On the Town
by Donhae Koo, Paper magazine contributor, 08/12/2009
365 Van Brunt St., 347-453-6672, Red Hook, Brooklyn
Now that the pesky business of liquor license-obtaining is out of the way, St. John Frizell's vision of a place where Red Hook locals can caffeinate before and self-medicate after another day at the daily grind has slowly become a reality. Fort Defiance is an effortlessly charming spot with pale robin's egg blue walls covered in artwork from Frizell's travels to Mexico, Bolivia and China. Mexican oilcloth-covered tables—the work of his wife Linden Elstran—provide bright pops of color, while the wine-colored leather and wood chairs were a lucky acquisition from a St. Louis Playboy Club. With the State Liquor Authority's long-awaited blessing, Fort Defiance, which has been brewing individual cups of Counter Culture coffee ($2) since mid-June, can finally showcase a few things Frizell picked up in his stint behind the bar at Pegu Club and in his years spent writing about and researching the almighty cocktail. Shying away from what he sees as the "decadent and perverse" place the cocktail revival has found itself, Frizell has made ease of execution and enjoyment his signature, while keeping things interesting by serving his drinks with a side of history. The Colonial Cooler ($8), uses a recipe circa 1926 from the Sandakan Club in British West Borneo to deconstruct and rebuild that summery British favorite the Pimm's Cup (without the Pimm's), while the Prescription Julep originated as joke drink recipe written in medical Latin from a 1857 issue of Harper's Monthly. Lunch selections like the muffuletta ($9) and banh mi ($9) offer something new to Red Hook, and the small plates (try the creamy deviled egg sprinkled with salt crystals and cayenne; $3) currently offered in the evening will soon be rounded out with one or two dinner entrees.
111 Reade St., 212-240-9194, Tribeca, Manhattan
Indecisives, beware. Tribeca's new cocktailery, borne of industry veterans Michael Neff, Abdul Tabini and Kenneth McCoy, may offer your worst nightmare: any libation your imagination can conjure (within reason, of course). Beyond a nondescript exterior and minimal signage, the bartenders of Ward III fine-tune their mixology instincts in a subdued space of grays and blues with exposed brick and liquor shelves fashioned out of antique Singer sewing machine tables. Depending on your tastebuds' nitpicky desire, name your poison, then specify creamy and spirit-forward with a hint of anise, or maybe effervescent and savory with melon. The provided list of spirits, spices, fruits, and descriptors help get the creative juices flowing. Just don't approach it buffet-style—bartender's discretion means the customer isn't always right. My tame request for crisp and refreshing with a vodka base was met with finesse using cucumber, mint, housemade bitters, lemon, and sugar ($12). After spying an untouched mango, my next drink became a joint effort, brainstormed into existence as tropical, Thai-influenced and 2.5 stars on the spicy scale. The resulting concoction alchemized white rum, black rum, mango, red pepper flakes, lime and sugar into something slightly pulpy and sweet with an aggressive heat. But the Handel's Messiah Hallelujah-moment of the night was a takeoff of the uncommonly delicious Tortuga ($12) from the existing cocktail menu (for those whom the bespoke concept gives analysis paralysis). Deemed worthy of recording for future reference, the recipe of bourbon, sweet vermouth, egg whites, mint, red pepper flakes and lime was scribbled on a coaster in the designated space and filed away in their system (you wouldn't want to lose that eureka cocktail). A full menu from open to close includes bacon-wrapped dates ($7), pork and beef meatball sliders ($12) and Moroccan chicken pot pie ($14), while an Ommegang Witt or Peak Organic Pale Ale ($7) await for when you need a break from reinventing the wheel.
200 Ave. A, 646-448-4854, East Village, Manhattan
With reports all over the blogosphere of patrons playing bartender, dancing on any horizontal surface and basically breaking all rules (had there been any), the East Village's Superdive has made short work of carving a place for itself in the annals of frat-boyery. If you're in the dark, here's the deal: kegs, at your table—you pump, you serve, you save. The traditional keg, a half barrel, yields 15 gallons of the frothy stuff and will put you back anywhere from $350 to $500. Sure, you could go for the Coors Light or Busch of your underage days, but anyone who's dreamed of keg-standing Chimay has found their mecca (contact the kegmaster at least a week in advance for special requests). Drop-ins (advance reservations are recommended) and smaller parties can choose from a variety of 20 liter sixtel kegs (43 pints) like Brooklyn Lager and Blue Moon for around $175, while less seasoned drinkers can get pints ($5) or pitchers ($15-$20) of draft beers like Harpoon Summer Ale and Radeberger Pilsner. Those who aren't quite as eager to work on their beer bellies can order a mixed drink (starting at $6) but, despite rumors, aren't welcome to DIY behind the bar, which on a recent night was cordoned off. Claiming that people misunderstood the mix-your-own concept, manager Keith Okada (the owners wish to remain anonymous) clarified that bartenders will make the drink in a shaker, which you can then Tom-Cruise-in-Ray-Bans-style strain into a plastic cup. Either we are witnessing some major butt-and-liquor-license-saving backpedaling or several sources on the Interwebs developed instantaneous beer goggles upon entering Superdive. What you can do for certain is hook up your iPod and subject the entire bar to your collection of monster ballads, or jam out on the Steinway grand with whatever you can remember from those lessons mom said would come in handy some day. With a supply of ping-pong balls, dice, cards, and poker chips behind the bar, and a mop and bucket standing at attention behind the scenes, it's understood that at Superdive, things are going to get a little messy.
The Jane Hotel Ballroom
The Jane Hotel, 113 Jane St., 212-924-6700, West Village, Manhattan
If the superlatively close quarters of the Jane Hotel would make spot-on Darjeeling Limited sleeping cars, the cavernous Ballroom would be the perfect showcase for the spoils of a passenger's world travels. From on high, garlanded portraits of a maharajah and maharani lord over African tribal masks, taxidermy creatures and dark wooden rhino statues. The expansive oriental rugs underfoot and safari-like pops of greenery add to the cosmopolitan look, while the mix-and-match aesthetic combines cheetah-print ottomans with zig-zag-patterned and velvet-upholstered couches. The attention to detail, fussy to the extreme, is a nod to Wes Anderson's cinematic stylings—and the signature style of owners Sean McPherson and Eric Goode of the Maritime and Bowery Hotels. The similarly adorned bar adjacent to the great room provides a narrow, more intimate space, while the cozy cushioned mezzanine lets you take it all in from above. The British colonial bent of the decor is echoed in the cocktail menu ($12) with the crisp Punjab (organic cucumber vodka, limoncello, cucumber) and a traditional Pimm's Cup. Rather than opting for an over-priced beer (bottles will run you $6 to $9), try the Hedwig—bright both to the eye and tongue—with honey vodka from New Zealand, strawberry puree and fresh dill. With ample space for lounging and much-needed alcohol for pre-Times Square visits, the Ballroom will offer a welcome escape for hotel guests from their too-cozy rooms. New Yorkers, on the other hand, can use this as a place to get away without having to go anywhere; the Jane Hotel has traveled there and back so that you don't have to.
921 Broadway, 347-529-0370, Bushwick, Brooklyn
Attention, hipsters: You are a target market. And Paul Devitt of Beauty Bar is determined to sell you on his formula of the next-big-thing neighborhood plus kitschy, retro-beauty-parlor decor. The newest and seventh installation in what Devitt likes to think of as his "anti-chain chain" opened recently on a dreary strip in Bushwick under the J/M tracks where the sun does not often shine. After 14 years on the more centrally located 14th street, the original Beauty Bar—overrun with bachelorette parties and SATC-esque ladies' nights out—seems to have lost relevance with the hip young things he'd like to see coming around. So to give Beauty Bar's rep a bit of a makeover, Devitt figured if they wouldn't come to him, he'd just bring the bar to them. Thus was born Beauty Bar: Bushwick, where on a recent night two bartenders chose to forgo hairdressers' smocks for another kind of uniform altogether, sporting artfully disheveled hair and multiple tats. Without the years-old patina of the Manhattan location, this place literally sparkles. Rainbow stripes of glittery paint running along the walls make you want to break out your white-trimmed track shorts, feather your hair (RIP Farrah) and lace up your skates. Beautician stations behind the bar have been restyled into a liquor shelf, while pastel vintage dryers converted into lamps hang from above. You can even take the gimmick to the next level with a $10 manicure-and-martini special. Just remember to take care on the dance floor—you wouldn't want to muss up your newly polished look. Boogaloo Shampoo Thursdays feature Jonathan Toubin of New York Night Train spinning soulful 45s (special request the Jackson 5—RIP Michael) with other weeklies to come (could a Todd P sighting mean something's in the works?). On the cocktail end of things, hairdresser-themed libations ($8) including the Redhead (cherry vodka, raspberry liqueur, sweet & sour, and cranberry juice) and the Shampoo (rum, tequila, peach schnapps, sweet & sour) will soon be available. In the meantime, cheap well drinks ($5) and drafts of Six Point Sweet Action ($5) and Newcastle ($5) will do the trick. Sure, Beauty Bar may be trying awfully hard, but when it comes down to it, Devitt has hit the nail on its perfectly-coiffed head with this destination watering hole, saving locals (including the aforementioned hipsters) from drought.
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