09/10/14 4:00am
09/10/2014 4:00 AM |

Boobie Trap
308 Bleecker St, Bushwick

As far as gimmicks go, Boobie Trap’s is pretty genius. It’s not just that people, in general, tend to be fans of breasts (a statement we feel pretty comfortable not fact-checking), but that the way said gimmick is implemented is surprisingly female-friendly. Should it be surprising? No, but sadly, we think it is. On a recent Wednesday evening, about three-quarters of the clientele was female, which, combined with the leopard- and neon-heavy décor, smutty magazines and plethora of board games, gave the impression you were at a particularly mischievous seventh-grade sleepover.

Another happy surprise? Food here is not, as one might assume in a place as divey and gimmicky as this, an afterthought. In fact, the food, which we ordered only after noticing how reasonably priced it was (hefty portion of pulled pork: $10; equally hefty sides like baked beans, mac & cheese and Brussels sprouts: $3; jalapeño cornbread: $2), was the standout of the evening, especially in comparison to a far-too-sweet and far-too-sour margarita ($7). The barbecue was on par with the average New Yorker’s expectation of what barbecue is supposed to be (as a northerner, I am not an authority on this, but my Texan companion seemed to enjoy it).

< p>It’s kind of a shame, then, to know that many people—the ones who don’t already live in the neighborhood surrounding the Myrtle-Wyckoff stop—will come solely because they saw the place mentioned in some Yahoo! News article their mom forwarded them. Within the past couple of weeks, Boobie Trap has made the rounds through the media wormhole, foddered by the clicky hook of a new “boob-themed bar in Bushwick,” starting with a short post on the neighborhood blog Bushwick Daily, which made no mention of the bar’s central theme, and then on basically every local news website on New York (including ours), where in pretty much every case, the theme was the sole focus.

Those who actually visit Boobie Trap, however, will see first-hand the reason they made news again just a few short days ago, when Assemblywoman Maritza Davila pressured the bar to cover up the neon pink “fuck off” sign, due to the fact that while it’s still warm out, the bar’s walls have been removed, and the sign was visible to the children walking to the nearby school. (The sign is currently covered by a curtain a petition to turn the light back on tacked below it.)

Which certainly isn’t to say the place has been transformed into a family-friendly establishment, even though at first glance, it might be hard to tell. Normal wooden dive bar tables are covered with childhood nostalgia in the form of board games like Candy Land and Monopoly; other available activities include bopping along to rockabilly and coloring, albeit in boob-themed coloring books.

But it wasn’t until I overheard one of the women at the next table quote a line from 30 Rock (for fellow nerds: It was “And there ain’t no party like a Liz Lemon party ‘cuz a Liz Lemon party is mandatory”) that I knew this was a place worth revisiting. It’s the kind of place you’d think to bring your most foul-mouthed friend, your funniest coworkers or a down-for-anything first date. Which is to say, it’s simply a good bar, gimmicks and all.

08/27/14 4:00am
08/27/2014 4:00 AM |

Ugly Duckling
166 Smith Street, Cobble Hill

Despite its storybook name, there’s nothing remotely outstanding or unusual about Ugly Duckling, a new bar on Smith Street, just off the Bergen Street F stop. It’s got all the aesthetic hits: walls made from what is presumably reclaimed wood, hanging copper-plated lights, exposed brick, a well-organized bar, and a prominently displayed wide chalkboard, which featured a drawing of a street the day I dropped by. The atmosphere is calculatedly inoffensive and unremarkable. The radio alternated between hits from Elton John and Fleetwood Mac, with the occasional Van Morrison and Beatles songs dropped in. It’s a place meant to evoke an atmosphere both hip and family-friendly, a beacon for the cool parents of the neighborhood to bring their baby as they knock back a brew. Your own parents would love this place.

The exceedingly friendly bartender proffered a menu that has a 30-beer-long draft list that only features either brewery or beer names (never both), the ABV, and no pricing whatsoever. On the flip side of the menu, you can choose from the long-ish list of gastropub bites, all priced from about $5 for sides to as much as $25 for certain entrées. Of note, the Ugly Poutine, which consists of potatoes drenched in brown gravy, provolone, and a not-so-generous helping of sweet barbecue duck confit. Too fancy? Then go for the chicken and waffles or fettucini alfredo-like aged balsamic and herb-encrusted chicken on a bed of homemade pasta. All of the offerings are slightly gussied-up comfort food, in a slightly uncomfortable price range.

Those interested in the magic that comes with nearly 30 taps would be much better served (literally and figuratively) at 61 Local or the nearby Bar Great Harry, where curation of and enthusiasm for beer rule all. But, if you’re in the market for an unfussy, if somewhat uninteresting, post-work drink, dropping by Ugly Duckling certainly won’t be the worst decision you’ll make that day.

08/13/14 4:00am
08/13/2014 4:00 AM |

Brooklyn Proper
471 16th Street, Windsor Terrace

This summer has been a strange one. For one thing, it never quite got hot; nothing ever fully boiled over. Instead, it’s felt like we’ve all just been simmering, drifting through the days unscathed, even as news of bed bugs and the drought in California and failing schools relentlessly piles up around us. All of that stuff is easy enough to ignore, though, happening as it does at a distance. But it’s still real. Like, did you ever hear how you can boil a frog alive by putting it in water and raising the temperature so gradually that it won’t even realize that it’s being boiled alive? That’s what this summer feels like; we’re all being boiled so gently that we won’t even notice until it’s too late.

Well, so, that’s what I was thinking about as I made my way to Brooklyn Proper, the latest addition to Windsor Terrace’s burgeoning food and drink scene. I was riding my bike from work, and it was uphill all the way, and so, yeah, I was thinking mean red thoughts about death and destruction. As one does, you know? If I’d had to pick a place to match my mood, there probably would have been black walls and cheap beer and astringent liquor and stale popcorn. Instead, I walked into a small, bright room with floral wallpaper and good-looking people who were all smiling and chatting and wearing outfits that coordinated with the decor. I felt a little bit like I was on the set of some TV show that I would never watch because nothing tragic would happen. I was skeptical about the spot, to say the least.

But then I sat down and I ordered a Wassermelone, an incredibly refreshing blend of watermelon, white wine, and cocchi americano. Brooklyn Proper doesn’t serve hard liquor, but they have an imaginative cocktail list nonetheless, with drinks made with fortified wines and housemade vermouth, as well as fresh fruit purees. Also of note was the Apricot Fuzz, an effervescent blend of apricot, dolin blanc, and sweet stevia leaf. There’s also a small but thoughtful selection of wines and draft beer (including the excellent Peekskill Simple Sour) if fruity cocktails aren’t your thing. And there’s a finely curated food menu, replete with well-priced delicious snacks (the beautifully seasoned roasted almonds and mustardy deviled eggs were perfect bar snacks, and at $2 and $4, respectively, perfectly priced) and smart farm-to-table fare, like duck three ways, as prosciutto, confit, and pate. By the time I was ready to leave, my dark mood had disappeared, replaced by something lighter and clearer. (Was it due to the two cocktails and glass of wine I’d had? Sure! Probably.) And so as I rode my bike home through another glorious summer twilight, I couldn’t help but think that Brooklyn Proper wouldn’t be the worst place in the world to wait out the apocalypse. Not at all.

07/30/14 4:00am
07/30/2014 4:00 AM |

Hops Hill
135 North 5th Street, Williamsburg

On Fulton Street near Washington, where the Notorious B.I.G. used to make loot and knock boots, there is now less chance of running into a freestyle session on the corner than an organic grocery store. Or, say, a bar specializing in craft beer. And so we find Hops Hill, a bar so new that it almost feels unfair to pass judgment—like a just-born kitten, you want to give it some time to find its legs, grow into those oversized ears. How new is it? Well, two sheets of computer paper tacked up on the window serve as a makeshift sign and curious Clinton Hill residents stop to press their noses on the glass door on their way home from the A/C stop.

Hops Hill, as its name implies, will eventually serve as a makeshift temple to craft beers, but while the bar’s potential is clear, it’s still coming into its own. The whole operation is squeezed into a space formerly occupied by a bakery. A large refrigerator in the back will eventually hold a selection of 300 beers. On the evening I went, a young family—the father cheerily bouncing a baby on his knee as he sipped a beer—occupied the only table. In a far corner, a TV tuned to SportsCenter happily hummed away at a low volume. Most of the real estate is devoted to a long, wraparound marble counter with no-nonsense stools parked around it, the visible and evenly-spaced outlets suggesting hopes that the bar will eventually be one where the neighborhood workaholics and freelancers will come to plug in and drink.

A chalkboard at the entrance announces a solid selection for the twelve beers on tap, from the Andean Kuka Tripel to Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde. As of now, all the beers run you $6, affordable compared to similar beer joints in Manhattan and many other parts of Brooklyn. The bartender, an affable gent in a Cigar City Brewing T-shirt, recommended the Ninkasi Total Domination IPA, a bright, hoppy number from Oregon that recently made its debut on the East Coast.  After I confirmed that it was indeed delicious, he nodded. “I know, right? It was a surprise for us, too,” before turning to consult about the merits of a stout. A man at the bar ordered an $18 hamburger from a nearby restaurant, and complained about the price. “Juicy” started blaring from the speakers, as if
on cue.

07/16/14 4:00am
07/16/2014 4:00 AM |

Bar Chuko
565 Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Heights

Since opening in 2011, Chuko Ramen has received a level of praise rare in its unanimity and fervor. Almost as legendary as the ramen, though, are the waits—routinely bypassing the hour mark, even after three years. Partly this is because Chuko is tiny; mostly, it’s because it’s deservedly popular. So it was with mild trepidation that I approached Bar Chuko, the new izakaya spinoff opened by Chuko’s owners last month, just down the street. It was a warm Thursday evening, around dinnertime: what would the crowd be like?

The answer: blessedly small, mostly because Bar Chuko is at least three times larger than its predecessor. It has a sort of unremarkable, pan-minimalistic feel: all clean lines, blond wood, and exposed beams. The narrow, shotgun space is semi-divided into two rooms: in the front, to the left, is the bar itself, cut long and beveled from some light-hued wood, and backed by a brick wall. Opposite it, to the right, runs a row of tables-for-two, with brushed metal chairs. Fading sunlight slants through the floor-to-ceiling front windows, which look west over Vanderbilt Avenue, across Atlantic Yards, to the Barclays Center, a spaceship rusting in a ditch. In the back room, two large, family-size tables take up most of the space, and a rectangular opening in the black brick walls looks into the kitchen, where a coterie of chefs prepare food amidst steam
and sizzle.

An izakaya is a type of casual, after-work drinking establishment where small plates are served to accompany the drinks. Bar Chuko’s menu is divided into Snacks, Bites, Raw items (oysters, spicy tuna, mackerel, clam), Bowls (chilled fresh tofu, chicken ramen) and Skewers, in meat or vegetable varieties. The food is creatively simple, packed with flavor and surprise. Take the toasted rice congee, a rice gruel with mustard greens and a melting soft egg. It was rich, warming, and occasionally lit up by something… I want to say “pickled.” Or the miso cheese, a creamy spread served with little toasts and accoutrements of cucumber, scallions, and salmon roe. It’s like a wacky, izakaya version of bagels and cream cheese, one you might think was played for laughs, until you tried it.

But this is, first and foremost, a cocktail bar, and the drinks star. The expansive menu boasts a wide range of spirits, including Japanese whiskeys like Hibiki, Yamazaki, and Nikka Miyagikyo, as well as a small but discerning beer list heavy on craft beers from Bronx Brewery, 21st Amendment, Hop Nosh, and Ginga Kogen. The cocktail offerings include bespoke specialties like the Shush (shishito, shochu, lemon, honey) and the palate-desiccating Tokyo Drift (Rittenhouse rye, plum liqueur). There’s also a list of chu-hai cocktails, a traditional Japanese mixed drink that combines shochu, soda water, and flavored syrup. Think alcoholic Italian soda, and you’re on the right track. Bar Chuko offers them in lemon, lime, pineapple, orange-ginger, watermelon-black pepper, and aperol-grapefruit varieties, for $6-7. They’re all potent, and alone would be reason enough to return to Bar Chuko, especially in the summer. Thankfully, there are many more reasons.

07/02/14 4:00am
07/02/2014 4:00 AM |

Left Hand Path
89 Wyckoff Avenue, Bushwick

There’s a lot going on at Bushwick’s newest dive, Left Hand Path, including the row of USB ports installed along the sides of the U-shaped bar, a nerdy touch that earned the place early buzz but didn’t warrant it—there are only a few of them, and they’re all placed along a single row of the bar; plus, you’ve still got to provide your own charger. The first thing you’ll notice is actually the strong scent of wood. Whether it’s from the heavy slabs of forward-leaning wood panels recalling the hull of an old ship or the massive cut of a reportedly 113-year-old spruce imported from Washington State is unclear.

The tree also serves as the beer menu, which is the only kind you’ll find at Left Hand Path. It features standard drafts (including the elusive Shiner Ruby Redbird), most of which run at the very fair price of $5, or $4 if it’s before 8pm. But it’s up to the visitor to dream up their own cocktail if they want something more interesting than a whiskey ginger. I only felt slightly ashamed requesting “something fruity and summery with gin,” and then not at all upon the first sip of “The Old Lady,” a simple mixture of gin, soda water and lemon juice that owner and bartender Travis Boettcher described as “something your grandmother would drink on the porch.” My bespoke cocktail set me back a mere $8.


Move to the back room and you’re greeted by blue linoleum tables and a seedy-looking orange vinyl couch that slithers along the wall. It’s where you might imagine a casual mafia meeting—not the kind where anyone gets, like, shot, but the kind where the men, having recently shot at someone, could be playing a game of poker surrounded by chain-smoking women wearing leopard print.

Left Hand Path’s backyard features ample seating and rather tall walls that anchor overhanging Christmas lights. The only things missing are tables on which to place one’s drink, causing the backyard to feel weirdly unfinished. (If you want cutesy patio furniture, you only need ride the L a bit farther west.) At one point, though, a skinny gray cat entered through a hole in the corner, and a regular informed us it was one of a pair of feral sisters, reportedly regulars themselves.

The mismatched interiors, the strange backyard, the vinyl couch—everything at Left Hand Path feels like an ode to wrong turns and disharmony. But no one comes to Bushwick for harmony. People come because they want a dark place to drink, to fawn over adorable cats that may or may not be dangerous, to eat Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (for free!) without being judged, to smoke, to flirt with the bearded bartender, to charge your phone because you’ve still got to make plans for later. Left Hand Path may be a sloppily stitched quilt of a million different ideas, but
it works.

06/18/14 4:00am
06/18/2014 4:00 AM |

Old Stanley’s Bar
226 Wyckoff Avenue, Bushwick

In the heart of Bar Land (Bushwick), Old Stanley’s is the kind of everyman’s bar that quickly becomes your favorite neighborhood watering hole. I enjoy an artisanal cocktail with hand-carved ice as much as the next gentrifier, but sometimes you just want a cold beer, some peanuts and sports on the TV. The Big Buck Hunter in the corner is the only clue that we’re still in Bushwick.

Old Stanley’s, which opened back in April, is a team effort helmed by Ben Quackenbush, Chelsea Altman, Ben Altman, and Matt Webber, a crew whose individual bar experience includes Allswell and The Narrows. Their most recent venture is refreshingly unpretentious. Sports memorabilia, vintage movie posters, and a couple (faux?) taxidermy animals adorn the wall; Christmas lights are strung throughout, and exposed wooden beams lend the place a homey ambience. It feels spacious too—on one side are periwinkle vinyl booths, a dart board, and the aforementioned Big Buck Hunter, which shares its corner with a Playboy-themed pinball machine. Across the multicolored, backgammon-patterned floor and up a step is the bar, backed by a large, illuminated stained glass work and lighted by low-hanging lamps. The nearby jukebox is full of discerningly-selected punk: Latterman, the Methadones, and Teenage Bottlerocket sidled up next to the Replacements and the Damned.

When I visited on a recent Tuesday, Old Stanley’s was comfortably full, but the vibe was still warm and welcoming. “It feels inviting,” my companion noted, as we settled in at the expansive, half-moon oak bar. The only specialty cocktail on the menu is the weekly revolving Stanley’s Cup, which will set you back $8. Otherwise, it’s beer and your standard liquor selections. The beer collection is fittingly low-key and inexpensive, with drafts like Victory Prima Pils, Sixpoint Sweet Action, and Bronx Pale Ale going for $6. Bottles and cans run from $4 to $7, with options including Miller High Life, Dale’s Pale Ale, Tecate tall-boys, and Shiner Bock. If you’re feeling fancy, you can quaff a Chimay for $12. Well drinks come in pints and cost $7, and there’s a frosted-mug-and-shot deal for $6. Like any no-frills dive worth its salt, shelled peanuts are free at the bar, day and night. There are also pretzels and sausages.

At 10pm, several people seemed to be on casual dates—maybe the only kind you’d go on, on a Tuesday. A couple of gregarious groups were packed into the booths. The rest of us were bunched at the end of the bar, where the TV was playing the NBA Finals (decidedly pro-Spurs crowd). The bartender attended to us all with a calm grace, in keeping with the time-slowing effect Old Stanley’s has. I stayed for hours.

06/04/14 4:00am
06/04/2014 4:00 AM |

The Montrose
47 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope

The duke is dead! Long live… his dukedom? The Duke of Montrose opened almost a year ago, a sister bar to Isle of Skye in Williamsburg and daughter to Caledonia on the Upper East Side, together a trio of Scottish pubs with serveral styles of Belhaven on tap and an impossibly thorough selection of Scotch, almost 200 bottles from every region across the land of Robert Burns and William Wallace. But the owners picked the wrong spot in Park Slope for their last outpost: two short blocks from the Barclays Center, from which streamed throngs of thirsty postgamers, too many of whom were put off by the hyperspecialized menu. So, not unlike O’Connor’s before it—the dive bar a block away that was shut down, retooled and recently reborn as the unrecognizable but arena-friendly McMahon’s Public House—the owners reworked it: they replaced most of the Scotch with a full, familiar offering of Bombay Sapphire, Stoli, Captain Morgan, etc.; they lost the Belhaven for craft brews like the Bronx, Brooklyn and Bell’s; and they scrapped the “Duke,” reemerging as the Montrose—just the Montrose.

The owners retained the black-stone aesthetic that the bar shares with its North Brooklyn sibling, and its wood ceiling is awesome, textured as though assembled from extra-large Lego blocks. The bartender was very friendly, offering enthusiastic, unsolicited but helpful (if unheeded) recommendations, and on a recent humid and blustery evening—just in time for the tail end of a reasonably priced happy hour—the almost-floor-to-ceiling windows of the corner spot had been tossed wide open, a blessedly cool breeze sweeping across the room.

So, this is a nice little spot, bearable post-Barclays (with a row of five flatscreens above the bar all tuned to sports) and kinda lovely before the sun sets on off-game nights in spring. But it still seems a shame that the Duke of Montrose didn’t open several blocks farther down Fifth Avenue, outside of the Mandated Barclays-Friendly Zone. A specialty Scotch bar would’ve been a nice addition to the neighborhood; “yet another flatscreen-and-Sixpoint joint,” as one blog commenter called it, less so, as they’re ubiquitous along Fifth Avenue, from the arena to the cemetery. You can’t really fault the owners for trying to repair their flawed model to save the business. But you can blame that damn arena for claiming another victim.

05/21/14 4:00am
05/21/2014 4:00 AM |

The Adirondack
1241A Prospect Avenue, Windsor Terrace

A new bar in a sedate section of an already sleepy neighborhood might distress locals for several reasons: more noise, maybe? A rise in late-night loitering on quiet residential streets? Or, I don’t know, an increase in public urination? But who would’ve thought that there’d be such an outcry over the name? Such was the case with the Adirondack, née Mohawk Tavern, which opened earlier this month in a prime corner-location outside the Fort Hamilton Parkway F/G stop.

Owned and operated by Paul Hamill, Leah Allen, Mike O’Neill, and Brandon Lenihan (all of whom are involved with or own Abilene in Carroll Gardens and Lowlands in Gowanus), the bar pays homage to the Mohawk Valley from which Hamill and Lenihan hail. Their Upstate upbringing is clear not only in the New York-brewed beers and Finger Lakes-sourced wines but also in the decor, which is heavy on rough-hewn wood planks and even features a mountainscape mural. It was also clear in the bar’s original name, Mohawk Tavern, so named to honor the region, not to dishonor the Native American tribe of the same name. However, once the name got out, enough people protested (and enough articles were written about it, including by us) that the owners decided to go with something more neutral—and thus The Adirondack was born, settling the matter before it had a chance to become a full-fledged “issue.”

Which is good, because The Adirondack is exactly the kind of comfortable local hangout that the Windy T needs. Besides some of the more expected though still appreciated draft beers (Captain Lawrence, Saranac Pale Ale) there are quite a few nice surprises, including Ithaca Flower Power—a marmalade-hued, piney yet vaguely tropical IPA—and Newburgh Hop Drop Double IPA, which is aggressively hoppy but still eminently drinkable. There’s also a full bar, and a short menu of unpretentious mixed drinks (Dark and Stormy, Old Fashioned). It seems like every bar and restaurant these days has a complicated cocktail menu featuring drinks that cost as much as an entree, so it’s refreshing to find a place where nothing’s more than $10.

A small food menu includes fresh hot pretzels from Pelzer’s in Crown Heights and a few pressed sandwiches (the roast beef, swiss, and horseradish was particularly delicious, and it comes with a bag of Lay’s potato chips), all of which is simple but satisfying—much like the bar itself. I’ve lived in the neighborhood a long time, and so I appreciate having a new, friendly spot to while away an afternoon with a beer and a book. Over the course of an hour on a recent sunny afternoon, no fewer than five people stopped in to The Adirondack just to remark on what a great addition it was to the area—and how they planned to come back soon.

05/07/14 4:00am
05/07/2014 4:00 AM |

Dirck the Norseman
7 N. 15th Street, Greenpoint

Ed Raven, owner of renowned Greenpoint beer bar and bottle shop Brouwerij Lane, named his latest venture after a 17th-century Scandinavian shipbuilder who settled on 300 acres in what’s now Brooklyn. Dirck’s inspiration, though, seems more German than Norwegian. There are plenty of reasons to start throwing around the term biergarten: the abundance of classic Bavarian beers on offer, the long rows of communal tables that take up the whole back, and the open-air vibe provided by the huge garage doors that allow patrons to look out onto the street. But that would obscure the place’s most notable aspect: Dirck the Norseman is Brooklyn’s first combination bar, restaurant and brewery.

Behind a glass partition near the back of the room, you’ll see staring out at you some very shiny, very intimidating brewing equipment—giant tanks and fermenters and lots of other things you probably won’t be able to identify—used to produce primarily traditional European styles of beer: Wallabout Wit is a standard Belgian witbier heavy on cloves and spice and brewed with malts from Massachusetts; Helles Gate is an unfiltered German rauchbier with a pronounced smokey flavor brightened up by a hint of honey; and Das Schwarze Meer is a delicious and easy-drinking cross between a crisp, fruity kolsch and a chocolate-forward black lager known as a schwarzbier. One standout was Ash Street IPA, a 7.9 percent ABV hop bomb that serves as a clear reminder you’re still firmly planted here in the US. Another was Fisticuffs, an English-style mild ale that packs a crazy amount of flavor into an astoundingly low 2.9 percent ABV; it tastes of coffee and brown sugar and paired brilliantly with the pancakes on their brunch menu. Good news for those interested in sampling as many beers as possible: they’re all available in multiple sizes, including a half-pint for a perfectly reasonable $3.

So Dirck’s worth visiting for the beer program alone, but you might want to be careful about when you show up. At 3pm on a recent Saturday afternoon, the bar was pleasantly half-full. There were small groups talking quietly—two men with two small children, twentysomethings stopping in for a quick drink after going for a run along the nearby waterfront. By 5pm, though, it was uncomfortably packed, and the small, friendly staff seemed overwhelmed. This should come as no surprise: long gone are the days when you could open a unique and welcoming place in this neighborhood and expect it to go unnoticed. Meet some friends there for after-work drinks on a weeknight, or get there as early as you possibly can on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and commit to a long day of drinking. In that case, just remember to go with the Fisticuffs.