A month ago yesterday, a bar called Lovers Rock opened on Tompkins Avenue in Bed-Stuy. There was no announcement. It happened quietly. Anyone who went inside was from the neighborhood, beckoned by a new sign: “Cocktails, Music, Socialize.” On the left there was a palm tree; the hues looked like the Caribbean in the 90s.
I discovered it last week by accident, on my way to Eugene & Co., just down the street. A neon glow caught the corner of my eye. Pink orb lighting hung low from the ceiling and splashed onto the white stucco of the walls. It was dim and alluring, like Miami vice. The stools along the marble bar were filled by people who gave the distinct impression that they were very comfortable, and lived around the corner.
It was confusing. Clearly, this place was new, but it looked very settled. Somehow, a retro beach resort bar was Bed-Stuy’s natural drinking habitat. It inexplicably belonged there. Whatever it was, I wanted to be a part of it.
A few days later, I returned to Lovers Rock. Behind the bar, the counter was brimming with bottles of rum, mescal and tequila; there were whole pineapples and watermelons sliced in half, and ready to join their drinks.
Co-owner Shane Feirstein, who previously managed Achilles Heel, was mixing a Sky Juice No. 3, made with white rum, pineapple, and velvet falernum, a citrusy sweetener. Feirstein took the name Sky Juice from the reggae community, and turned it into a family of rum-based drinks. No. 3 is his favorite.
“We have an impressive selection of rums,” confirmed the other bartender of the contents of the shelf behind her. There were rums from across the Caribbean and Latin islands, and a few from mainland central and south America.
The cocktail list is Feirstein’s baby, he says. He is an unabashed fan of rum–which he digs, in part, because, like wine, each takes on the qualities of the region it comes from. Not to short change the rest of his menu, he’s equally excited about his tequila and mescal based recipes.
Hanging on the wall above the booze, there is a big framed picture of a lion that reads, “I AM THE MAGICAL DAN DELION,” a favorite print from a 60s art book. Inside of a smaller frame, there is a drawing of a rock.
“Is that Lovers Rock?” asked my friend.
“Yeah,” said Feirstein.
“It’s a state of mind,” explained the other bartender.
Feirstein demonstrated, lifting his hands up around his brain area, and swirling them around.
“Everything is lovers rock,” he explained. “Some people think of a physical rock. Some think of a rock that you can swim out to and watch the sunset. It’s fun because it brings out so many different ideas.”
I was very into that idea, but Lovers Rock is also a reggae genre of 80s love songs, a Sade record, and a tune by The Clash. Feirstein, along with his friend and business partner Alexandra Escamilla, spent years going to reggae nights together. They also knew that, one day, they’d open a bar and that reggae music and Feirstein’s eclectic music taste generally would be their inspiration. It would also be tropical-themed–the kind of place they wanted to spend time in.
Feirstein and Escamilla were serious about another thing: They’d open a bar for the neighborhood.
“It feels like Bed-Stuy. It’s aggressively Bed-Stuy. And that’s on purpose,” said Feirstein. Conveniently, Bed-Stuy is a neighborhood full of DJs. Almost every night of the week, local DJs play sets heavy on reggae (like 80 percent of the time, Feirstein estimates), but generally speaking, the music is what Feirstein calls positive party: dance hall, R&B, hip hop, funk, and world Afro beat. Feirstein and Escamilla have also partnered with local businesses for pop up food nights, and they negotiated to close seven days a week at 2am instead of 4am, with the full support of Community Board 3 (and, apparently, some hugs).
The delicious Peaches Hot House is less than a block away from Lovers Rock. Go there for dinner and finish your evening with some rum. Try the Breezy Night–dark rum, bitters, and an ice cube of frozen coconut that melts slowly, like a drip, into the brown liquid. Take it to the backyard, which is filled with people that have just started to hear about Lovers Rock by word of mouth, but also by the neighborhood crowd—which was the plan all along, Feirstein said.
“We worked really hard to establish ourselves in a certain way,” he explained. I told him I almost felt bad to be writing about it. But I was smitten, I had to confess my love. He told me not to feel bad. He is a bar owner. He wants your business. But the crucial groundwork has been laid. “It will always be a Bed-Stuy bar,” he said.
Around 11pm, a couple walked in who had been at Peaches. They saw Feirstein, Feirstein saw them and, across the bar, they embraced.