451 Court Street, South Brooklyn
The green awning facing Court Street still reads P.J. Hanley’s—smearily, like it won’t wash off—but this space, which has been a bar under various names for about 140 years, has changed names again, if not hands: James McGown bought the half-century-old Hanley’s in 2005, declared bankruptcy this March, and has now reopened with a new name (pissing off his vendors, who have left angry comments on blogs across the web). I thought Hanley’s flaunted its “oldest bar in Brooklyn!” claim a bit too forcefully until it almost became shtick. I like Goldenrod better. Not that it doesn’t have its own gimmicks, like the cool jazz and hot swing playing on a Sunday afternoon, or the sawdust scattered across the barroom floor (which a bartender said was temporary, to “texture” the floor before they painted it, though even he wasn’t sure what that meant). But they feel less self-conscious.
The new space feels stripped to its essence, as if old means spartan; there are nice details, but they’re uncluttering and matter-of-fact, particularly in contrast to the busy decor seen in the old-timey photo of the bar on the back of the beer menu: the tin ceiling (and, sometimes, tin walls); the copper bar for your feet and the marble bar for your elbows; the Edison bulbs above the bar and the small stained-glass lamps above the liquor shelves; the large 4th Place-abutting garden with its own little brick bar and copious Italian houseplants. Then, of course, there are the drinks.
Goldenrod has a full stock of liquor, but I never saw a cocktail list. This is a beer bar, featuring a carefully curated selection of dozens of American beers on draft and in bottles, including the $7 Goldenrod Pilsner—made special for them by the Brooklyn Brewery—whose deep flavors come on crisply. (If you like pilsner, this is a great pilsner!) The bar takes its name from the flagship beer of the Otto Huber Brewing Company, which used 451 Court Street as a retail outlet in the 1890s. A bar back then would have featured “a bunch of domestic beers,” McGown told the Village Voice, so the beer menu, as a nod to the 19th century that’s simultaneously au courant, offers several New York State options. The dream of the 1890s is alive in Brooklyn.
You’d have a harder time arguing for the fin-de-siècle authenticity of the food menu, built around accommodating the gluten free without alienating gluten gluttons. Vegetarian options are plentiful: a classically German soft pretzel with a crispy outside and a soft, almost melty inside is complemented by a spicy housemade mustard; an earthy falafel burger gets a kick from brow-dampening harissa; and the tempura green beans are super greasy, which I mean as praise. Goldenrod is old, Goldenrod is new; what Goldenrod isn’t is P.J. Hanley’s.
UPDATE: Goldenrod may not be around for long.