Fort Defiance, 365 Van Brunt St, 347-453-6672
Yes, Fort Defiance, which is named for a Revolutionary War stronghold (and has a Colonial flag sprouting from its cobalt blue façade), is worth traversing the city’s thick and steamy summer air and journeying far past the reaches of the F train. And yes, it’s worth navigating the route from the B-71 to the B-61 into the depths of Red Hook — because a solid $8 cocktail, much like freedom from monarchy, is worth fighting for.
Cool as a Cucumber Collins, Fort Defiance is graciously air-conditioned and greets you like an old comrade, with its sky blue walls, black and white tiled floors, and a dark wood bar with wainscoting to match. Tables — mostly two-tops — are wrapped in an array of bright vintage patterns, with ornate antique feet supporting them from below.
It opens for breakfast at 7am and takes a siesta between its lunch hours and 5:30 in the evening. But by 6pm on a Thursday, all the bar stools are filled. A regular in khakis and Crocs is greeted warmly by the barkeep, while owner/former Pegu Club bartender/food-and-drink writer St. John Frizell rattles off the draught beers (which include a rotating Sixpoint selection and a Brooklyn Pennant Ale) to a pair of guys in cargo shorts and baseball caps, and then chit-chats in Spanish to a guy sporting a buzz-cut and paint-streaked jeans.
Speakers hover around brass chandeliers, and piano jazz is piped into the room, followed by the Beatles, Hendrix and Elvis Costello. On the wall, a framed poster reads “El Mundo No Escuchará” (The World Won’t Listen), advertising a Smiths-themed karaoke night in Bogotá. Couples settle into dark red leather parlor chairs and order $9 muffaletta sandwiches, $2 oysters, or $3 bar snacks like spiced cashews, mixed olives or deviled eggs.
But the real draw here is the drink list. You don’t have to be a cocktail nerd to appreciate the perfect pour of the $10 Prescription Julep — sweetened cognac and rye served in a cold pewter cup with pebbles of crushed ice and a fan of fresh mint. Summertime specialties include the just-sweet-enough watermelon and gin punch ($8), a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai ($8), and the aforementioned Cucumber Collins ($12).
In short, the vibe is relaxed, the décor is inviting, the food is tasty, and the drinks are Pegu-quality at much leaner prices. Oh, Fort Defiance, as the writing on your wall reads, it’s “tu oportunidad de brillar!” (That is, it’s “your time to shine.”)