Red Hook in a Blue State 

Brooklyn Ice House
318 Van Brunt, Brooklyn   Rating:  4L's

McCain advisor Rick Davis recently got everyone all hot and bothered by saying “this election is not about issues,” as if the selection and red (moose) meat rhetoric of Sarah Palin hadn’t made it plain that this election is about whether or not the Republican party can again convince the American people that We Are You and They Are Not. But if the G.O.P. is the party you’d rather have a beer with, well, I’d like to see what the disparagers of “East Coast elites” would make of Brooklyn Ice House, one of the newest bars to open in the neighborhood known for a Swedish interior design superstore and an MTV reality show.

Our own mid-sized Mid-Atlantic state (and reminder that NYC is more demographically diverse than either out-of-state Reds or downtown-centric Blues realize), Red Hook is still inconvenient via subway and dependent upon blue-collar industries and their employees; buildings are walk-upable; streets have names. When you enter the Ice House — perhaps because Bait & Tackle, next door, is too full — you see on your right the unfinished wood paneling above the long red vinyl booth facing small tables, and on the left, the bar, featuring a tap of staples and a list of liquors and beers (arranged, in cosmopolitan fashion, by country of origin). Beyond the bar is a small kitchen, separated from the rest of the space only by the racks over the serving area — like a brick-oven pizzeria, only instead of a brick oven it’s a frialator. Happy hour, which runs until eight, begins when the bar opens at noon, which I suspect is less an enticement than a reward for being the kind of person who drinks in a neighborhood bar during the early afternoon when last night’s Mets game is being rebroadcast. You know, on your “lunch break.”

Mitt Romney and anemic big buck hunters in prefaded t-shirts are alike in at least one way: they both wear their red state credentials about as authentically as a shopping mall Applebee’s wears the faux-neighborhood signage adorning its walls. The flea market-scavenged beer advertisements on the walls of the Ice House feel far less affected — so too does its jukebox, giving equal time to Weezer and George Thorogood; its picnic table-strewn back garden, which will open as soon as they finish weeding; its chalkboard-walled bathroom (in red: “Jesus Saves”; in blue: “& Avery Scores on the Rebound”). Cred wars aren’t just for East Village dives and L.E.S. lounges anymore; Brooklyn Ice House appeals to the average NYC transplant’s hometown nostalgia as cannily as The Gutter does, but less ostentatiously, and with a more locally drawn clientele. It’s a uniter, not a divider.


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