitchen beforehand. But it was otherwise intact, and looked ready to pounce upon the table. The menu boasted a hint of Southern pride, with its crab cakes and Creole-inflected sauces. But on this rainy Friday night, few patrons were found to take the bait. They should: a roast chicken entree, large enough to share, was lip-smacking, featuring local free-range chicken leg quarters, charred green beans and buttery mash with plenty of jus. There’s no burger on the menu, perhaps a missed opportunity. But that would be very ordinary, which this place is not.