On Monday, I sat inside Moloko, a Bed-Stuy bar, which has surprisingly flown under the press’s radar considering that it has a full dinner menu, fantastic food-plus-booze happy hours specials, and serves a double-cheeseburger that is so herb-infused, so savory with its soft bun, crispy lettuce leaf, and plump pickles, that you might not even want to order it; once you’ve eaten one, you’ll want many more, and it can’t be healthy for any one person to eat so many beef patties. So proceed with caution. Also, it’s open nightly till 4am.
Steve Kämmerer, a 27-year-old partner at the bar, and still-current bartender at Dynaco, stood behind a row of taps, talking to me and my friend. He was wearing a quite frankly amazing Hawaiian shirt (instead of a floral pattern, there were multiple-colored automobiles) and he was clutching a second-hand coffee mug filled with stout on draft. He and his three partners, Thomas Hagen, Ryan Folan (who also still bartends at Dynaco), and Louis Provenzano (they call him Lou), made a rule among themselves that if they wanted to drink at work, they had to do it out of a coffee cup, like the one Kämmerer held.
Kämmerer is so good-natured and even-keeled when he tells this story, sort of like he was relating a mundane detail about his day, that I laugh, and ask him what made them decide to do that.
“Because,” says Kämmerer, “it’s awesome.”
Moloko, which means milk in Russian (and is probably familiar to all English speakers from its use in A Clockwork Orange) opened, officially, all the way back in June. But then the fire department showed up and told Kämmerer and partners that the contractors had messed up; the gas lines weren’t right. The bar shut back down for five weeks. Finally, in July, it opened back up. Since then, neighborhood crowds have been slowly but steadily growing much bigger.
“August was better than July, and September was better than August, and November was really good, and then December was even better,” Kämmerer says, optimistically; 2015, filled with some logistical nightmares attached to getting the bar open, had taken a toll on him and his partners. “To me, 2016 was turning a page, so this year should be good.”
Kämmerer has worked in bars for a decade, and all around the world—so I trust him on this prognosis. More importantly, I absolutely feel it myself, sitting on a vintage wooden barstool inside this place that has no particular description, other than that it is filled with things that Kämmerer and his partners like, built themselves, found on the street, or bought at the thrift stores Junk in Williamsburg, and Green Village in Bushwick. The wainscoting beneath the bar comes from original floorboards that were leftover form the remodel. Old cabinets are mounted on the wall as shelves. It’s all over the place, except not, because everything was the result of their collective tastes, which nicely coalesce into something like “eclectic-comfortable.” The bar has kept its original tin ceilings and added pendant lamps; the space used to be a café, but was left in disrepair for a while.
If you tell stories for work, when you talk to people about why they do what they do—why they make the art they make or invented the furniture they sell, or opened a bar, you kind of hope for, or even expect an incredible, serendipitous story about why it all happened. But the real reason is usually a lot simpler than that: It’s because everyone involved really likes each other, and the thing they sell.
“I always imagined opening a bar with friends,” Kämmerer says, as he shakes me up a lip-smacking whiskey sour, egg-white included. “But [me and my partners] met working at Radegast, and then we became friends and now we’re vey close.”
The story of how Kämmerer met George Taveras, who runs the kitchen, is another illustration of co-workers, cum-friends, cum-business partners. Taveras also worked with Kämmerer at the Williamsburg beer hall Radegast—only at the grill rather than the bar; and then, suddenly, he disappeared into the night.
“George left and we couldn’t get in touch with him for a good year,” said Kämmerer. “One day I was having steak at Tabaré in Williamsburg and I looked up and George was in the kitchen. I was like, dude, come here. We’re opening this place up. Come. And he came.”
It’s a boon that he did, because George makes some fantastic food, not least of which, the double burger; Kämmerer says he has been getting a lot of attention for that on Yelp. “We wanted to open a bar with a good kitchen,” says Kämmerer. “The first month we looked more like a restaurant than a bar, and now we’re starting to look more like a bar with good food and quality ingredients that you want to eat while you drink.”
Kämmerer describes the menu as American food that is bar focused—the good staples like a the burger and wings and (another bar staple of late) deviled eggs. But there is a lot more than that. An entire entree section filled with brick chicken, Berkshire pork chops, and—if you’re feeling especially hungry and cash-rich (it is also cash-only)—a rib eye steak at $32, by far the most expensive item. The rest stick to a price point in the teens. There are food-drink specials, like a Coors Banquet and double burger for $14. The kitchen stays open until 3am, and switches to a slightly smaller bar-food menu later at night.
The bar list, like the look of the place, is chalk full of things the owners liked. Kämmerer himself is half German, and enjoys a lot of “old world” beers and spirts, which there are plenty of. Still, the shelves are stocked with about half domestic and half foreign brands, and the six taps cover all the basic beer types, lager, pilsner, stout, pale ale, and IPA. At first, Kämmerer says they stocked about 20 beer bottles they all personally enjoyed drinking, but they weren’t selling that much, and Chef George—the enigmatic double-burger genius—said they were taking up too much space in his refrigerator. “I need you to get rid of those beers,” said the man. And then, they were gone.
All the desserts and cookies come from Endless Summer; out of their chocolate chip cookies they throw in some ice cream and serve a fantastic ice cream cookie sandwich.
Moloko sits on a stretch of Myrtle in Bed-Stuy that is still very quiet; when it first opened, Kämmerer said everyone was very friendly. “It’s Brooklyn, you know?” Says Kämmerer. “It’s New York. There’s not been a negative response.”
As we got up to leave, Kämmerer poured us their house shot: Brennivín, which is from Iceland, and the country’s unofficial national spirit. We tipped ’em back. It was kind of like Aquavit, with a strong burst of herbs and coriander.
What’s the story behind the house shot? I ask.
“We all liked it. And it’s Icelandic. Why not?” Says Kämmerer.
Moloko: 705 Myrtle Avenue. Open nightly, 5pm – 4am; Brunch, Saturdays and Sundays, 12pm – 4pm.