Billet and Bellows
177 Grand Street, Williamsburg
Late night on MLK Day I found myself sitting inside a new bar in Williamsburg, a recent addition to a strip of Grand Street already saturated with restaurants, bars, bewildering boutiques selling extremely fancy outdoor gear and luxury plants. In some ways, Billet and Bellows offers a welcome respite from the flashy new robata place down the street and the delicious, but pricey reservation-only sushi places nearby. Establishments like this have made Williamsburg more “party,” but let’s be real, they attract the worst of humanity, people with too much money and too little self-awareness.
Then there are the slightly older nearby Williamsburg watering holes where, these days, sitting at the bar means having to overhear conversations about “quaint” vacation homes on Martha’s Vineyard and share your well-deserved leg room (c’mon you basically bought a seat with that $16 drink) with an enormous designer bag stuffed with toy-something dogs. They breathe hot, stinky breath on you until you step outside in the cold where they are convinced you belong.
In other words, once approachable spots have been crossed off my list of sophisticated-ish places to go in Williamsburg. An alternative might be Billet and Bellows, maybe. Or maybe I will just never go to Williamsburg again because it is becoming so painfully bland.
It’s hard to put your finger on what exactly makes the space at Billet less-than appealing, after all the interior details and decorative accents are pretty attractive as well as distinctive– an enormous slab of beige and glowing green quartz for a bar (reigned in by metal edges and a curvature form), decidedly comfortable cast iron and leather-cushioned chairs, candle light, various decorative iron and metal artwork, lattices, and gates, and obligatory animal antlers on the wall. But something’s missing. Maybe some softness to balance out the sharper edges?
The impulse for an artist to fill their own bar with their own work is more than understandable. Kristina Kozak, longtime Williamsburg resident and local metal artist is the owner. The bartender explained that his boss is responsible for “a lot of stuff around this area,” including a decorative window grate featuring naked ladies at the Trash Bar. Kozak has converted the ground-floor, what used to be her studio space, into the bar but still lives upstairs and has moved her workshop to the basement.
Though Billet has been open for a couple of months, it seems as if the bar hasn’t yet fully grown into its own. The only other patrons there were a youngish couple who stopped in, finished their drinks quickly before leaving, and a pair of tourists replete with shopping bags who were quickly slipping into white-girl-wasted territory.
In a way, their behavior was warranted– these raucous ladies pretty much had the bar to themselves, and given the vagueness of it all, it’s hard to know what exactly this bar is for and who it’s meant to appeal to. The place was empty, and the bartender hands-off. True, it was a Monday night, and, yeah, this place hasn’t been open for that long. But several small tables sat abandoned and much of the long bar was barren, all of this giving the place a lonely vibe. I’m usually thankful for the lack of TVs, but here they almost, almost felt missed, but only because there’s very little visual stimulation otherwise. For that reason, bring a book if you are flying solo because you’re not likely to be engaged by anyone or anything else.
As of now, Billet and Bellows appears to be attracting patrons who are maybe lost and not exactly keen on perusing the area to find the best option. In the future, however, when things are settled I predict that Billet will appear to an older crowd of metal-working enthusiasts. Though my concern is that this demographic is quite small.
However what should bring you in are the well-crafted and extremely well-priced cocktails, given the place’s proximity to the Bedford stop, aka hell. You can grip a really solid Negroni or Pisco Sour from a list of classic cocktails priced from $10 to $12, or a Black Walnut Manhattan from a selection of house cocktails around the same price point. My companion ordered an intriguing cocktail containing lavender, which I have to warn you must be an acquired taste because she frowned, concluding it tasted like a “green jelly bean.” Though to me it tasted more like a bar of soap my grandma would enjoy. I guess we just have different palates, but if neither of those sound appealing, maybe it’s best just to opt for, “No thanks.”
And be warned, you shouldn’t come here looking for a great selection of beer. Bottles only, and prices are a little steep ($6-8 for decent stuff and freaking $4 for a Bud Light.) But if you wanna get your sip on and you’re not trying to follow in the footsteps of my friends the sloppy tourists, note that the wine selection is more than decent. And if you come in during happy hour (4-8 pm on weekdays) you’ve got three glasses of wine to pick from for $5 and none of em are Charles Shaw grape drip.