708 Fifth Ave, South Slope
3 out of 5 L's
On a recent night at Mary’s Bar, a guy who looked like Little Richard’s younger brother hunched over the pool table in a midnight blue silk shirt and dragged hard on an electronic cigarette while George Michael sang about father figures. Recently transformed from the Smolen Bar & Grill, a Polish dive that occupied this South Slope space for over 35 years, Mary’s recalls an even earlier era when all types gathered to lift spirits together. Mr. Electro-smoke shot 9-ball with a couple of noisy grrrls straight from the Bikini Kill time machine, a prime example of the diverse crowd at Mary’s that night, which included the owner of Quarter Bar, just up Fifth Avenue, and off-duty cooks from Lot 2. The group holding down the table was discussing the non-culinary uses of Crisco, their confidence buoyed by cold pints from which there are many $7 options to choose, including three local taps: Sixpoint, Brooklyn Lager and Empire Amber Ale).
From the peaceful remove of the bar I ordered a Smuttynose Porter and was surprised by the quality of the pour—the beer was crisp, with notes of coffee, dates and plum, but more importantly it tasted as though it had flowed through pristine tap lines. Should you be in the mood for spirits, the shelves are stocked with staples high and low, and a heartwarming $6 hot toddy. Happy Hour happens every day with a $2 discount on beer and booze from 4-7pm. Renovating this old Polish haunt seems to have been as much about building anew as discovering hidden treasures, de rigueur for the Brooklyn bar today. From the Smolen remains came a 150-year-old tin ceiling once obscured by smoke-stained tiles, brick and plaster walls freed from drywall and Quick Draw boards. Everything old is new again, restored and appointed with vintage pendant lights, a welcome change from the ubiquitous Edison bulb.
The women that head the operation aren’t new kids on the block, looking to butt in on a good game—Stephanie Markowitz, former general manager at Employees Only, and stylist Sylvia Holden, know booze and boozy interiors. The neighborhood is changing, and Mary’s is the fresh-faced kid with an old soul.(Photos by Cody Swanson)