Part of the fun of year-end “best of” lists is undoubtedly tallying up the buzzy new spots you’ve been to and adding a few more to your bucket list. But if there’s a deeper observation to be made by looking back at the best new bars that opened in Brooklyn this year, it would have to be the way the nightlife scene reflects growing trends in our borough as a whole. This year, many of our favorite bars were new ventures by expert bartenders who’ve already proven themselves in New York, whether right here in Brooklyn or in Queens or Manhattan. And though many of these places are polished and well-thought-out affairs, there’s still room for the kind of watering holes that are scrappy, kitschy, and just plain fun.
Brooklyn Heights’s swanky new speakeasy opened earlier this year was the result of a happy accident, when Chez Moi’s owners took a sledgehammer to the walls and uncovered part of the fabled Atlantic Avenue tunnel. When you enter through the restaurant, push open the bookcase and descend the stairs to the lounge inspired by Marie Antoinette’s boudoir, where beverage director Franky Marshall (formerly of the Clover Club, the Holiday Cocktail Lounge, and the Dead Rabbit) has devised a menu of creative libations served in fancy goblets. Santé!
Trailblazing bartender Sasha Petraske had some unfinished business when he passed away unexpectedly in August, 2015—namely Seaborne, which opened in Red Hook this past January, thanks to the efforts of his longtime partners Lucinda Sterling and John Bonsignore. The place bears many of Petraske’s signature touches—an unmarked entrance, an intimate but unfussy atmosphere, and top notch classic cocktails made by bartenders who adhere to rigorous standards. On a cold night, it’s the perfect place to raise a glass to the legacy of one of the greatest advocates of good old fashioned cocktail culture.
The Brooklyn Barge
In rapidly gentrifying Greenpoint, this scruffy no-frills bar on a barge floating over the East River proved the perfect antidote to a hot summer. Though it technically debuted in September 2015, this year was its first full season, and it seemed to embody the best of Brooklyn in the summer—fairly priced craft beer by local breweries, satisfying pub grub, unobstructed views of the skyline, and an all-around chill vibe.
What could be better than a place where the tabletops are covered in gold glitter and framed portraits of jungle animals and deceased celebrities hang above the red leather booths? How about a place that has all of that, a dependable selection of beer and cocktails, and a pool table in the back? Cue Goldie’s, Greenpoint’s new watering hole where the ‘70s-style kitschy décor is just part of the charm. The other part? Free bowls of goldfish upon request.
Yes, Andrew Carmellini’s first foray into Brooklyn was bound to draw skepticism, but it’s impossible to deny that it’s one of the most notable openings of 2016. His lounge on the 23rd floor of the William Vale Hotel is worth going to—even if you only go once—for the mind-boggling skyline views alone. Yes, you can easily run up a substantial tab on the $18 cocktails, sweet pea and kale spring rolls, smoked salmon puffs, and other small bites, but what can you do? YOLO.
Luckily for us, Richard Boccato and the team behind Dutch Kills in Long Island City have brought their expertise to Williamsburg, opening this awesome spot for serious cocktail drinkers. Though it feels much more modern than Dutch Kills in terms of design, it’s equally cozy, with spacious leather booths in back and banquettes up front. Despite being experts at their craft, the bartenders don’t take themselves too seriously, often joking with patrons. Bonus: they serve $10 happy hour cocktails (not just well drinks) every night of the week.
Though technically a bar and restaurant, Bushwick’s new Caribbean spot earned a place on this list thanks to its well edited list of fun and delicious cocktails by James Freeman and Johnny De Piper of Weather Up and Featherweight. As you’d expect at an island-inspired spot, there’s a heavy emphasis on cocktails with “all the rums,” whether shaken, stirred, over ice, or frozen. We especially loved the Jimmie Spoons, a daiquiri variation made with pineapple, lime, and—you guessed it—all the rums.
When Williamsburg stalwart Café Moto closed in July, regulars worried it might be a victim of rising rents. It turns out husband-and-wife duo John McCormick and Vannesa Shanks were busy transforming the space into Bar Velo, which opened this fall. The new cycling-themed spot has a lighter color scheme, a new vegetarian menu, and an equally great selection of cocktails reasonably priced at $12.