04/24/13 4:00am


141 Broadway, Williamsburg
4 L’s

Alla Lapushchik and Sam Glinn’s first venture was an elegant bistro and craft-cocktail bar called Post Office. Their new spot, also on the Southside, is based on a gimmick as well, but it’s no less an elegant bistro, with excellent cocktails and rare spirits. Named after the now-defunct storefront gambling parlors, OTB is a stately, high-ceilinged reconstructed warehouse adorned with horse-racing memorabilia and vintage payphones. As grown-ups are to candles and tablecloths, and kids are to crayons, Brooklyn twentysomethings are to appurtenances of working-class nostalgia.

You can bet you’ll be well-fed and -boozed at OTB, though. Like its sister establishment, it’s spirits-centered. The menu features a rotating selection of “Winner’s Circle” liquors, with enticing blurbs about origins and tasting notes. There’s a single malt Scotch-style liquor from Sweden’s only whisky distillery, Mackmyra, that’s “soft and gentle, a sensitive lover, you might say.” Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey offers a heady contrast with its “caramel cinnamon spiciness.” While there are only a handful of options in the Winner’s Circle, the bar is also stocked with a good range of domestic and international spirits with which you could expand your palate. Saddle up to the bar to survey the options before settling into a glass.

OTB’s cocktail menu has two columns: classic drinks and creative variants. The list includes a classic Margarita and its weird sister, the Mary Fizz, with Hacienda Reposado tequila, honey, and sparkling wine. The Ruby Rum is a twist on the classic Hemingway’s Daquiri, with fresh grapefruit juice, mint syrup and aperol, served with crushed ice. It’s distinctive and more elaborate than the famously straightforward author’s favorite cocktail. Unfortunately, OTB’s minimal wine list is disappointing—both reds I sampled were pretty darn poor. There are three draft lines with American craft beers, three more options in bottles, and three in cans, making the beer list substantially larger—and better—than the wines. Perhaps wine doesn’t quite fit into the masculine image of off-track betting?

The kitchen serves up French bistro-style fare with classic American touches. For snacks, there’s escargot, and fries with cheese and gravy, and for dessert there’s an ice cream sundae or apple “tarte tatin.” The lip-smacking chicken wings can be served either fried or grilled, spicy or not. There are just three entrees, smartly chosen and succinct: cheeseburger, steak frites and coq au vin. On paper, the food sounds safe, but Chef Glinn finesses it for maximum flavor. The Caesar salad features fried Sicilian capers and the raw hamachi gets a boost from tart apple slivers and a soy reduction.

The bar’s atmosphere is a bit of a contradiction: it’s fancy and Parisian-looking—with glitzy chandeliers and molded, mint green walls—as well as retro-silly, with a smattering of things like old trophies and a vintage horse-crest floor inlay. Some might find this appealing, others confusing; I can’t imagine anyone would call it “cozy.” It’s a bit off-key—or, you might say, “off-track.”

Photo Austin McAllister

04/10/13 4:00am

The new bar from the owners of Lucky Dog is exaggerated country dive meets basement rec room—and it’s more exuberant than most real examples of either. Nostalgia is inescapable in this tight space, extending to the patrons’ dress; I counted five flannel shirts seated side by side along the bar. With 18 beers on draft, vintage arcade games, and live bands three nights a week, it’s just a lot of good ol’ fun.

The corner spot has been a bar for more than 70 years, most recently as Barberry. That probably accounts for the waft of spilled beer permeating the well-worn room. Everything is vintage: colored bar stools, country music posters, taxidermy souvenirs, the backseat of a van serving as a sofa. Here, the reclaimed wood is on the ceiling, and the walls are lined with old-looking bricks. The original tin ceiling, too decrepit to stay overhead, is patched onto one wall and the front facade, which features an impressive pastiche of all three materials. It makes the comfy Lucky Dog, just up the street on Bedford, look like an austere older sibling. Just step inside the bathroom, its walls plastered with vintage pinup tearsheets, and you’ll see.

The best things about Skinny Dennis are right behind the bar. Most of the drafts are American craft beers, and unlike so many bars in the neighborhood, most are only $5 a pint. With a rotating selection that might include Allagash White, Founders Red Rye, Green Flash Imperial IPA or Ommegang Rare Vos, there is a plentiful selection of styles with seldom a repeat from the same brewery. That’s not easy to pull off; it only works in places that drink up just about every beer available every night—which seems to be the case at Skinny Dennis, crowded even on the weeknights I visited.

There are a few more drink options, like a mason jar of Coors for $4, if that seems worth the bargain. Cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Bud and Rolling Rock go for $3. Skinny Dennis has a specialty cocktail called Uncle Willie’s Frozen Coffee, a sweetened elixir with coffee liqueur, bourbon and brandy. A cup of this’ll set you back $6, and the slushy mixture is served up in an iconic Greek paper coffee cup, so you can walk down the street inconspicuously boozing if there are no seats at the bar. You could also saddle up beside the vintage bar games, like a foosball-sized mechanical bowling alley. It may seem treacherous when played by bustling crowds guzzling beers, but the miniature lane is far easier to strike or spare after a few rounds.

Photo Austin McAllister

03/13/13 4:00am

La Mujer Gala

665 Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Heights
4 L’s

The tiny new Prospect Heights tapas spot La Mujer Gala inhabits the space of the previously longstanding Prospect Heights Italian restaurant Aliseo, and it looks very much like it. The floral wallpaper and formal mantle lamps can feel like a Victorian bedroom, but don’t let such stuffiness keep you away. If anything, the more traditional décor speaks to a core of authentic and expertly rendered Spanish bar-food classics.

The two most famous, generally tasty tapas on the menu are actually the least impressive of the lot, and they’re still pretty good: the Spanish tortilla, a stacked pie of slivered potatoes-cum-frittata, and the fried, breadcrumb-crusted, bechamel sauce-filled croquetas. The deviled eggs, stuffed with a chunky yet creamy mixture of roasted pork belly and scallions, easily beats out the best from any Southern-inflected restaurant. The chorizo stewed in Cava, fresh herbs and roasted garlic fills the teensy den with an inescapably good garlicky aroma, and the white gazpacho sauce beneath a bed of sherry-marinated mackerel is really a testament to what greatness stale bread can achieve. You should really try every tapas available, including the specials (which recently included a stewed cuttlefish so tender as to become the texture of buttery, cooked mushrooms, in a viscous pink sauce of its own proteins).

If you’ve come in a group of three, you should go for a whole bottle of wine. They’re solely from Spain, but you can chat up the knowledgeable waitresses for tasting notes if you’re not up to speed (there were only three waitresses working the nights we visited, one of whom was Executive Chef-Owner Jennifer Cole-Ruiz, who spent years working in restaurants in Spain and won an episode of Chopped; another of the three was her wife). Most hover around $30 for regions and grapes from throughout Spain, not just Rioja. For $6, you can enjoy a fruity Sangria instead, which our waitress recommended we try out in the bubbly version with Cava. And the Jerez (aka “Sherries”) are a must-have with desserts, which are given equal attention to detail and homespun flavor here (recommended: a boozy banana tatin with homemade ice cream).

As for beers, you’ll have to fare with one of a few crisp, sparkling Spanish lagers like the refreshing, Kolsch-like Alhambra Especial and its dark, brooding Dunkel-like sister the Alhambra Negro. (There’s really no other type of beer in Spain.) These cleanse the palate for more deliciousness to come, unlike the wines. Go for them if you’re in an easy-drinking mode with a few snacks, like the fried purple potatoes with Canary Island green pesto. Or opt for a velvety smooth Tempranillo instead, and see how it melds with the flavors it meets in your mouth. This is all part of the delightfully choosy task of doing tapas—even in Brooklyn, if you can’t fly
to Barcelona.

Photo by Gabe Collazo

02/27/13 4:00am


285 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg
2 L’s

It’s no secret that New York is having a love affair with San Francisco food: Blue Bottle beans are taking over coffee shops, there are themed bars like Pacific Standard and Mission Dolores, and Mission Chinese Food has rocked our world like a long-lost love child (and will soon open another location). This would all make a great case for opening an outpost of one of Frisco’s favorite sausage and craft-beer bars, Rosamunde, in Brooklyn. And it’s here now, in South Williamsburg. What, haven’t you seen?

I guess it’s easy to miss among the dozens of bars along Bedford Avenue heading toward Broadway, but it’s right across the street from ol’ standby Dumont Burger in the former space of a short-lived divey bar. Instead of Dumont’s ground beef, Rosamunde beckons passersby with 12 types of sausages on a roll, in a more casual setting, with speakers so loud you have to scream. (Rosamunde does do a “burger Tuesday.”) Its real pull, however, are the 24 craft-beer drafts and some 50 bottles. This place is serious about filling your growler, too—they’ll arrange for delivery. It’s more or less the same formula that caused the commotion around Rosamunde’s initial location on Haight Street, then the one on Mission Street. But this transplant is fraught with a creeping sense of inauthenticity.

Take, for example, the many tap handles—it feels like you’re in San Francisco, basically. Nothing against Speakeasy, 21st Amendment, Bear Republic and Anchor Steam, but these and other West Coast breweries commanded a slight majority of the draft lines, while only about six could be described as “local.” (On the nights I visited: Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint, Ommegang, Empire, Captain Lawrence, Yuengling.) This might be fine, but Rosamunde’s selection of brews isn’t terribly well-curated. With mostly IPAs and other ales—plus several usual-suspect European exports (Weihenstephaner Hefe Weiss)—you could get a better craft-beer experience at a place with half as many lines if it were pouring more seasonals and rarities. Rosamunde seems more like an advertisement for its friends in San Francisco than a boon to its new community. While chatting with a bartender once about the beer choices, he shrugged haplessly, admitting that he hadn’t tried most of them. When there’s that many pours, some are bound to change out. Fortunately, it was between 5pm and 7pm, which made my decision easy: Anchor Steam pints are $1 at happy hour.

The food is slapped together behind a glowing display case of fresh sausages. For $8 or $8.75, you get a sausage on a roll with a choice of toppings like grilled onions. Everything from basic beer sausages and brats to a wild boar sausage with apples and fennel and even a few vegan varieties can be found here. The sausages are mostly made at the chainlet’s San Francisco base, with only a few made on-site, a cook explained. But when asked about the “special” sausage of the night, he had no clue what it was. The details must have gotten lost as it was shipped across the country.

The hungry and sudsy will no doubt relish a new place to sit back for a casual brat and pint. To be sure, there’s no real crime in being a little uninspired or careless when opening a sister bar on a whole new coast. But the Brooklyn-San Francisco tryst has had better dates.

Photo Courtesy Rosamunde

02/13/13 4:00am

Three Letters
930 Fulton Street, Clinton Hill

3 L’s

This might not be the best new bar-restaurant to open lately, but it does give its eager crowds the best new bar snack in town: moules poutine. That’s french fries smothered with a thick, brown gravy studded with whole mussels—and, yes, you can polish off a whole plate alone. Sprinkled with parsley and hinting of white wine and cognac, it satisfies several common bar cravings at once: gravy (or “disco”) fries, whole oysters, and moules frites, with its pot of way-too-thin broth. Perfectly confused between upscale Parisian bistro and down-home American diner, this bar—and this dish—has just what it takes to bring ‘em out every weeknight. Not that that’s terribly difficult to do here.

Opened this month on the cusp of Clinton Hill, Three Letters occupies the former space of the longstanding Senegalese restaurant Joloff, which moved several blocks East to Bedford Avenue. Alas, it’s a significant changing of the guard for what was once a miniature African restaurant row. Chef Pip Freeman, formerly of The Grocery, has chosen a safer aesthetic than Joloff’s vibrantly painted panels, opting for mahogany, red leather booths, and tres chic black-and-white floor tiles. Three Letters’ bibles—two heavy hardcover cookbooks, French Feasts and the French housewife classic La Bonne Cuisine—are enshrined on a shelf near the room’s entrance, along with jars of pickled radishes and cauliflower.

For wine, there are more than half-a-dozen options by the bottle for both reds and whites, but only two or three by the glass. You really ought to order a whole bottle, Three Letters seems to say—that is, after all, the French way. The reasonably priced selection lets you relax over one bottle with friends, or be that bon vivant reading the paper alone for hours. (If you can’t finish the bottle, perhaps share a glass with your neighbor, or let the waitstaff secretly imbibe.) The wine list emphasizes pairings with food, with suggestions like “try with the pork bourgognone” for the Oregon 2000 Red Door Pinot Noir. If sipping a single glass, ask your bartender what’s what, as descriptions are minimal (e.g. “Pinot Grigio,” “Languedoc”).

Even more minimal are the cocktails, both in selection and style; this is not a mixology lab. If you’re feeling boozy, try the Death in Brooklyn, a potent blend of Sailor Jerry rum, chartreuse, citrus, and “bubbly float.” A frothy Threesco Sour with brandy, egg white and mint simple syrup is a little more bitter than sweet (or sour); the best bet is the Rye Devil, with rye, tarragon, and ruby-red Cherry Heering liqueur. There are four craft-beer draft lines, currently pouring Sixpoint, Carton, Greenport, and Lakefront, and four more options by the bottle or can, including Stella and Narragansett. Again, not too challenging or rare, but wise choices for pairing with food.

So inseparable are the morsels of fried, buttery, or saucy things to the experience here that you must try some snack or small plate. The poutine should be compulsory, but there’s also a hearty mushroom tartine, essentially toast with a mushroomy glaze and a poached egg to mix in; delightful, deep-fried chickpea crepettes; and the pate de campagne, on a bed of cabbage and kale with anchovy mustard. For $10, there are sandwiches that include fries or a salad—not burgers and clubs, but an apparent banh mi rendition with pork and chicken-liver pate (“Bon Mis”), a creamy chicken confit sandwich, and a disappointingly bland fried fish fillet with slaw. The sandwiches could use some work compared to the rest of the classically appealing, oh-so-French menu. More noticeably though, portions are petite and served on small, clunky oval breakfast plates—a retro touch, no doubt, but one that seems to further diminish the servings. Wine glasses are likewise squat and thick. More reason then to go for the whole bottle.

Photo by Emma Freeman

01/30/13 4:00am


773 Fulton Street, Fort Greene
4 L’s

As I waited in a narrow hallway on the bathroom line, the girl ahead of me drunkenly gushed that she comes to this place all the time—it’s just sooo good. A cook emerged from a doorway and nodded. Clad in skinny pants and long necklaces, the regular exuded the sort of dressed-down elegance (or dressed-up casual?) that characterizes the place. There’s a marble white bar against subway tile-lined walls, slate blue-grey paint and an open kitchen framed with reclaimed Coney Island boardwalk planks. A vase full of eucalyptus greets you near the entrance. But the humble facade recedes once your food or drink comes out—then it’s evident that when it comes to bars you’re at the head of Brooklyn class.

A pair of first-time restaurateurs opened Prospect on a stretch of Fort Greene littered with bars and restaurants, each competing to snag both residents and wanderers before and after events at the Barclays Center, which opened at roughly the same time as this place. A glance at the cocktail menu might not raise your expectations, but the execution and service score major points. When I inquired about a quirky drink involving Jameson, ginger ale and maraschino cherries (The Wild Eyed Rose, $11), the bartender nodded but pointed me in another direction, in his opinion the better choice: an applejack brandy cocktail with Velvet Falernum, lemon and grenadine (The Jack Frost, $11). Shaken with ice and served in a ladylike glass, it was a well-balanced concoction with a tickle of sweetness.

Even when crammed along the bar fighting for elbow space, it wasn’t difficult to flag down the attentive staff for another drink. The wine list is concise, but to cut to the chase my bartender poured a taste of the Austrian Zweigelt when I proposed a medium-bodied red. At $14 a glass, this was on the pricier end, but it did its job serviceably down to the last smooth sip. The wine list offers much variety in lesser-known provinces and grapes like a Mencia from Bierzo in Spain and a Sauvignon Blanc from Waiheke Island in New Zealand. Prospect’s not a great destination for beer drinkers, but what few offerings it does have on draft—only four—weren’t obvious: the Kelso Pils, Southhampton Double White, Mendocino Brewing Double IPA, and Keegan’s Mother’s Milk Stout.

While sipping any one of these, you might notice piles of French fries stacked like kindling logs or inch-thick seared crusts on fish fillets or duck breasts flooding from the kitchen on modern white plates. The food is more-than-meets-the-menu; under Chef Kyle McClelland, it’s gutsy and exquisite. With a separate bar menu filled with snacks—like the perfectly crisped truffle oil-scented fries—small plates and sandwiches, the restaurant caters to the drinking crowd as well as those seated for a three-course dinner. In fact, you can get either menu no matter where you’re seated. Rather than crown the bar menu with a juicy grassfed burger, Prospect offers a twist: it’s a meatloaf sandwich, carved out of wagyu beef and studded with capers, topped with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese. Once finished supping and draining your drinks, you might feel like you’ve just left the home of those friends who are just cooler and more creative than you. In short, you’re not just drunk—you’ve been inspired.

Photo Rachel Been

01/16/13 4:00am

Die Koelner Bierhalle
84 St. Marks Place, Park Slope
3 L’s

Authenticity is tricky. For this massive bar housed in an old warehouse, the gimmick is that it’s a German beer hall, replete with more than 150 German beers on draft and in bottles. Die Koelner is fashioned after the bierhallen in Cologne, Germany, according to the staff, which is surprising given the Bavarian food menu and Oktoberfest-y tent-like interior. But perhaps the owners chose Cologne (or “Köln”) as the bar’s namesake for its vibrant cultural scene steeped in history, wondrous architecture, and artistic endeavor. Maybe that’s why Brooklyn was chosen to house this replica of the Köln experience, as authentic as one can find in the borough.

The bar, which opened roughly four months ago just like the nearby Barclays Center, is on a small residential block, just away from major foot traffic. The unassuming location renders the tall ceilings and vast room of long tables a little hollow-feeling, as it’s hard to fill them up completely. Those not intimidated by the spaciousness tend to sit at the bar, which overlooks a small-theater-sized screen hanging from the ceiling showing sports. The concrete walls are decked out with traditional German motifs, and the bathrooms boast rustic wooden facades. It all looks convincingly old-fashioned for its newness, aside from that screen. And in case you were wondering—the bartenders are not girls with pigtails and bosoms spilling over pinched blouses; they’re just a few guys in normal clothes.

Both beer and food menus are impressive in scope and German authenticity. But their execution leaves you wishing that perhaps they’d get scaled back. The nights I visited, a couple of the draft beers I and my fellow drinkers asked about had run dry. And some of the food options, which include an exhaustive list of German sausages, some sandwiches, and sides like sauerkraut and potato salad, were sold out as well.

The bar prides itself on serving some hard-to-find-outside-of-Germany beers, with some of the drafts not available anywhere else in the US. Highlights include Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, a rich caramel lager from the esteemed Bavarian brewery ($7 for .4 liter), and the Schlenkerla Helles, a unique style from the historic brewpub famed for its rauchbier, or smoked beer ($9 for .5 liter, $17 for 1 liter). There are appropriately a few kolsch-style brews on the menu, the signature style of Cologne: Zunf Kolsch and Sion Kolsch on draft (both $3 for .2 liter, $6 for .4 liter, and $14 for 1 liter), and in bottles, Gaffel Kolsch, Sunner Kolsch and Reisdorff Kolsch, the city’s Bud Lite. The bartenders were kind enough to talk and taste my party through the options, but understandably had some difficulty conveying much experience with the beers beyond their own taste impressions. With more than 100 beers with hundreds of years of history, it’s a lot for a (Brooklyn) bartender to learn. Their mentoring typically ended at, “Tell us what types of beers you usually like, and we’ll find something that fits.”

The Bavarian pretzels with mustard and butter, which come in two sizes, are fitting bar snacks for the communal atmosphere: the larger can be shared between four friends. A swath of pan-German sausages—everything from currywurst to weisswurst and an atypical spicy chicken wurst—come in a roll with sauerkraut. Beyond these beerhall-staples, however, the kitchen is less adept: two options of spaetzle, one with bacon and one with cheese, were so underseasoned that we poured mustard over them. Their impressive size should have been a bonus but instead proved a big disappointment. And that ultimately underscores much of the experience at Die
Koelner Bierhalle.

01/02/13 4:00am

2826 Fort Hamilton Parkway, Kensington
3 L’s

South of Windsor Terrace and west of Ditmas Park, Kensington is about as ethnically diverse as it gets: Polish, Hasidic, South Asian, Mexican, Chinese, African, Caribbean and many other communities call it home. But there has never been much of a reason for the adventurous gourmand to venture out here. And there still isn’t. But if you live in Kensington, or just happen to find yourself on the Windsor Terrace border, there’s a great new pub down the block.

The husband-and-wife team behind Alchemy in North Slope opened Hamilton’s in October. The endless, elaborate drink selection at the former has been pared down at the latter to a simple drink menu heavy on craft beers; mixological wizardry has been replaced with honesty and straightforwardness. (Hamilton’s is located on Fort Hamilton Parkway, its namesake.) The corner tavern brings warmth and a sense of community to otherwise darkened residential streets, fractured by jutting highways, vrooming with cars and trucks. Inside, candles at every table dimly light a spacious square room. The walls are invisible glass panels. The bar beckons drinkers with 18 tap handles, pouring a full range of styles from American breweries. The burgers are made from grass-fed beef. The speakers softly play the Cure. The waiters are young, knowledgeable and ready to describe anything and everything on the menu. You’re in “New American” land, suddenly. 

But have no fear; sit back and relax. Let’s start with a few cocktails. Actually, this is where Hamilton’s is most disappointing; there are currently no cocktails on its diminutive drink menu. There are, however, house wines on tap for $6 a glass; that’s a refreshing alternative. The Pinot Grigio is not bad. It will work perfectly with the oysters coming up next… What? No oysters, either? Well, so much for that then. But if you’re looking for small plates, there are familiar staples on Hamilton’s menu—mac and cheese with aged cheddar, seared Brussels sprouts, and a marinated olive plate. There are Spanish inflections, too: idiazabal cheese on the Caesar salad, smoked mojo rojo sauce with salt-baked fingerling potatoes. This sort of flair comes to its fullest, most flavorful climax with the adobo-braised, sweet chili-glazed chicken wings. They’re not fried like Buffalo wings—the flavors are slowly cooked into the meat, gelling the skins to a lip-smacking stickiness that requires extra napkins, thoughtfully offered by a waiter along with the dish. The entrees are more sturdily classic, including beer-braised short ribs, roast chicken, and a satisfying burger smothered with a sweet-and-slightly-sour onion agrodolce. The one real anomaly is a fried egg over kimchi brown rice, a comfort food from a distant land. This vegetarian entree uses Brooklyn’s own artisanal Mama O’s Kimchi, however, bringing it a little closer to home.

Say you’re ready to move on down the wine list; there are only about 10 varieties. Hamilton’s is not for the persnickety wine enthusiast but for those who like a small yet safely curated selection with entries for every taste. Domestic wines are not overlooked, with an Oregon Pinot Noir and a Fingerlakes Cabernet Franc Rose from Brooklyn Oenology. It’s difficult not to go with the house pours for their considerable bargain, but no single glass runs higher than $10. If you’re here for beer, you’ll be more impressed with selection. Like its neighborhood clientele, the draft beers at Hamilton’s run the gamut: there’s Miller High Life, Stella Artois, and Guinness… but wait, don’t back out yet, gentrifying, persnickety gourmand! The list also includes beers from microbreweries like Michigan’s Dark Horse, Vermont’s McNeill’s, and the latest and greatest seasonals from local breweries like Captain Lawrence, Carton, Sixpoint and Kelso. This is all to say that Hamilton’s is a uniquely welcoming place. Whether it’s for the bar chatter or a nice date, a pint of rare brews or the best meal to treat yourself, this is the spot, you guys.

12/17/12 5:00am


  • Blackbook

Obviously there will never be a shortage of places to go and get a drink in Brooklyn. This is not a real statistic, but a new bar opens roughly every minute of every day around here, give or take. We’re pretty lucky in that regard. And as such, we can afford to be choosy. So after a long, laborious year of investigatory drinking on our readers’ behalf, we’ve managed to narrow our list down to ten of the very best places that started serving up drinks to ever-thirsty Brooklynites this year. Go ahead, grab a cocktail at every single one of them. Tonight.

12/05/12 4:00am

Union Grounds

270 Smith Street, South Brooklyn

Carroll Gardens had one too many French bistros. After Sue Perette shuttered its doors this summer, new owners remade the small restaurant into the one thing the neighborhood lacked: a bonafide big-screen TV-laden sports bar. Named for a 19th-century Williamsburg baseball field, Union Grounds has plunked down in an unlikely place. In the heart of Smith Street’s restaurant row, the lights from this bar’s conspicuous television sets stand out like a garish Christmas lawn-display. It’s a matter of taste whether this is welcoming—there’s always going to be a contingent who may go here and consider it fine (burger + Bud Light + big-screen TVs = all you need!!). But if there’s one thing that’s offensive—in any place or circumstance, at any time, to anyone—it’s lousy food and drink menus, not to mention shoddy execution and so-so service.

Alas, Union Grounds is filling a niche, as one bartender succinctly expressed. There are 11 mammoth flat-screens placed around the small den-like space. Framing one such TV, a mahogany bookshelf lined with vintage hardcovers attempts to add some warmth, but it seems staged. No seat is too far to view any of the games on each of the TVs, creating a dizzying effect that’s intensified after a couple of drinks. (For anyone wondering how so many TVs were purchased on Black Friday, a good sum are probably snatched up by bars like this one.) A group of owners had turned around the space very quickly, I was told, which probably accounts for that movie-set meets electronics-store feel. Teal-blue paint colors the walls, coordinating with plush barstool seat-covers in mahogany wood. A few portraits of players and some sports memorabilia are framed, interspersed between the TVs. But it’s clear that the sports on each set are the focal points.

At the bar, there are only four draft lines: Bud Light ($4), Green Flash IPA ($7), Blue Point and Sixpoint ($6). An accompanying selection of unadventurous options in bottles and cans sets this bar apart from neighboring craft-beer bars. Union Grounds’ cocktail list features many two-ingredient wonders, like the Kentucky Saint (Bourbon and Saint Germain) and Grandpa Schilling (Applejack and Vermouth). The Orange Crush is a not-so-glorified screwdriver with fresh OJ, vodka and a splash of Triple Sec, and the Piper’s Pickled Pepper is a dirty martini with vodka, vermouth and pickled jalapeño brine—which raises the question of whether these familiar frat-house “cocktails” need to be listed at all. A bartender didn’t appear particularly enthused when asked for recommendations; he gave us quite a few shrugs. (Maybe he’d just had a long night, given the crowds that swarmed the place during a Knicks game earlier in the evening.)
A full menu of snacks, sandwiches, entrees, sides, salads and “Ballpark Fare” (e.g. chili cheese dogs) is offered here, too, again contrasting vividly with nearby establishments. Union Grounds mashes up global cuisine and down-home American comfort food: a fried eggroll with Philly cheesesteak filling; a stuffed poblano pepper with grits; chicken and waffles. But well-executed bar-food staples are overlooked: for some reason, the chef has dropped the wings from “Buffalo wings” in favor of breaded and fried white-meat chicken smothered in sauce.
Union Grounds is really a test of its local culture: will there be enough sports fans in Carroll Gardens to warrant such a spot? It seems so, at least on days when there are good games to watch. But it could be a risky play to cater to the neighborhood’s appetite for touchdowns over its taste for, well, taste.