by Leslie Pariseau, Paper magazine contributor, 10/06/2010
546 Clinton Ave., 718-230-5800, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn
At the empty midsection of Atlantic Avenue, past the banalities of Target and Applebee's, a bastion of a neighborhood bar protects patrons from the desolation of southern Fort Greene. Hot Bird is the neighborhood bar we look for on every corner, hours written on masking tape and slapped onto a fence. Even in the rain, its walled yard is spotted with locals finishing beers and wandering in for another, hanging out well after happy hour's end (pints $4 and pitchers $15 until 8pm). A food truck, The Food Truck, is parked permanently for the hours well after happy hour when nothing sounds better than wurst and burgers ordered from a hand drawn brown paper menu. Inside, a lit-up roadside billboard illuminates the faces ordering shots and Sixpoints, one bartender servicing the entire room and barely looking up as if he'd been there a century. No destination for those outside the surrounding neighborhoods, Hot Bird's card declares the draws to its more practical patrons: "Air conditioned! Clean bathrooms!" Reason enough for us.
281 Church St., 212-226-1607, TriBeCa, Manhattan
Il Matto, named for the Italian phrase "mad man," might be better called La Pazza, or "madwoman" for its whimsy-meets-scientist bartender, Christina Bini. "Oh my God!" Bini exclaimed, smacking her hand against her head so adorably it forgave the 15 minutes that had elapsed between drink order and her realization of having forgotten it. The mistake was erased from memory when a martini glass was slid over, at the bottom of which rested a luminous Ligurian ocean rock marinated in vermouth, its aromatic seepage mingled with gin and salty terroir. The simplest of Bini's garnishes, rock and stone martinis might be appreciated by the more classic cocktail drinker, but are upstaged when foamy, vegetable bouquets bloom over glass lips, "ooohs" coming out of glossy TriBeCa lips seeking semi-molecular exploits. Within wildly upholstered pod banquettes, concoctions of brandy, ricotta cheese and berries (the Pasolini) are delivered looking like classed-up DQ parfaits. Morning after treats like the Bloody Frida (in honor of Miss Kahlo) come topped with curry and tinged with Tequila and Thai spices. At the elevated bar, Italian native Bini doesn't speak much English and answers questions through random translators who have perched near her charismatically gesturing hands. She punctuates the air every so often with a glass clink to her patrons, and it's clear when after tasting some fanciful recipe, she happily cries, "Oh my God!" she's quite at home in the madness of her laboratory.
9 Clinton St., 646-863-7171, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Should there come an evening when what you crave is a Porkslap, a Diana+F 120mm and a white space through which to wander, Culturefix will sate your hipster heart's desires. This Sunday evening, the multitasking bar was quiet, except for the rain and the stereo system oscillating through Bossa Nova and hip-hop. A few bearded boys walked in with a collection of mysterious fishing rods and traipsed to the back, presumably to see the gallery space full of bright, messy works. At the front bar, the couple pouring drinks bantered familiarly with customers against a yellow striped background hung with pans and wine glasses as if we were all gathered in their kitchen for a dinner party. However, at a dinner party it may be rude to wander off with a glass of wine and a slice of chorizo nosing through each room, picking up objects, trying them on, commenting on the artwork, writing on the walls. But Culturefix invites the critical eye, the nosy collector, the salon conversation and a chalk-written message (on the bathroom walls). Through a rear corridor, Dijitalfix is the perfect match for tipsy geek driven whimsy, from which you might acquire a pair of gorgeous Joey Roth ceramic speakers or a throwback Casio calculator watch. Back at the front, dinner party partings were exchanged as were invitations to the next opening, cheese workshop and Hipstamatic exhibit. Invitations were accepted, if only in hopes to once more nose through their stuff on another rainy evening.
The Counting Room
44 Berry St., 718-599-1860, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Word of the Counting Room is slowly making its way outside the borders of Bedford and Berry, down toward Brooklyn's bright(er) young things and over the bridges to Manhattanites, who, craving garden views, are growing weary of boxcar cocktail dens. The Counting Room may not have a garden, but it certainly has light and air and a dark corner or two if, indeed, you prefer a den. Upstairs, lovely high ceilings and smooth wooden communal tables beget a convivial brunch and dinner tableau composed of deviled eggs, truffled grilled cheeses and bottles of Prosecco. Save the slowly growing buzz of night sounds below, the descending staircase might be missed. But it shouldn't be, because there you'll find the cocktails. As the light slips behind this side of Williamsburg's industrial fabric you'll want the Vanishing Sun, a dark sweet tart mix based on rhum agricole, honey, lime and grapefruit. For the simpler evenings, a French Compromise might do (citrusy gin, lemon and bubbles) or just an iced down Allagash White. Simple or not, you'll need a pork sandwich alongside -- crusty, managebly messy and the best precursor to another cocktail. Or the white trash crème brûlée. Yes, there is something primally base and irresistible about Nilla wafers topped with banana pudding. But it's been caramelized into a glassy, golden brûlée, (and that's French) so you're still classy. We promise.
633 Grand St., 718-387-1029, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Mounted antlers, fluorescent PBR sign, shuffleboard, illuminated jukebox, whiskey, hipsters -- this is the new quintessential Williamsburg scene. Now that Southern food has permeated the shiny-gritty depths of the neighborhood (Pies 'n' Thighs, The Commodore, Brooklyn Star) the Southern bar has finally earned its plucky place beginning with Lady Jay's. On an early evening, Willie Nelson's gravely voice floated about the already broken in bar while a couple flirted at the shuffleboard table, hands draped around hips and glasses of iced down bourbon. Miller High Lifes were ordered by the half dozen and carried to the back patio where they dripped condensation in the sticky heat, were drained quickly and followed by a round of PBR tallboys. The crowd was less country than Graham-stop cool, but seemed happy to take part in the backwoods dive theme singing along when twangy tunes popped up on the jukebox, and ordering exotic-sounding moonshine from Sam Mason, former chef-owner of Tailor, who held down the bar. Come winter, Lady Jay's new scene sheen might wear off and the drinkers may become more local, but that's as it should be -- every neighborhood requires a dark, private bar where one can cry into a shot glass and wail along to a tragic country ballad -- you might just be crying along with the 50 other locals who've adopted Lady Jay's as their own.
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