Bars are hardly trend-averse, particularly here in Brooklyn, where there’s always some new concept—whether related to design, food, or the drinks themselves—that people latch onto, all in some effort to be a part of something larger than themselves, something cooler, something to which they feel like they can belong. Gross. No! Kidding. Actually, we get it. Who doesn’t want to be a part of the zeitgeist? Isn’t that why we all live in Brooklyn to begin with? Like, is there literally any other reason to live in a place with such exorbitantly high rents, where pedestrians routinely get killed by reckless drivers who never get charged with more than a misdemeanor, where grocery stores are bulldozed in favor of more condos? Ah, the more I think about it, the more reason there is to just stop everything and go out and start drinking. Care to join me? I’ll be at one of the following bars.
191 Smith Street, Cobble Hill
The Federal Bar: Beyond being home to one of our favorite happy hours (we’re talking $3 tall boys, $20 carafes of wine, $6 cocktails, as well as 2-for-$5 corn dogs), this Williamsburg newcomer has one of the more pleasant interiors of any bar we’ve frequented this year. Sure, we know, we know: Exposed brick? Rough-hewn wood? Antique cash registers? You’ve seen it all before. And yet, the Federal Bar doesn’t feel kitschy or like it’s trying too hard. Rather, the atmosphere is ultra-relaxing and it’s a truly welcoming place to spend a night—particularly if it’s a stopping off point before you head to a show at the adjacent Knitting Factory.
367 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg
Fancy Nancy: With its tropical color scheme and beautiful wooden wall-mosaic, this Bed-Stuy spot is host to one of the most aesthetically festive atmospheres we’ve entered in some time. And this level of whimsy extends to the drink (or “drank” as it says on the menu) selection, which is filled with sweet concoctions with ultra-playful names, each one served with a bright pink straw that had us thinking “open wide” each time we took a sip. But all this fun doesn’t detract from how seriously owners Kristen Walker and Jay Chan, both formerly of Northern Spy Co., take their jobs as hosts. There’s an undeniable feeling of warmth and hospitality at Fancy Nancy, making it one of our favorite places to bring a group of friends, split some orders of crispy tater tots and addictive brussels sprouts and, you know, drank up.
1038 Bedford Avenue, Bed-Stuy
June Wine Bar: If there’s one spot on this list that we’d say is the best “date night” bar, this is it. Simply put, there’s few places as inherently romantic as this beautifully designed (think lots of dark wood and an impeccable length of curving white marble serving as a bar) Court Street spot. But the beauty of June isn’t just on its surface, rather, where this wine bar really shines is, perhaps obviously, on its wine list, which features selections at every price point, making it possible to feel not even the slightest twinge of guilt as you drink quartino after quartino of rich, velvety dolcetto.
231 Court Street, Cobble Hill
King Tai Bar: Sometimes you want to go to a classy wine bar, and sometimes you don’t, right? Well, for those nights that you don’t, may we recommend King Tai Bar? While billed as featuring “1940s Miami chic,” King Tai is actually about as subtle and homey as any bar offering what could fairly be called tiki drinks could be. Perhaps this is in part due to its small size—this isn’t the place for raging parties, as our reviewer noted last March, “there’s just not that much space.” But that’s ok, after all, sometimes you don’t want to party. Sometimes you just want to hang out in a calm oasis, with a beachy vibe, that can make you feel far from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding streets. This is that oasis.
1095 Bergen Street, Crown Heights
Leyenda: Billed as a “cocteleria,” Leyenda could more easily be thought of as a house of worship for any and all spirit-devotees. After all, it has an impeccable pedigree—cocktail queens Ivy Mix and Julie Reiner are co-owners, with Reiner having served as a mentor for Mix at celebrated cocktail bar Clover Club—and the religious iconography seen on the menus and in the decor certainly contributes to the sense that when patrons enter Leyenda, they are on holy ground. So bow down. Or, at least, drink up.
221 Smith Street, Carroll Gardens
Chilo’s: Sure, it’s December right now, but it’s also, like, 50 degrees every day, so we still prize places with excellent outdoor areas, and there was perhaps no better addition this year to the borough’s illustrious tradition of outdoor-drinking than Chilo’s. The spacious outdoor area features a taco truck which churns out amazing tacos, yes, but also tortas and tostadas. The real star here, though, is the drink menu, which is filled with delightful, slushy, boozy concoctions, including a rotating frozen-drink-of-the-day selection. (Think: chipotle-rum.) The bar itself is neon-lighted and cozy for all those days that are sure to come eventually, those days where we’ll want to plant ourselves firmly inside, Michelada in hand, dreams of summer in mind.
323 Franklin Avenue, Bed-Stuy
Black Flamingo: Initially receiving most of its hype thanks to its epic sound system and potential to be one of Brooklyn’s best new dance venues, Black Flamingo has proven to be so much more than simply a destination for music nerds. (We love you, music nerds!) As we wrote in our September review:
The space nails its intended retro-groovy vibe and features vintage wallpaper, vinyl flooring, and tons of mirrors upstairs in the drinking and dining area, with the downstairs dance space boasting floor-to-ceiling wood paneling, strategically placed gold lightning, and pleather seating. The bar menu is an all-vegetarian, Latin-inspired selection of small plates; we loved the Guava Jam Grilled Cheese, Jackfruit Crab Cakes, and Tiramisu.
Beyond all that good stuff, though, the drink menu is spot-on, and the bartenders are among the friendliest in the borough. Hey, Black Flamingo, we think we love you.
168 Borinquen Place, Williamsburg
El Cortez: Frequently, just as important as what you drink while you’re drinking, is the food you eat while you’re drinking. And easily one of our favorite places of the year to eat and drink is Bushwick newcomer El Cortez. While we’re lapping up our multi-rum based frozen drinks, we like to know that we’re not going to get totally trashed thanks to the fact that we’re simultaneously inhaling a truly righteous taco salad, loaded with meat and beans and cheese and slivers of sliced black olives. And that we’re doing all this in an awesomely over-the-top Mexican-tiki bar mash-up? All the better.
17 Ingraham Street, Bushwick
The Four Horsemen: This jewel-box like spot on Grand Street is billed primarily as a wine bar (it was also, upon opening, billed as a “James-Murphy-of-LCD-Soundsystem-fame project”), but it’s really so much more. First, the food absolutely shines here, as Four Horsemen features one of the most thoughtfully composed and artfully delicious menus we’ve had the pleasure of ordering from this year. Like, we actually have dreams about how good the peas with calabrian chilis and ricotta salata was. DREAMS, people. But also, the wine list, full of organic and all-natural selections, is replete with affordable options, and the excellent staff will help guide you through any and all questions you might have, leading to what will surely be one of the most pleasurable bar visits you’ll ever have. That was our experience, anyway, and we’re, like, actual experts in this field—”this field” being drinking a lot, eating a lot, and having a really, really, really pretty good time.
295 Grand Street, Williamsburg