703 Fifth Ave, Greenwood Heights
3 out of 5 L's
The white-washed exterior of Sea Witch, trimmed in hardwood and harbor blue, evokes a tavern on the Cape where a fire is roaring and cups of warm whisky take away the chill as effectively as a steaming bowl of chowder. This Greenwood Heights newcomer offers the whisky, no worries, but the interior is far from ye olde shore.
Step up to the bar and into the eerie black-light glow thrown off by the salt water tank, and observe little fishies swimming around—sans tank stalwarts like craggy rocks and coral, or the classic plastic diver, gurgling up and down for pirate treasure. Mesmerizing, sure, but it feels more Midtown club than South Slope neighborhood joint. This weird deepwater den vibe is echoed in the wall-length mural that dominates the back half of the bar: a haggard woman with sagging teats and squid tentacles sits before a cauldron on the ocean floor, leering at a beautiful brunette (mermaid?) amid skulls, eels and other creatures. The allegory here is lost on me. Fortunately, a wooden bench runs the length of the mural, along with a handful of copper-topped tables, providing visual respite from the Sea Witch and her crew. A ship-style dining nook that seats four friends opposite the mural beckons; this is the interior I expected, one inspired by the namesake Sea Witch, one of the world’s fastest clipper ships, once responsible for ferrying luxury goods such as porcelain and tea from Hong Kong to New York. Landlubbers fear not, an outdoor seating area will open in the spring.
Aesthetic befuddlements be damned, there is nothing confused about the food here. The clam roll ($11), apparently now to Brooklyn what the lobster roll is to Manhattan, is buttery crisp and super satisfying, reminiscent of the briny rolls enjoyed for the past 50-plus years at Nancy’s out on Martha’s Vineyard. The limited menu also includes a killer griddle burger ($5.50), complete with caramelized American cheese bits and chopped onion, and crispy, skinny, house-made fries ($3). A rotating selection of 20 taps ensures something for everyone, with craft options like the Left Hand Milk Stout and Captain Lawrence Fresh Chester as well as pub standbys like Old Speckled Hen and Gaffelkolsch. Table service is nonexistent, but really, who needs it? Order from the bartender and the cook delivers your food, piping hot, in little red and white paper baskets.
While her design may be a confounding confluence of seafaring lore, copper patinas and cauldrons, this Sea Witch should inspire her patrons to fill their bellies with clams and ale and go out into the Greenwood night with every sail set.