Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, in the last decade, have undergone rapid transformation—and much of it has materialized as bars. That said, the relaxed and quiet character of each place has blessedly remained the same; and a couple places (Frank’s!, Alibi) don’t look a wink different than they did before their fancier counterparts joined the crowd. If you find yourself in one of these neighborhoods and get thirsty, you won’t be disappointed by these twenty excellent options for drinks (and snacks) of all kinds, with an atmosphere that Brooklyn does best: friendly and chill.
1) Mekelburg’s: Not only is there no place quite like Mekelburg’s in Clinton Hill, there is, we dare say, no other place quite like it in Brooklyn. When the part-gourmet-grocer, part-bar opened in summer 2015, it was a novelty-cum-staple success. Longtime Clinton Hill residents Alicia and Daniel Mekelburg opened their basement-level culinary hideout because quality groceries like high-end cheeses, meats and sandwiches were unavailable in the vicinity. But beyond these front-room delicacies, the back room is where the party is at. With a combination of bar, four-top, and backyard picnic seating, 16 local beers on tap, and surprising small plates like a caviar and crème fraîche baked potato (plus excellent meat and cheese plates, assembled up front), Mekelburg’s is all inspired-hit and no miss.
293 Grand Avenue, Clinton Hill
2) Mayflower: The scene you might imagine inside this pint-sized cocktail bar—which doubles as a fantastic place to guzzle a Manhattan while waiting for a dinner table at Aita (by the same owners) next door—belongs to a Fitzgerald novel: men in coattails and women in drop-waist dresses, all having intimate tête-a-têtes, perched along banquette seating and two-tops. The bar itself, in line with the space, is short—just four seats—as is the list of house cocktails scrawled on a chalkboard hanging behind it. With one bartender as staff, each order can take a minute to mix. But the surroundings are so cozy and intimate that you won’t mind the wait. Time runs at its own pace inside this candle-lit boozy refuge.
132 Greene Street, Clinton Hill
3) Hanson Dry: In a neighborhood oddly lacking in straightforward bars, Hanson Dry stands out for being one. Happy hour starts early, comes with pretzels, and music-at-a-certain-volume. The front room is long and narrow, with bar-only seating—save for a little banquet spot lining the front window. Warm weather calls drinkers to the backyard and, for those who have not secured a place at the bar, there is more seating in a second back room. The space is simultaneously no-frills (except: a Photo Booth! And a TV) but handsome: a pleasant grey-blue is painted throughout. If a classic bar experience is what you’re after—elevated by bottomless, comforting bowls of pretzels—Hanson Dry is your ticket.
925 Fulton Street, Clinton Hill
4) Hot Bird: There are two excellent times to go to Hot Bird: In the summer, when you’d like to drink outdoors—Hot Bird is, first and foremost, a bar with substantial outdoor picnic seating—and in the winter, when you’d like to drink outdoors (there’s a fire pit, too!). Which is to say, there is never not a pretty good time to drink at Hot Bird, which offers 12 beers on tap and all the standard cocktails. Well, maybe one: When it gets too crowded, which happens semi-regularly, though less in the the winter, and never due to strollers (no kids allowed!). Inside, the bar is cash only (ATMs en suite), and there are fine seating options here, too. But get on it: on perfect summer nights, those fill up quickly with those who didn’t get in early enough to secure a spot within the main attraction.
546 Clinton Avenue, Clinton Hill
5) Hops Hill: Perched on the southern end of a string of relatively new bars on Fulton Street, Hops Hill boasts a dozen rotating beers on tap, 100 bottles in stock, more than twenty ciders, a nice selection of small plates and sandwiches, and a pretty mellow local crowd. It’s attractive inside—a rectangular white marble bar anchors the space—but there is not a lot of seating on the periphery (and it’s not as appealing anyway). One tv hangs inconspicuously in the corner; good to keep the solo drinker company, or for those who want to keep tabs on the game, but are more interested in talking and drinking beers (or some inventive house cocktails) with a friend.
886 Fulton Street, Clinton Hill
6) Sisters: Sisters, as far as a still-living human can tell, is what a bar would look like in heaven. Design firm hOmE created a space flooded by natural light (a gigantic, 30-foot skylight draws the eye upward) and is anchored by a long, white marble snaking bar. Aim to sit there; it is a delight. The serenity continues with a white latticed tile floor, pendant globe lights, and sandalwood paneling throughout. Daytimes are great for working (all that sun and plush plant life!) and the brunch crowd is chill on the weekends. Nighttimes offer everything you want: candlelight, live music in the the back bar (yes, there are two full and separate bars ), a full dinner menu, and lots of people casually drinking and eating house cocktails and brews for long stretches of time: This is a heavenly bar, so it is very hard to leave.
900 Fulton Street, Clinton Hill
7) Fulton on Grand: True to its name, this Clinton Hill go-to rests at the forked intersection of Fulton Street and Grand Avenue, and geographically beckons you inside. Because of that, the narrow casual space is often crowded, and even a little rowdy, especially on the weekend. The owners here are behind 4th Avenue Pub in Boerum Hill and The Evergreen in Bushwick—both of which offer markedly different experiences than this convenient and popular spot. Summers here are best: limited outdoor seating offers great people-watching on the pedestrian heavy intersection. There’s shade on one side of the building, sun on the other, and for an especially long hangout, you can order takeout and eat on site.
1011 Fulton Street, Clinton Hill
8) The Emerson: This five-year-old bar has become a real neighborhood hangout (it even won best neighborhood Brooklyn bar in 2015), and for good reason. It is huge inside (both wide and long), has a pool table in back, arched banquette seating along the walls, a large backyard (smokers allowed), comfy vintage furniture, and hosts open mic night every Thursday. It feels like a bar that has been around forever in small town Nebraska (the owners wanted to give it an old-time art-deco feel) except filled with Pratt students and Brooklynites. Happy hour starts at four and lasts till 7, but you’ll likely end up staying much later—unless you forgot your ATM card. This bar is cash only, just like the old days.
561 Myrtle Avenue, Clinton Hill
9) Mirrors on Grand: Vodka, peach Schnapps, pineapple and orange juice are the ingredients of Sex on the Streets—a house cocktail scrawled on the large mirror that hangs front and center behind the bar in this Clinton Hill hidden-in-plane sight gem; somehow, the drink’s title evokes the simultaneous sense of play, and, well, hookup club scene (though it is not a club) that suffuses the space. There is an unfinished floor, tall ceilings, loud 90s hip-hop (if the juke box is not in play), and velvet seating all around. You want all of that, right? You’re not sure why, but you do. And what better backdrop to all of this but the football game, displayed on the prominent TV next to the mirrored bar.
284 Grand Avenue, Clinton Hill
10) Bar Bolinas: Exceptional lighting, falling out of milk glass pendants above the bar, and stained-glass wall sconces; old-fashioned strings of large holiday lights; Stereo Lab on the sound system: these are all tell-tale signs that you’ve stumbled upon an especially lovely bar on the northern end of Myrtle in Clinton Hill, a place where few options abound. The kitchen is run by the couple behind the delicious Allswell in Williamsburg and, while drinking a Fine Mess (a perfectly smoky mescal and tequila house cocktail) they invite you to nibble on peanuts, bao, or kimchi. Or you could go for a full-on dinner. A whole trout! A chicken sandwich! Or a burger! Warm weather hosts backyard drinking, too. Bar Bolinas is an under-wraps beauty, and one you should make it your business to get to know.
455 Myrtle Avenue, Clinton Hill
11) Habana Outpost: In a very real sense, this outdoor picnic table, margarita, and corn on the cob party could be considered the epicenter of the neighborhood. It takes up the prominent corner at Fulton and South Portland Avenues, and—during warm months—it rarely lacks for day or nighttime drinkers. Frozen drinks and mojitos are gulped aplenty, vibrant fiesta colors are found on the tables and fenced-in outdoor space, and a summer-long movie series is projected onto a large outdoor wall. There is also an indoor, more traditional restaurant—but, really, this place is all about what’s outside, where it’s quite easy to pretend like you’re having a party in a hot place much farther south than Brooklyn.
757 Fulton Street, Fort Greene
12) Brooklyn Public House: This neighborhood staple is lovely because it is very casual, serves food until 1am on weekdays, 3am on the weekend, and fills up with industry people and regulars not looking for a scene, but just straightforward decompressing. The bar is long and traditional. Happy hour is from 4 – 7pm including half-priced appetizers. Original floors and ceilings remain in place so that it feels vintage but naturally so, like a classic diner experience with a relaxed vibe. There isn’t much else like this late night—and all day—experience in Fort Greene.
247 Dekalb Avenue, Fort Greene
13) Die Stammkneipe / Der Schwarze Koelner (DSK): Wow, there sure are a lot of consonants squeezed next to each other in this Fort Greene German beer hangout. Which is why, if you’re a regular or local, you stick with “DSK.” It is a charming, amiable, European-feeling space with reindeer ornaments above the bar, a black and white checked floor, a big open floor plan with a couch, more than a dozen German beers on tap, and German snacks like pretzels, potato salad, and sausage to give the stomach a base for all those suds. Outdoor benches and tables line either side of the restaurant, which is located on the fork between Fulton Street and Hanson Place. Of note: the game is always playing on a large projection screen, and, it’s cash only. DSK is perfect for a summer hang with a snack, or a winter hideout with friends.
710 Fulton Street, Fort Greene
14) Frank’s Cocktail Lounge: Frank’s—Frank’s! Thank goodness for Frank’s Cocktail Lounge, a Fort Greene family-owned institution since 1974, a time when the neighborhood was decidedly less filled with German Beer Gardens and freelancer-heavy cafés. Inside, Frank’s serves cheap bottles, standard cocktails, hosts karaoke on Wednesdays, has a jukebox packed with lots of R&B classics, and doesn’t look an inch different than it did in the 70s. Just look at that crazy white stalactite ceiling behind the bar, vintage bar stools, and dark lounge carpet. It is like nothing else around, the same as it ever was, and absolutely perfect. Upstairs on Saturdays there are hidden dance parties, too. Bring your I.D.! This classy joint has a bouncer.
660 Fulton Street, Fort Greene
15) Mo’s: Mo’s, previously Moe’s (though not at all affiliated with the prior 10-year-old establishment), has been run by new owners since 2011, though retains the spirit of regulars that Moe’s was known for before it. The high-ceilinged, two-level bar is filled with a loyal local crowd, who will both know that you are not a regular when you walk in, but welcome you all the same for it. There’s Tuesday karaoke from 9pm–1am, DJs every Friday and Saturday, and a nightly happy hour: two drinks for six bucks. Walk in here in running gear and feel fine, or come for a post BAM drink, or with a tinder date. Here, everything goes, and all are welcome.
80 Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene
16) Alibi: Go to Alibi because you’re sick of all that is Fancy in Brooklyn. Go to Alibi because, in Fort Greene especially, things are looking nicer and nicer, and cost an arm and a leg. Go to Alibi because all you want is a dive bar, and those sure are hard to come by in these parts. But this is it, and you won’t be disappointed with what you find. Happy hour from 5-8pm, all drafts are four bucks. There’s a pool table, two TVs, a spacious backyard, and many, many neighborhood regulars in this bar, mildly sunken from the street. All told, the effect is ever-so mildly, and pleasantly derelict. Just like you always wanted New York City to be. And cash only, please. This dive is the real deal.
242 Dekalb Avenue, Fort Greene
17) Dick and Jane’s: Speakeasies, in the traditional sense, no longer exist: Americans are allowed to sell alcohol in public! But New York speakeasies, i.e., bars that don’t advertise that they exist—are in abundance, and this is one of them. But in Fort Greene, it’s the only one. By day, Dick and Jane’s looks like a shuttered carriage house. By night, big heavy doors open to low-hung windows that are filled with dim light that spills onto the sidewalk. The ceilings are pressed tin; the walls are exposed brick, and the far end of the bar is capped with a big mirrored wall. Industrial pendant lamps hang above the bar-top, and—as is required of speakeasies in New York—there are Edison Bulb wall sconces. Bring a date, get cozy, and drink some booze ($8 house cocktails for happy hour!), in a place that, if not illegal, still feels like a fun secret.
266 Adelphi Street, Fort Greene
18) No. 7: No. 7 is an excellent restaurant, but most neighborhood regulars wouldn’t call it that. The front portion of the space, which abuts the final step of the Lafayette C Subway entrance, is a fantastic bar. Many never make it to the high-ceilinged dining room in back where full dinners are served. The front window is lined with spacious banquette seating, and catches those who fail to find a spot at the intimate bar. Order a Negroni—classic, but not boring, because what a Negroni it is! Above all, go for No. 7’s famous broccoli tacos (strange but worth it) and, if it’s Wednesday, order a half-priced bottle of wine to go with them. When you sign your receipt, steal the “Eat your broccoli (tacos)” pen that they give you for it; you’ll be reminded to go back for more.
7 Greene Avenue, Fort Greene
19) Kinjo: Repeat after me: Fort Greene is a neighborhood of restaurants fused to bars that are quite good at doing both. Kinjo has a full sushi bar and kitchen that produces Japanese and Korean classics (and some excellent soy-ginger wings). But the bar is also large, and host to many a local’s day-ending sake (served out of glass jars lined with pandas that you can take home and collect) or cold Asahis. If cooking is not in your future, plenty of sushi rolls and bowls of ramen are served along with them. The décor is largely wooden, the floor plan is open, and the staff—when they see you returning over and over—will greet you by name the second you walk in, just before you great a long line of neighbors already seated, drinking their pre-dinner drink of choice. Even when you go solo, you won’t be alone.
1 Greene Avenue, Fort Greene
20) Black Forest: This German Beer Hall is run, romantically, by a German couple with Black Forest roots. When they fell in love, they decided to bring their love back to Brooklyn in the form of food. There are lots of sausages, pretzels, fresh, lightly-dressed salads, and many gigantic liters and boots of beer. This place stands out during the day when you can sit at a picnic table, use WiFi for hours, and guzzle things alcoholic and otherwise. Unlike the crowded cafés up the street, this place is blessedly uncrowded, and won’t ask you to leave sooner than you want to—which is good, cause you’ll want to stay, at least until the late night revelers come in, and really start throwing back all of those boots.
733 Fulton Street, Fort Greene