229 Kent Avenue, Williamsburg
To feel sticker-shocked at a Williamsburg bar seems principled and sentimental if not self-defeating and Sisyphean. Still, when I find myself in the kind of place where, after a couple of rounds and a few shared snacks, I’ve dropped $60, I do tend to wonder for whom, exactly, this place is intended. And the owners of Kent Avenue’s newest bar may find themselves wondering the same thing; the night I visited last week, the place was empty. And not empty like “a quiet weeknight with just a few regulars”; empty in the sense that no one else came in while I was there for drinks and dinner. The only other time I’ve seen a place quite this desolate was a Valentine’s Day in Trash Bar. And a night at Grand Ferry is much nicer than that. Opened a little more than a month ago by the team behind The Richardson, the cocktails are exquisite and, per the bar’s name, veer fruity and nautical, like the light, sharp gin-and-Aperol-based Hey Sailor!. Even the Classics menu welcomely eschews the usuals, incorporating upgraded versions of beloved drinks whose heydays have long passed (think Singapore Slings and Mai Tais). There’s also an entire portion of the menu devoted to drinks based on the Old Weller Antique bourbon bottled exclusively for the bar (start with the Seelbach); a surprisingly extensive wine list; 15 domestic draft beers (including staples like Full Sail IPA and Allagash White); and a well-stocked bar that incorporates locally sourced options like Owney’s rum. Drinks are what they know here, and they do them incredibly well.
The same isn’t true of the food. Reliable bar fare, like sea-salted fries, a basic raw bar, or the wonderfully overindulgent blue cheese fondue (for which our waitress graciously offered a second round of bread), is executed well enough, even if it’s expensive (e.g., $12 for 5 grilled oysters). More ambitious undertakings tended to flop, though; both the shepherd’s pie and the risotto, which came with the night’s scallop special, tasted totally unseasoned. Still, it seems that no place with drinks this good should have a hard time finding an audience (especially once a planned backyard area opens), and maybe it’s not fair to judge a bar by a single low-key weeknight. But something felt off. The music was at the right level, warm lighting glowed over the wood and vintage wallpaper (no overwrought use of anchors here), and yet the bar was full of untouched glasses: the place had the air of a nervous host, all dressed up, nursing a melting drink and waiting for someone, anyone, to show up to the party.