Brooklyn bars suffer from a rare condition: the newer they are, the older they look. For awhile, the era of choice was Prohibition. It was a good time. We all drank sidecars and grew mustaches and said things like "23 skidoo"with impunity. Alas, the faux-1920s couldn't last forever.
Like a slurring, bleary-eyed Scott Bakula, I quantum leapt one night from the era of gangsters and the Charleston to the time of sexy stewardesses and Tropicalia. The Bearded Lady, run by vets of Bar Great Harry and the Gowanus Yacht Club, looks like a place where Don Draper might drink if he were down on his luck in Palm Springs. The turquoise floor, the eye-popping yellow chairs, the colorful formica tables—it's as easy to imagine getting there via Pan Am as it is the A train.
Luckily, the kitsch is limited to the décor. Nobody said "Groovy"to me or forced me to listen to Os Mutantes on a loop. The vibe, strangely enough, is one of a casual neighborhood watering hole. On one pleasant afternoon, a couple next to me sat hunched over a MacBook, while a group of what looked to be recent art school grads walked in wearing tattered sneakers and thick glasses. A.C. Newman droned in the background, sounding as if someone had accidentally sealed a boombox behind one of the walls. The only sign that we weren't totally in gentrified country was a disheveled father and his son, who rushed in, looked at everybody as if we were aliens, and proceeded to use the bathroom before leaving.
If you can, grab a seat near one of the expansive windows, which look out onto Washington Avenue, an area slowly becoming a drinking destination thanks to nearby bars Washington Commons and Way Station. Choose one of the eight beers on the tap (solid choices from breweries such as Lagunitas and Sixpoint) and let the afternoon pass in a blur. As night comes, you might want to move on to the cocktails, inventive concoctions with antiquated names like the Mr. Howell (single-malt scotch, aged rum, lime juice and maple syrup), all priced reasonably at $9. There are sandwiches too, including a tasty number filled with prosciutto cotto, chèvre from Westfield Farms and pickled green tomatoes.
The problem is, this bar doesn't know what it wants to be. It has the soul of a neighborhood pub with the skin of a swinging 60s lounge, a discrepancy that makes drinking here slightly awkward. Either amp up the energy or tone down the décor; competition in the neighborhood is only growing.
Photo Daniel Krieger