Jacked Johnsons: The Johnsons

02/26/2014 4:00 AM |

The Johnsons
369 Troutman Street, Bushwick

When I first heard that Welcome to the Johnsons would open a bigger, cleaner branch of its Manhattan original off the Jefferson stop, my hopes weren’t high. A grown-up, more expensive Bushwick version of a beloved and bargain-basement Lower East Side dive felt like sacrilege, or at least a crass attempt to leverage all the cred of the old place to get into the ever-booming Bushwick bar scene. And anyway, everyone knows a true dive can’t just be created; it takes years to develop organically.

But the new outpost—simply called the Johnsons—turns out to be better than we expected. The look of the place hints at the original’s 70s TV-room vibe without beating you over the head with it: light wood paneling so pervasive that the entrance looks like a sauna; basket chairs hanging from the ceiling; shag rugs here and there. (For what it’s worth, the jukebox at this one actually works.) The bathrooms are mercifully well-kept, and, this being Bushwick, the bar benefits from about four times as much space as the Rivington location, which the owners here filled with a pool table and enough booths that I have yet to come here without being able to find a seat, even at the height of a Friday night rush.

Most importantly, the Johnsons has nailed its drinks menu, making sure you can still do some serious damage for $10 or less. They don’t do draft beer, but they carry 15 well-chosen bottles, ranging from $2 Lion’s Head to $10 Delirium Tremens, plus a few more interesting options like Green Flash West Coast IPA and Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro. The real selling point is the cocktail list, though, half of which go for $5 until 9pm—think pomegranate margaritas, Sazerac Slings, and something called the Desert Sun, a combination of vodka, Curaçao, and cassis that’s better than it has any right to be. The rest of the cocktails cost $10 and veer classic and strong, including solid takes on the martini, Tom Collins, Moscow Mule, and Foghorn alongside a few less expected and more tropical options like the Mezcal-based “Rock Me Oaxaca.”

Even the short snack menu is carefully put together though unfussy, featuring truffle-infused hard-boiled eggs ($3), Deep River kettle chips ($3), and a plate of cheese and flatbreads for $5. The owners seem to have intuited just what the neighborhood needed, which was an affordable, lighthearted change of pace from the stained-wood-and-whiskey spots that surround it. As such, the Johnsons has pulled off a neat trick, creating a well-executed homage that’ll please those loyal to the old place while feeling fresh to everyone else.