Downtown Brooklyn Gets the Bar it Deserves: Introducing Livingston Manor

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Tonight, a new bar will open in Brooklyn. This bar will be fully stocked with rotating taps of craft beer, four lines of fine draft wine and bubbly Prosecco, a cocktail menu mixed with fresh herbs and locally produced spirits and a seasonal dining menu of rustic meats and cheeses and house-pickled vegetables. This bar will have a generous front patio, fenced in by a tasteful, hip-high rail and lit by the warm glow of heat lamps. Romantically inclined drinkers will be encouraged to enjoy their rum and Applejack-spiked toddy (served piping hot with a cinnamon stick and a slice of sweet orange) while relaxing out front and watching the snow fall softly onto the asphalt or melt into the slush.

Sound like Carroll Gardens? Park Slope? Maybe Boerum Hill or even a quaint stretch of Ditmas Park? Nope. Brooklyn’s hippest new watering hole will open its doors (and its swanky patio) on Hoyt Street in none other than Downtown Brooklyn, at the center of a narrow block sandwiched between Schermerhorn and Livingston, a stone’s throw from the Hoyt-Schermerhorn A/C stop. Enter: Livingston Manor.

“This is the fastest growing neighborhood in Brooklyn right now,” says Livingston Manor co-owner Matt Roff. As a longtime veteran of the Brooklyn bar scene, Roff seems to have his finger perpetually on the borough’s pulse. His name has been linked to some of the borough’s more popular outposts, including 5th Avenue’s sorely missed SouthPaw and Franklin Park, which he opened in 2008, years before any artisanal coffee shops, organic grocers or free range toddler play spaces called Crown Heights home. “9,500 people are going to be coming into this neighborhood over the next two to three years,” Roff stipulates, citing planned developments like the 13 story, 285 room Ace Hotel slated to break ground sometime next year. “And those people, they’re going to be happy not to have to trek all the way to Smith or Court for a night out. Word on the street is, there’s nothing like this around here right now.”

Roff, along with his partners Zhenya Kampanets of Franklin Avenue’s Crown Inn and seasoned NYC bartender Erika Broad, began construction in July, converting a former bodega into a narrow, wood-panelled tavern that’s somehow both airy and cozy. Almost immediately, the trio reports, people who live and work in the area have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the place. “Neighbors were coming up to the guys working on the place since day one, saying ‘Thank GOD you’re opening,’” laughs Broad, a first-time bar owner who cut her teeth slinging drinks for Roff at Franklin Park.

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“It’s a very diverse crowd, an interesting mix,” chimes in Kampanets. “Very busy during the day — thousands of people coming to and from the subway. There’s people shopping at Macy’s or at the Fulton Mall. Then there’s upscale shops on Atlantic Avenue and vintage furniture shops there, too. Brooklyn Law School is just around the corner. But,” she continues, “we’re new to the neighborhood — we don’t know it as well as Crown Heights.”

“We didn’t know what to expect on Franklin Avenue, either,” counters Roff.

While the talk might be all Brooklyn, the bar itself is all Upstate charm, named after a quiet Catskills town near where Roff vacationed with his family as a child. “Livingston Manor was kind of my second home growing up,” he explains. “My family had a bungalow in the 70’s about ten or fifteen minutes away from there in the Catskills — you know, the Jewish Alps?”

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Livingston Manor is peppered with nods to those Jewish Alps, from its retro summer camp-inspired logo to its food and drinks program, which promises to be a classy yet unpretentious list of old favorites and more innovative, creative fare. “The drinks will be a mix of things people will recognize and also something if they feel like trying something they’ve never seen at any other bar,” says Kampanets, who worked with Broad to develop a cocktail menu driven by seasonal takes on classic styles like the Livingston Fizz, which combines Black Dirt Bourbon (distilled in Warwick, New York), citrus, ginger, a fresh egg white and a dab of heavy cream, shaken hard, topped with soda water and served in a Collins glass over ice.

“We’re definitely incorporating a few small batch liquors from Upstate,” adds Broad, keeping with the theme. “A lot of the cocktails have a story behind them, too. This place used to be lunch counter in the 60’s called The Garfield, owned by a lady named Belle Poll. We found a newspaper article from back then about a robbery that happened here — a kid broke in through the fan light and was caught by the cops carrying sixteen eggs and munching on a piece of cake,” Broad says, laughing. Look out for a cheeky Peppermint Flip called 16 Eggs and a bitterly refreshing St. Germain, Campari, grapefruit and Prosecco combo named The Belle Poll, in honor of The Garfield’s proprietor.

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Despite the impressive mixology, Roff is careful to stress the importance of a laid back, no-BS experience. “The idea is to not have to wait seven minutes for a drink,” he adds and motions behind the long, seafoam green bar fashioned out of poured concrete. “No one’s chiseling off an ice block back there.”

The familiar-yet-surprising philosophy applies to the beer lineup as well, with twelve rotating taps planned to feature beloved local brands like Grimm Artisanal Ales, Rockaway Brewing and Radiant Pig, alongside easy drinking pours from Full Sail and Peak Organic. The draft system, beautifully displayed at the center of the bar, will also be the first in the city to pour beer from Catskill Brewery, based in Livingston Manor, New York. “They make a Pils, an IPA, a Porter, a near-sour that’s pretty drinkable,” explains Matt, who was instrumental in bringing the brewery to the Brooklyn. “It’ll be beer geek heaven — as much as you can fit on 12 lines.”

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All that sipping making you hungry? Like a good Jewish mother, Livingston Manor has you covered. The small corner kitchen, lined elegantly with white subway tiles, will churn out small plates like New York state charcuterie, hearty salads and deviled eggs until 1AM every night. It’s not an extensive menu, but it’s centered around perfect late night nosh options. “Just enough to keep people happy and drinking,” notes Kampanets with a smile.

The space is much bigger than it appears from the outside, set deep into the block and lit by a stunning, newly constructed skylight that looms over the main room. The sea green bar top — a color that’s either “like the inside of a pool during the summer,” according to Broad, or old Patina wallpaper if you ask Roff — matches the tables along the far wall, offset by pock marked, roughly textured walls that showcase the building’s rich history and gorgeous herringbone wood panelling modeled after the parquet floors in Roff’s childhood Brooklyn apartment. In addition to the front patio, Livingston Manor also has a back alley, set up Crown Inn-style with small, intimate tables and glowing strings of lights. It’s Brooklyn cool with a dose of Upstate comfort — a beacon of change in a neighborhood long associated with office buildings, chain stores and jury duty.

“I think it’s beautiful,” marvels Broad, brimming with excitement. “It’s even better than I envisioned it, to be honest. It’s the kind of bar I would want to hang out at, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.”

All Photographs by Jane Bruce

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