Yesterday was gorgeous, remember? And when the weather is nice and the sun shines in Brooklyn, charming hangouts exude an especially great amount of… charm. So as a friend and I ambled down Broadway in the late afternoon, near the border of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, one place stood out as being particularly irresistible.
Flowers for All Occasions featured dreamy pink neon window signage that identified it as a bar, that also offered espresso and cocktails, even if its actual name suggested it didn’t do any of that. The window sills were potted with green plants, and the door was open; people milled in- and outside; we went inside.
Flowers for All Occasions might not actually sell flowers, but it does do an awful lot. Rachel Nelson and her husband Erik Zajaceskowski (for ease, friends go with “Erik Z”) first opened their business in November, and it was the completion of a trifecta: They also own Secret Project Robot, an art gallery; and Happyfun Hideaway, a bar, but one that is further along the dive-y and party-heavy spectrum than Flowers.
“We live around the corner (from Flowers), and we have a bar, and gallery, but we wanted to have a place to hang out in during the day that is casual, where you can have coffee, but that transitions to having a glass of wine in the afternoon,” Rachel Nelson tells me, sitting at the end of the reclaimed wooden bar top, which she cut and re-finished together with her husband. “We wanted something really simple and easy.”
Indeed, that is what Flowers for All Occasions does right: It’s a place to hang out with food and drinks, day and night, all wrapped up in a very stripped-down and inviting package. In addition to coffee and pastries during the day, the nighttime brings with it a drinks menu that is pared down—cheap, but not boring. Despite the fact that the license is beer and wine only, Nelson came up with cocktails that use lesser-known low-alcohol spirits. On the roster are low-alcohol tequila, vodka, and soju, incorporated into easy refreshing drinks: The Salty Dog comes with grapefruit, soju, and a salted rim; the Tsunami, with ginger beer, soju and lime; a margarita has low-alcohol tequila, triple sec, and key lime juice. They’re poured as small ($5) or large ($9) sizes; and there is a delightful mango-sake punch available, too. Wine starts at $3 from the box, and never goes above $10. Then there are beer and “shot” specials, like the $7 Tecate and “tequila” (i.e. agave wine) pairing.
“It can be a new moment of drinking,” says Nelson, “where it can be more social and more about hanging out with friends than going and getting shit-faced.” A lovely thought, I said to myself, especially because a hangover of my own raged, and a menu that was alcohol-light and promoted friendly hangouts sounded like a merciful gift.
The food menu is also simple and largely vegetarian. There are veggie Sloppy Joes; a lunch basket with pretzels, cheese and mustard; another with house-made hummus, pita bread, and olives. The black bean burger is really the only item you’d gobble alone; the rest is meant to be shared with buddies.
Nelson and her husband are plugged into the art scene (via their gallery, of course, and Nelson is also an artist), and the staff are all, as Nelson describes it, “artists first.” (Another reason she kept the menu easy-breezy—simple things can still taste great, but anybody can prepare them without much trouble.) She and Erik also managed to incorporate a gallery space in the back of the bar. Installations change every month: presently, a video arcade is installed courtesy of Death By Audio.
The feel of the place is all very Northern Exposure (aka the best show on network television in the 90s); basically like a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. Nelson and her husband built the entire place by hand using reclaimed drift wood that is now suspended above the bar, wood slabs bought upstate and re-fashioned into cozy booth spaces; multi-colored large-bulb holiday lights are wrapped around wooden beams. The places was not meant to have a particular theme; they just added stuff they liked, and that felt good.
“The cool thing about spaces is, if you let them, they kind of take on a life of their own, and customers sort of dictate them, and the staff gets comfortable; that’s my favorite part of running spaces,” says Nelson. “If you try to force it, it doesn’t work out as well as when it’s organic.”
It was also this letting-go that led them to acquiring the space, and to its name. Nelson and her husband had been scouting locations for months. One day, just walking by, they spotted a guy refinishing the inside of their now-bar. Someone else had planned to turn it into a flower shop, and had already added flower signage and an awning. The construction person told Nelson and Zajaceskowski: take it, if you’d like. Four days later they did.
Some people walk in, who expect to buy flowers, says Nelson, and they are of course rebuffed—but not ultimately. “The idea was flowers for all, meaning the gift of, like, existence, in the philosophical sense,” says Nelson. “This is the flower.”
Flowers for All Occasions 1114 Dekalb Avenue, Bushwick.