383 Carroll Street, Gowanus
Lavender Lake, named after a wry term of endearment for the Gowanus Canal, is a big bold undertaking of a bar. Housed in an old horse stable just off the Carroll Street canal bridge, it’s a big place with a big indoor seating area, a big backyard patio, and a big, long, thick reclaimed-wood bar. It has a big menu, six pages strong, with a sheet each for cocktails, beer, wine, appetizers, main courses and desserts. There’s a big burger, about half a pound of beef on a bun with lettuce, tomato, onion and aioli. A big glass door looks onto the big parking lot across the street. A great big number of bottles are piled behind the bar, ready to besot just about any drinking type who’s lost his way to or from Park Slope or Carroll Gardens. Everything from Stoli to Captain Morgan you can get here. And that’s a big problem, among others.
Well-curated might instead mean “well”-curated for this cocktail menu. There’s no mention of craft spirits on its list. Nearly every drink is then weakened with soda water: a Tom Collins-type with St. Germain, basil and orange twist (“St. Basil”), a “Pimms Fizz” with cucumber, and a Prosecco with Aperol (“Aperol Spirits”). The house cocktail “L.L.I.T.” infuses lavender in vodka, which is shaken with iced Earl Grey, lemon and simple syrup—a refreshing blend. The “Lucy Ricardo” has a good hint of heat from jalapeño-infused (Sauza) tequila, but it’s seriously lacking the strength you’d expect from a $10 cocktail.
While the staff is helpful and chatty, there may be some big egos here, too; no more than 10 minutes after sitting down, I was slipped a very interesting note from one of them with his phone number. Awkward date proposals aside (and a fairly dark walk from the subway), I resolved to hold a second drink in favor of food. Sadly, Lavender Lake’s food menu is as all over the place as its drinks: assorted pickles come with enoki mushrooms, and a salad of “field greens” has avocados and pistachios; there’s sweet-potato gnocchi with apple butter agrodolce, radishes and apples with butter, fried (out-of-season) Brussels sprouts, potato leek soup served hot or cold, lemon-brined chicken breast, and other things that might make you hesitate rather than salivate. A Caesar salad with grilled romaine hearts is a nice idea, but it’s topped with waxy, processed-tasting parmesan shards that are far from top-shelf. The cherry tomatoes in it were strange specimens, too—bouncy as rubber balls and shriveled-looking. It’s the kind of thing that makes you not want to order anything with meat.
Here’s what Lavender Lake lacks: there’s not enough top-shelf; the ceiling is too low. The wine list doesn’t detail vintages and is succinct. The beer selection is simply ok; this isn’t a destination for rare brews. There may be some big shoes to fill at this erstwhile horse stable/erstwhile sports bar. But they should be kept well-crafted above all.
Photo Jessica Nash