Can a place be a destination bar and a neighborhood spot? That’s what Diamond Reef aims to be, according to Dan Greenbaum, managing partner. “I think it can be both,” he told me as I sipped a rum concoction he had prepared. “I think to excel here, we need to be a neighborhood bar. Those are the people who are gonna come out on cold winter nights.”
Opened on March 1st, the buzzed-about new spot on the Crown Heights/Bed-Stuy border by the team behind Attaboy has already gained a following among cocktail geeks. (As I sat at the bar, I overheard another writer telling one of the bartenders she wrote a book about Brooklyn cocktail bars, and several people stopped by to say hello to Greenbaum, who was on Attaboy’s opening team and trained under Sasha Petraske.)
Yet Greenbaum and his partners Sam Ross, Michael McIlroy, and Anatoly Dubinsky have made deliberate choices to ensure that it doesn’t have the same hallowed (some might say pretentious) ethos as Attaboy, where an hour wait for a seat leads to a minuscule bar where an expert who knows hundreds of cocktail recipes off the top of his head will serve one to you. “We want people to treat this bar differently,” Greenbaum tells me. “We don’t want it to be a cocktail den where people are worshipping at the altar of the bar.” Though the aforementioned cocktail geeks—myself included—will still find the same quality of craft cocktails made with fresh fruit and proper techniques, you can also order a beer without feeling ashamed. In fact, there’s a list of $3 – $4 beers. Cocktails are less expensive here too ($12 or $8 during happy hour vs. $16 – $17 at Attaboy).
As Greenbaum explains it, they found the space first and fit the concept around it, keeping some beloved aspects of Attaboy but loosening up their approach and streamlining it—essential in a 1,300 square-foot bar with a backyard just as big. The menu includes playful options, like the Penichillin, a frozen version of Sam Ross’s signature Penicillin. Like the original, the Penichillin incorporates scotch, lemon, honey, and ginger, but instead of being served on the rocks it’s blended in a slushy machine and served with a little paper umbrella—a tweak that seems to symbolize the difference between the two bars. I also loved the Scorpion Kick, a daiquiri variation with rum, lime, mint, and cacao, though Greenbaum tells me his favorite is the unfussy booze + juice (fresh apple juice and your choice of spirit).
The design embodies a more laid-back attitude that seems fitting for the neighborhood. Instead of exposed brick and pressed tin, there’s teak paneling, aquamarine banquettes, and palm-frond wallpaper. Bed-Stuy-based Noble Signs created the neon signs and Red Hook studio Tokenlights crafted the blown glass pendant lights above the bar. The vibe is less Prohibition-era speakeasy and more mid-century tropical escape, but the goal—to transport you, if only in spirit, to a faraway place where the booze flows freely and your everyday cares evaporate—is the same.
They’re currently outfitting a kitchen (hopefully launching next month) that will serve simple bar food like grilled shrimp, veggies, and meat on skewers. Though the location on an industrial stretch of Atlantic Avenue near a car repair shop is a bit off the beaten path, Greenbaum is excited that they can stay open late because they don’t have any neighbors who will be bothered by the noise. As the weather warms up and the backyard food truck gets in gear, I expect it’ll fulfill its mission as a neighborhood bar with a pull strong enough to draw cocktail lovers like me from other parts of Brooklyn and beyond.
Photos by Maggie Shannon