02/11/15 8:48am
02/11/2015 8:48 AM |
Photo by Jane Bruce

818 Woodward Ave, Ridgewood

4 Ls

At first glance, Julia’s is a cute little wine bar albeit with some lovable oddities. It looks and feels like a French brasserie– black and white tile floors, a red and soft white light color palette, round wooden café tables, big picture windows with gold lettering, and Spanish guitar on the speakers– yet it still has the soul of a Ridgewood bar.

Everyone in here seems to be a regular, even though the place has only been open for two weeks. A guy who works in the neighborhood, but said he lives two hours away, comes in often to slump over the somewhat awkwardly high black granite bar (which sort of made us feel kids) and drink fancy beers for fair prices while picking at (and sharing) one of Julia’s charcuterie plates.


01/28/15 1:44pm
01/28/2015 1:44 PM |
Photo by Jane Bruce

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. (more…)

01/14/15 10:00am
01/14/2015 10:00 AM |
Photo by Jane Bruce


300 Malcolm X Boulevard, Bed-Stuy


I was surprised to find the front door of Casablanca locked on a Monday night; I could hear people murmuring from inside the softly glowing bar and the faint hum of music. But I remembered the new Bed-Stuy lounge hasn’t exactly been forthcoming on social media and, save for an address, there’s no contact info online. I shrugged and turned to walk home, figuring the bar wasn’t quite ready for business and still in private event mode. But then out of nowhere a passerby stopped and asked me, “Going in for a drink?” I explained that I’d tried to do just that and indicated the locked door. He shook his head and pointed toward the adjacent side of the building. “That one,” he said, and disappeared into the dark. 


01/05/15 9:20am
01/05/2015 9:20 AM |
Photo by Jane Bruce


Erv’s on Beekman

2122 Beekman place, Prospect Lefferts Gardens


Beekman Place is a dead-end street in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, one of three such lonely spurs off Flatbush that end abruptly at the B/Q Brighton Line, which runs along the eastern side of Prospect Park. There are only a few businesses on the block; most of it is taken up by colossal apartment towers. On cold, drizzly nights, the rumble of the unseen subway in the air, Beekman feels like the setting of a film noir.

12/17/14 1:35pm
12/17/2014 1:35 PM |
Photos by Jane Bruce


1. Moonlight Mile

We’re not too interested in the whole “bar with a gimmick” thing, so when we heard that Greenpoint’s Moonlight Mile would only be serving one type of liquor—bourbon—we were a little skeptical. And bourbon’s even our spirit of choice! But the thing is, Moonlight Mile does bourbon so well (the Foggy Mountain Manhattan is smooth yet powerful) that it doesn’t feel like a gimmick at all, rather it feels like a project of pure passion. Of course, bourbon isn’t the only thing you can imbibe; there’s an excellent selection of craft beer available as well. And as you should be able to expect from a bar named after one of the loveliest, most underrated Rolling Stones ballads, the music playing at Moonlight Mile is perfectly on point.
200 Franklin Street, Greenpoint


12/03/14 7:00am
12/03/2014 7:00 AM |
Photo by Jane Bruce


Brooklyn Eats on Myrtle
474 Myrtle Avenue, Clinton Hill


“But I’m not at all athletic!” my friend protested when I told her that we were going to play some ping-pong.

“I love sports, but I can’t play them,” she said as I dragged her to the brightly lit back room at Myrtle Avenue’s new bar/ping-pong spot, Brooklyn Eats on Myrtle.

It was around 6 on a weirdly warm November Tuesday when we visited, and the place was pretty quiet, with just a few people sitting at the slate-topped bar in the long, narrow front room. Considering there are an abundance of nearby bars and restaurants dotting this stretch of Myrtle Avenue, it takes something special to stand out as a newcomer, and for Brooklyn Eats that something special is the presence of a single ping-pong table, which is free to use for anyone drinking or eating in house. There is a sign asking that patrons only play games up to 11 points, but the rule wasn’t enforced the evening I was there—nobody else seemed to want to play.

And that was too bad, really, because the ping-pong table was pretty much the best part of the bar. Sure, it’s nice to go to a place that has solidly cheap happy hour drinks (generous pours of well drinks for $5, and $3 beers in the bottle), but it’s not like that nice, it’s not that exciting. The same goes for the food we tried. The fried chickpeas were a savory, salty snack—kind of the platonic ideal of bar food. But they were also $5 for a treat that is oftentimes complimentary.  The other food we tried—a shrimp quesadilla with not enough cheese and sausage sliders which were almost all bun with little meat—was almost aggressively mediocre, like it was daring us to say something other than “meh.” Reader, we couldn’t. “Meh” was all we could muster.

And yet, despite all that, we had fun. Probably it was because we had the ping-pong table all to ourselves and so could play right up to 21 points. And there is a jukebox in the ping-pong room (as well as some jarringly silly quotes painted on the wall like “Why Fit In When You Were Born to Stand Out” and “University of Brooklyn School of Reality;” huh?), so there’s that. Plus, as my friend and I quickly learned, athleticism is not a requirement to having fun while playing ping-pong—only alcohol is. And since alcohol is abundant and cheap, it’s pretty easy to have an ok time at Brooklyn Eats on Myrtle. But, you know, only ok. 

11/05/14 4:00am
11/05/2014 4:00 AM |

The Lighthouse
under the Manhattan Bridge

The evening was looking a little nasty. It was not the kind of night where I could get super excited about sitting outside in the cold for a couple hours. In fact, all I wanted was an empty bar where I could sit gloomily over a depressing can of Genesee, and turn my back on windows looking out onto a world of pain and fast-
approaching winter. But here I was, getting off the train in DUMBO, heading to an outdoor bar. I pressed on through the dark.

Head down, following my phone to the supposed location of my destination, I almost bumped into the friend I was meeting, at the Lighthouse, a new beer kiosk under the
Manhattan Bridge from the good people who run DUMBO stalwart Superfine.

Admittedly, I’m not much of a DUMBO person, but I found myself really taken with the scenery around the Lighthouse. One of the Manhattan Bridge’s massive archways stretches overhead, completely shielding the sky from view. There was absolutely no one else around except for a street- sweeper on a nearby bench, and two women standing inside the cutesy, red-and-white striped, lighthouse-shaped structure. A disco ball spun silently inside the glowing purple kiosk, which was lined with kegs, bottles of wine, and bags of chips. We shouted our orders over the trains and cars and trucks rumbling above, grabbed our beers in plastic cups, and sat down at one of the empty picnic tables.

This being a kiosk, there are minimal options to choose from. You’ve got your unremarkable white and red wines, and for beer, there’s Pacifico Clara and Fire Island Sea Salt Ale on tap, both rather summery choices, but hey, we can’t complain about anything that distracts us from our impending wintery doom.

And that’s exactly what the Lighthouse does best. This place has got all the trappings of summer: picnic tables, a kitschy boardwalk kiosk, and outdoorsy minimalism. It’s really just a spot to (legally) drink under the bridge, but maybe that’s all you need. You’re still at one with the city—dog people and panhandlers walk on through and chat you up or don’t—but you’re also sort of hidden. On weekends, the Lighthouse has a lineup of DJs, but it was pretty dead on a Wednesday night.

But hey, that’s just the way we like it sometimes, especially since every public drinking yard we can think of in this city always seems to be packed to the gills. We imagine the place is filled with strollers and even more dogs on a sunny weekend afternoon, but if that’s not your scene, make like we did and wait for the rain.

10/22/14 4:00am
10/22/2014 4:00 AM |

Midwood flats
569 Flatbush Avenue

You have been to a bar like Midwood Flats before. It’s the kind of bar with spare wood furnishings and vintage electric bulbs, the narrow space filled with high tables in the front and a couple booths in the back, chalkboards on the wall announcing a rotating crop of twenty locals beers on draft. It’s the kind of bar that serves traditional bar chow like cheese fritters and chips and dip alongside upgraded comfort food like duck torta and two kinds of lobster rolls. It’s the kind of bar where, if you walk in from a sudden downpour on a recent evening, the waitress will cluck sympathetically and tell you “Aw, sweetheart, you need a drink!” to which you will heartily agree.

In short, Midwood Flats is a gastropub in the manner of many Brooklyn establishments that bear the same description. In a neighborhood like Park Slope or Williamsburg or even a mile further north, on Franklin Avenue, it would hardly be remarkable. But in this particular stretch of Prospect Lefferts Gardens right below the Prospect Park Q stop, it’s something to get excited about. Until now, the bar options in the neighborhood came down to a handful of lounges with unpredictable hours and Lincoln Park Tavern, a decent-but-not-great pub currently in danger of closing, which serves up large, bland helpings of Mexican-American food and which seems to frequently host Evanescence karaoke. Other choices necessitate a hike up to Crown Heights, an increasingly daunting distance for a quick pint as the winter weather settles in.

Which is why on a Wednesday night, Midwood Flats was packed with locals, braving the rainy weather to sample the new bar’s offerings. The draft list, which includes offerings from Kelso, Evil Twin, and Singlecut, was decent if expensive: there wasn’t a beer on the list for less than $6. The whiskey list, which covers the entire back half of the laminated menu, offers an impressive array of bourbons. The soundtrack seemed firmly stuck in the British mope-rock spectrum. Coldplay’s “Yellow” played, by my count, three times in the hour and a half span that I stopped by. Still, if not an objectively great bar, Midwood Flats is a perfectly good place to grab a drink. It would be a find in Midtown and a shrug in Prospect Heights, but it’s a pretty solid thumbs up for the location.

10/08/14 4:00am
10/08/2014 4:00 AM |

The Grand National
524 grand street

The best thing about a sports bar is that people tend to leave you alone. The muted television mediates conversation so that silences are comfortable, all eyes fixed on the screens with distracted interest. The screens make it bright enough to read, too, which even as I type it I realize is the least sports-aware thing to say about televised sports at a bar. But a good sports bar does not judge—especially not if you arrive undercover, in a baseball cap.

When I pulled up on my bike outside the Grand National, the first thing I noticed was a small plastic sandwich board propped up on the sidewalk advertising “DRANKS.” A set of bi-fold steel casement windows along the front of the bar were open to the street, and from the sidewalk I could see an enormous (and gorgeous) blond wood bar stretching to a back wall tiled in red tin. A raised bank of cozy wooden booths runs along the wall opposite the bar, suitable for any size crowd you might roll in with. The music was fairly standard sports bar rock, with a Black Keys twist. Six impressively sized TV sets hung on the wall behind the bar, with another near the door.

The menu is small, but that’s mostly due to the font size. You can get everything from a Soy Honolulu Dog, served with pineapple, avocado, tomato, and diced onion, to an order of lowly Tater Tots. I ordered pan-roasted broccoli and cauliflower with mac-and-cheese sauce and a pulled pork sandwich. The veggies were tasty, if a bit ho-hum for all the warm, gooey potential of the mac-and-cheese sauce. The pork sandwich, though, was exactly what I’d hoped for—drenched in BBQ sauce on a still-crispy toasted bun, pickles on the side. Other pulled sandwiches on offer included chicken and seitan.

The Grand National drink menu covers a lot of ground, with ten tap lines, eleven cans, a champagne (but no other wine), and ten cocktails that range from standard—Mojito and Rum Punch—to more adventurous—the Number One (bourbon, chili liqueur, ginger, lime, and soda) and a Pineapple Julep. The draught beers range from I’ll-drink-it-if-it’s-on-tap (Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Yuengling for your incorrigible Philly friends) to more interesting options, both imported (Spaten Oktoberfest, Köstritzer Black Lager) and local (Bronx Pale Ale, Empire IPA). I went with the Oktoberfest because I’m just excited about fall, but the Köstritzer is a rare enough sight on tap lists that it’s worth getting when you can.

The strangest thing about the Grand National is the bathrooms, which are one floor down in a low-ceilinged basement. To their credit, they’ve done a lot to the space, adding bright white subway tiles and exposed I-beams painted fire-engine red. On my way back upstairs I passed a small arcade, which is kind of a super-minor minor league, if you think about it.

As I finished my beer over the book I’d brought, a handsome and affable bartender puttered around. If he thought it was strange I’d brought a book, he didn’t let on. I don’t want to think it’s all because of the hat, but
it’s possible.

09/24/14 4:00am
09/24/2014 4:00 AM |

638 Bergen Street, Prospect Heights

Call us killjoys, but we were not among those who reacted to news of the opening of a “dessert speakeasy” with excitement. There are a few reasons for this, but most prominent among them is the simple fact that we don’t need any kind of gimmick to attract us to a bar. We like to drink alcohol. We like to drink alcohol in places other than our home. And so we are not really such a hard sell when it comes to attracting us into a new watering hole. The only thing we ask, really, is not to be pandered to. We don’t like it when the owners of an establishment feel they need to coerce us to visit, like they don’t trust the inherent appeal of what they have to offer and instead care more about the publicity flurry that comes with announcing that a bar is, for example, boob-themed (or, say, a dessert speakeasy), rather than just a place to go get a solid drink and maybe a bite to eat.

All of which is to say, we were skeptical when we met a friend at Spirited for pre-dinner drinks the other night. Not just skeptical, actually, more like almost immediately regretful about the choice. The bar itself is beautiful, yes—full of dark wood, it has the building’s century-old original tin ceilings and Art Deco flourishes intact—but at 6:30pm on a Wednesday (and for the next hour or so) it was close to empty. And we think we know why: how can a bar function as an after-work or pre-dinner spot when 99 percent of the food on the menu is dessert? The central conceit, we realized, is absurd, and not just in the way that a boob-themed bar is absurd, but in a more disappointing way, because even when everything about a dessert speakeasy is done well (delicious confections and innovative cocktails) it still won’t wind up as a place you’ll want to go to very often, if at all.

But, you know, we were already at Spirited, so we figured we might as well get a drink. We wound up being really glad we did. We felt a little overwhelmed by some of the more elaborate concoctions and decided to stick with classics: a Rob Roy for myself, and a Vieux Carre for my companion. They were easily two of the most beautifully made drinks we’ve ever had; perfectly balanced with subtle and unexpected flourishes, these drinks made us immediate admirers of our exceptional bartender, Bhagaban Sahoo (he told us to call him Bhagi), who is not only a bartender at Spirited, but also the beverage consultant. Sahoo’s deft touch is unmatched as far as any other cocktail bar we’ve been to in Brooklyn (and we’ve been to many), and the excellence of his drinks made the cocktails we had later, at dinner, seem like dirty dishwater. So despite not really understanding the appeal of the whole dessert-only thing (or even the speakeasy thing… that seems like a trend that died half a decade ago), we would happily go back to Spirited for one of Sahoo’s cocktails. We just lament the fact that anyone would feel the need to sell the place on the virtue of a gimmick, when, in Sahoo, they have the real deal.