Pearl’s Social & Billy Club
40 St. Nicholas Ave, Bushwick
Rating: 4 out of 5 L’s
There’s a bit of drama going on outside. A pale, ghostly young man is looking into the eyes of a young woman dressed in black, slipping his hands into hers, trying desperately to convince her of something, perhaps to come back to his place to listen to Bauhaus records. I’m witnessing this at the window seat of Pearl’s Social & Billy Club, a new bar in Bushwick with an antiquated name that I’m unsuccessfully trying to type into my smartphone.
In fact, tiny dramas are happening all around me. This is a good place for them. It is blanketed in nostalgia: yellowed wedding portraits, an old Coney Island baseball pennant, a faded globe in the corner. Most of the items are from owner Betsy Maher’s apartment, placed frantically throughout the space on opening night.
Over on one of the tiny flower-topped tables, a college-aged kid is doing a crossword puzzle over a creased New Yorker, periodically looking up to—I’m guessing—check out the girls crowded around the bar. They’re sporting high-waisted shorts and Jean Seberg haircuts and they are beautiful. Next to them, bearded men in arty t-shirts crack wise over pints, always full because they never let them go empty. Nobody is using the antique photobooth.
I’ve got the best seat in the house. The massive windows let in a cool breeze from the residential street, where dog-walkers and couples stroll past houses clad in vinyl siding. Inside, the stereo blazes: New Order gives way to Snoop Dogg which gives way to Neil Young. The décor is similarly eclectic. None of the folding chairs match; tiny makeshift shelves line the aging brick walls, packed with old books and vintage cameras.
The bartender screws up my bill but gladly fixes the mistake, apologizing profusely as he runs my credit card for a second time. This is a neighborhood spot with neighborhood drinks, six craft beers on tap from the likes of Sixpoint and Captain Lawrence plus an ever-changing menu of cocktails improvised by curious bartenders.
As for the bar’s cumbersome name, it actually has a history. Pearl was Betsy Maher’s great-grandmother. She lived in Nebraska during the Depression, where she would give hobos a place to stay in exchange for an honest day’s work, clutching a billy club in case any of them got out of line. Nearly a century later, Betsy found a billy club hidden in the walls of her soon-to-open business, which would eventually become the most inviting, hobo-free bar in all of Bushwick.
Photos Cody Swanson