Articles by

<Keith Wagstaff>

10/26/11 4:00am

Noorman’s Kil
609 Grand St, Williamsburg
Rating: Three out of 5 L’s

While many Brooklyn bars are upping their bourbon game, it’s still hard to find a good selection of Scotch, that favorite of Ron Burgundy and countless besuited corporate executives. No offense to all of the new, small-batch whiskey producers, but nobody does it as well as the old guys. I don’t care how artisanal your methods are; you aren’t making anything as good as those crusty Scots over at Maccallan do.
Well, it looks like single malt is finally back in fashion. You can find whiskey from Scotland, Ireland, the U.S. and even Japan at Noorman’s Kil, on a stretch of Williamsburg’s Grand Street that has been inundated with new watering holes. The 200-strong list includes great small-batch stuff, like Breuckelen Whiskey and Jefferson’s Rye.

Me? I’m slipping into a glass of Glenfiddich like a hot tub, letting the warmth spread from my stomach until I feel like I just spent an hour in a massage chair. My friend is sipping a smokier Bowmore 12 Year, made in a distillery founded in 1779 on the Isle of Islay. Flash backwards 20 minutes. “Just cheesing it?” asks the thin blond bartender as we struggle to take in the long list of whiskies. She’s referring to the bar’s other ostensible specialty, grilled cheese sandwiches. They’re not bad, just nothing special: layers of upscale cheeses on unremarkable sourdough. How far are we going to take this infatuation with the comfort foods of our childhood? If some mustachioed waiter ever serves me SpaghettiOs, I’m packing up and leaving Brooklyn forever.

Still, for $5 or $6, the sandwiches are not a bad deal, and they soak up the booze. If whiskey isn’t your thing, the bar also has 12 beers on tap, a nice mix of international and local breweries ranging from Captain Lawrence to Kirin. As for cocktails, the bartenders keep it simple, with three special concoctions priced at a reasonable $8.

Despite the culinary foray into adolescence, this is a grown-up bar for enjoying grown-up drinks, with handsome wood paneling set over clean white walls, mirrors and Edison bulbs. Your best bet, however, is to sit out under the stars in the quiet back garden, relaxing with your favorite single malt.

(Photos by Cody Swanson)

10/12/11 4:00am

St. Austere

613 Grand St, Williamsburg
Rating: Four out of 5 L’s

All too often wine bars are simply restaurants in disguise, inviting you in with the promise of a drink but leaving you with a hefty dinner bill, lest you get an eye-roll from a grumpy waiter impatiently watching you sip a single glass of Pinot Noir. At St. Austere, however, the choice is yours. Want to simply have a drink or two? Go ahead. Friendly owner Fabrizio Pirolo won’t bother you while you drink at the bar. Looking to fill up on inventive Italian fare? Grab a seat at one of the communal tables in back and chow down. The 39-seat bar claims on its Facebook page that it doesn’t want to be classified as a wine bar, club or restaurant; while it focuses on wine, it can definitely be whatever you want it to be, from neighborhood watering hole to low-lit date spot.

On weekend nights, the long,
aluminum bar fills up fast, a
diverse crowd of business casual
professionals and twentysomething
creatives taking
up almost all of the wooden
stools by 8pm. The beers, like
all of the wines, come from the
Old World, which is what oenophiles
call Europe for some
reason. There are five brews on
tap, including Gaffel Kolsch,
Radeberger Pilsner and Fuller’s
Porter. Opt for a bottle and
you’ll have 30 more choices.

As for wine, you can expect
a selection of 50, a nice mix
of obscure and approachable
bottles with a decent selection
by the glass. Sit down and outcomes a ceramic bowl filled
with pungent pickles, made
in-house and served with little
toothpicks. The food here has
real pedigree—the consulting
chef is Fabrizio’s brother
Michael, who serves as chef
de cuisine at Scott Conant’s
Scarpetta in Miami. The result
is relaxed, Italian-inflected
small plates that rise above the
usual bruschetta and meatball
offerings of most wine bars,
including a creamy polenta
awash in chicken jus and dotted
with spicy sausage, and a
clever Banh Mi(lano) sandwich
made by stuffing a crispy
roll with thick slices of mortadella,
pickled veggies and a
spicy chili sauce.

While Michael helps with the
menu from South Florida, the
rest of the family helps from
here in Brooklyn. Fabrizio,
who started out as a wine distributor,
co-owns the space
with his brother John and his
sister Jacqueline, who previously
worked on the production
side of the wine business.
It’s a warm, convivial place,
exposed brick lined with wine
bottles and works from local
artists, with dangling Edison
bulbs providing a gentle glow.
Call it a wine bar, gastropub
or whatever you want; all I
know is that you’ll probably be

10/05/11 12:10pm


While most of us Brooklynites are content with budget gourmet like the meatball sub from Best Pizza and fried jamalaya balls from Char No. 4 (as listed in our Brooklyn Restaurant Awards), Manhattan tourists car-servicing it from Tribeca might want something a little more upscale. Luckily, Michelin has released its New York guide for 2012, which includes several notable Brooklyn restaurants. The biggest shocker?

César Ramirez’s exclusive 18-seat eatery Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare getting the three-star treatment, putting it on the level of Jean Georges, Le Bernardin and Per Se. This is an upgrade from last year’s two stars and a serious sign that world-class cooking has arrived in Kings County, at least in the eyes of Michelin’s anonymous reviewers.

The one-star recipients are the usual fine-dining suspects that have been garnering kudos for years now: Dressler, Peter Luger, River Cafe and Saul. We can’t really complain about these picks; they’re all great restaurants and we’d go more often if we made a little more cash. More useful for the average Brooklynite might be Michelin’s Bib Gourmand picks, which includes restaurants where you should be able to get an appetizer, entree and glass of wine for $40. Sure, plenty of them are a little pricier than advertised, but you get the idea—you won’t go broke eating at any of these places.

Our favorite among them: Buttermilk Channel, Tanoreen, Roberta’s, Paulie Gee’s, Frankies 457 Spuntino, Marlow & Sons and Mile End. Check out all of the Bib Gourmand picks here.

09/30/11 3:43pm


Where should you be doing all of your eating and drinking this weekend, besides L Magazine picks Izakaya on Smith and Wolf and Deer? We’ve got a few ideas for you, one of which includes Doctor Who!

If you’re going to do some binge drinking, you might as well do it for a good cause. The Brooklyn Pub Crawl was started by two firefighters to support the Wildland Firefighters Foundation, which helps the support the families of firefighters killed or injured while fighting wildfires. All you have to do is buy a $25 T-shirt and you’ll privy to special drink deals at bunch of great Brooklyn bars, including Franklin Park, Hot Bird and more.

If you feel like taking a little roadtrip Upstate, you can check out the Stone Barns Center’s 8th Harvest Festival, which features a bunch of special farmers market vendors like Mile End, Balthazar, Luke’s Lobster, Kelso, Captain Lawrence and, of course, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. There will also be live music, a crazy raffle for things like a year’s supply of Organic Valley milk, dinner for two at Blue Hill at Stone Barns and JetBlue gift certificates. Tickets cost $35.

If you are like me, you’re a huge fan of Inspector Spacetime … err, I mean, Doctor Who. This weekend is the big season finale and Brooklyn’s only TARDIS-equipped bar, Way Station, is throwing a party. Starting at 5pm, the bar will be showing fan-favorite episodes until showing the finale at 7pm. Sonic Screwdrivers (Absolut Citron with Blue Curacao and OJ, and Absolut Citron with Midori and OJ) are $8 during the festivities

09/29/11 4:10pm


As you could tell by my previous rant, I am a fan of Heathers in the East Village. The bar was previously rejected by Community Board 3’s State Liquor Authority committee, which responded to Heather Millstone’s reasonable pleas with an emphatic “Get off my lawn!” before shuffling back inside to watch Andy Rooney complain about something. Heathers got another chance Thursday night, when it went in front of the CB3’s full board for a vote on whether or not it would get its liquor license renewed. The verdict? Not so good.

Now that Heathers has been rejected again, its ultimate fate rests with the State Liquor Authority itself, which will meet with Millstone at a date TBD. Hopefully they’ll consider the sound reasoning of people like music writer/former Heathers bartender T Cole Rachel, who sent out a mass email defending the bar:

To see this place closed down on the basis of noise complaints from a few disgruntled neighbors (most of whom that have spent the past 6 years fuming because a bar was ever allowed to open on 13th street in the first place) would be not only sad, but also completely outrageous.

Heathers has no strikes against it for selling liquor to minors.
Heathers has no strikes against it for drugs, unruly behavior, or any sort of criminal activity.
Heathers has a grade A health rating.
Heathers bar, Heather Millstone, and the staff of Heathers have not done anything illegal.

This attack against the bar comes from a group that would have you believe that every bit of noise happening on 13th between Avenues A and B (a block bookended by multiple bars) is solely the result of Heathers’ clientele leaving the bar, which is preposterous.

Lets just hope the SLA is a bit more reasonable than CB3 or a lot of us are going to have a find a new favorite bar in the East Village.

09/27/11 11:28am


It was so hot inside the of the Ukrainian Federation, an old, musty concert hall that smells like a school gym, that tUnE-yArDs frontwoman Merrill Garbus looked like she was going to pass out. It’s a good thing she didn’t, because she absolutely mesmerized the POP Montreal crowd in a show sponsored by Williamsburg’s own Northside Festival. The Connecticut-raised Garbus actually lived in Montreal’s Williamsburg-esque Mile-End neighborhood for awhile, where she played in a band called Sister Suvi with Patrick Gregoire, who opened the show with his band Pat Jordache. So yeah, there was a lot of Montreal love happening on-stage, even despite the face-melting heat and the fact that the show had to end early thanks to local noise ordinances. The set was a pretty straight run-through of w h o k i l l with one new, slightly subdued song thrown in for good measure.

Things got really fun when she brought on a group of symposium singers she worked with earlier in the day to mimic the crazy looping vocals she normally uses in her music. If you haven’t seen tUnE-yArDs live yet, there is something wrong with you. Garbus’ booming vocals, the pounding drums, the blaring horns; it all got even the normally too-polite-to-dance Montreal crowd jumping around. Not to mention POP Montreal as a whole is pretty damn fun, with tons of bands like araabMUZIK and Japandroids playing, plus plenty of Canadian acts that don’t get a lot of press in the U.S. Oh, and there was also this bunch of young, upstart Montreal musicians called Arcade Fire that played, as seen in this horribly shaky smartphone video taken by me while jumping up and down in a crowd that numbered around 100,000.

09/22/11 3:23pm


Ah, the Olden Days, when men with top hats and mustaches smoked cigars in cloudy rooms while ingesting dangerous amounts of meat. Well, happy times are here again, as the sadists behind Brooklyn Beefsteak are throwing another event this Sunday at the Bell House. In case you missed the NY Times story on the subject, here are the things you can expect:

• All of the Pat LaFreida beef you can eat with your bare hands
• All of the McSorley’s Light and Dark Ale you can drink
• All of the rockabilly music you can listen to before getting in a knife fight with some street toughs

Tickets cost $50 ($45 if you are in a group of four or more) and there are two seatings: 1pm-4pm or 5pm-8pm. In case you were wondering, the beefsteak has its roots in the 19th Century, usually thrown as working class celebrations or fundraisers for such esteemed political institutions as Tammany Hall. Today, the stench of political corruption is gone from the event, but the excessive facial hair and alcohol consumption remain. Buy your tickets before they run out.

09/21/11 11:30am


The suburbanization of Manhattan continues! Grub Street reports that Heathers in the East Village has had its liquor license renewal application rejected last night by Community Board 3’s State Liquor Authority committee. You remember Community Board 3, don’t you? They’re the ones who reject liquor licenses left and right and secretly wished they lived in Connecticut, but no, they decide the fates of restaurants and bars all over the East Village and Lower East Side for some reason.

Usually I roll my eyes and ignore them because they’re doing something stupid like denying a small Italian restaurant a liquor license in fear it’ll become a “nightclub.” This is different. This simply shall not stand. Heathers has been in the neighborhood since 2005; it is a bastion for a diverse mix of gay and straight creatives who are looking for a drink in an increasingly frat-like East Village bar scene.

Really, I don’t know what else owner Heather Millstone can do. She’s already soundproofed the bar and has staff shooing away people down the street if they try to smoke outside. The main problems, as a person who has been going to Heathers consistently for years, is a) the bar is on a side street instead of a main avenue b) it’s just too damn popular. The East Village bar scene is basically becoming divided into fancy, $13 cocktail places and beer pong douche-a-ramas. Won’t somebody think of the studio art majors? There are very few bars in the East Village with an artistic bent and affordable drinks, and if Heathers goes, there will be one less reason to leave Brooklyn.

Is this just me bitching because one of my favorite bars is in trouble? Maybe! At least I can always go to Millstone’s other bar, Veronica Peoples Club in Greenpoint. Let’s just hope that she can get it all sorted out and stay open.

09/15/11 3:32pm

Matt Levy of the Bike Brooklyn Beer Blitz

  • Matt Levy of the Bike Brooklyn Beer Blitz

This Friday kicks off NY Craft Beer Week, when people with alcohol problems beer connoisseurs hit the streets of New York City to expand their horizons with new brews. There are a lot of events at this year’s iteration of Craft Beer Week, so we thought we’d take a closer look at some of the stand-outs.

Freaktoberfest—Official Opening Party (Friday, Sept. 16th, 7pm)
Two words: unlimited tastings. For $50, you get a glass from which you can sample beer from more than 20 great breweries. Park Slope’s Southpaw will also be filled with two floors of live music and “New York’s finest burlesque, freaks, oddities and human curiosities.” Skål!

Homebrew Tours (Multiple Dates)
Joshua Bernstein should win a Nobel Prize for his work in the field of beer education. The author of Brewed Awakening is taking you to where the real crazy shit is—inside the homes of NYC’s best home-brewers. Sip on beers from the people behind Brooklyn Homebrew, Brew York, New York‘s Chris O’Leary and more. Get more info here.

Not Too Drunk To Read (Tuesday, Sept. 20th, 7pm)
Mazel tov! Jeremy Cowan will be reading from Craft Beer Mar Mitzvah, his new memoir about starting the Shmaltz Brewing Company, at Pacific Standard in Park Slope. Finally become a man by trying six of Shmaltz’ brews on tap including the Coney Island Sword Swallower and the He’Brew Genesis Ale.

Pretty Things Night at Rye House (Wednesday, Sept. 21st)
I’m kind of obsessed with Pretty Things right now. The Massachusetts gypsy brewers, with their DIY work ethic and adorable hand-drawn labels, make some of the most interesting beer on the market, like the Field Mouse’s Farewell, on tap with several other Pretty Things brews at Rye House (11 W 17th St, Flatiron District).

Bike Brooklyn Beer Blitz (Sunday, Sept. 25th, 12pm)
How do I know this bike tour from Levy’s Unique New York is awesome? Because I’ve taken it, and it is! Before Prohibition, Williamsburg/Bushwick used to be the epicenter of brewing in New York City. While all of those breweries are gone, many of buildings are still here, which you will see via bicycle machine. Also included: a stop at East Williamsburg spot Matt Torrey’s for a beer and the ultimate final destination—the Evergreen Cemetery.

09/13/11 4:00am

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