Williamsburg Bars: Lucky Dog & Greenpoint Tavern
Williamsburg bars are legion. After all, it’s one of the liveliest neighborhoods in Brooklyn and one of the early epicenters that made the whole borough “cool” with it’s dense nightlife, music scene, beer bars and restaurants. It was ground zero for the Brooklyn Renaissance since the early ’90s or so. But a lot of Williamsburg’s bars don’t do much for me: kiddie bars, fancy wine bars, pricey cocktail joints catering to visiting European millionaires, and of course, just plain old post-college choad-holes, complete with loud, crappy music, screeching young crowds that sound like geese being chased by beagles and, naturally, cornhole. What can I say? Maybe I’m lame. But there are some good Williamsburg bars, too. Some GREAT good ones.
I’m researching bars all over the five boroughs of New York for my upcoming book Great Good Places of New York, to be published by Rizzoli in 2018. You can see (and buy) some of the artwork for the book here. If you have any suggestions for places I should consider, especially in the far-flung neighborhoods of NYC, let me know in the comments section below, or shoot me an email via the “CONTACT” button above).
Exploring Williamsburg Bars: Lucky Dog
Earlier this month, The Wife and I biked north to check out couple Williamsburg bars. It was a perfect, warm summer day. Not too hot, thank ye gods (this summer was tremendously hot and humid) but a lovely, temperate day for a 25-minute afternoon ride up the Brooklyn waterfront, through the Navy Yard, and down Bedford Street to….
Lucky Dog! A bar known for its excellent jukebox and dog-friendly policy. Technically, even in a place that doesn’t serve food, that’s illegal in New York City. Why, I’m not sure, and I’ve written about this in a previous blog post. But that’s the fact, Jack. Illegal. Damn shame, in my book. But Lucky Dog, bartender Sean Caffrey told me, has been lucky in that they’ve never been busted for it. While we were there, we must’ve seen a dozen different dogs come and go, most of them fantastically well-behaved. But this is New York, so what do you expect? The people can handle crowds, and they pass that onto their dogs. For the most part. Out on the front deck off the sidewalk, an asshole Shiba Inu — an inexplicably popular and trendy breed right now, like Collies during the “Lassie” heyday — screeched and lunged at almost every dog that trotted by. This played hell with my overly-sensitive constitution until he and his imprudent human took off.
Despite that ill-behaved cur, our visit was a delight. Two competent bartenders — one a bit reticent at first, the other a born host — took fine care of us right there at the bar. The Wife got a mojito riff, and I anted up with a gin and tonic, the perfect opener on a warm summer day. I looked behind the bar at an impressive array of Zapp’s potato chips, the pride of New Orleans, and as irresistible to me as overpriced, spike-heeled shoes to the rich Italian turisti prowling the streets outside. After feeding the eclectic juke (Chuck Berry, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, Hoyt Axton), I settled in for a little slice of daytime bar heaven.
We had a good chat with the bartender then headed out back to a well-designed patio with plenty of built-in benches along the periphery and a few tables here and there, perfect for dog time.
We sat next to a Greek couple, newish to America, and their chill little pup. A lanky Labradoodle cavorted with a social French Bulldog and we all had a fine time. The patrons at Lucky Dog are social. Of course; they’re dog people! After a bit we headed up the street to a place touted by bar aficionados time and again. A placed I’d passed by, right there on Bedford (the main thoroughfare of this gentrified hipsterville) near the L stop, dozens of times without a second glance. Stupid me.
Williamsburg Bars: Rosemary’s Greenpoint Tavern
The Greenpoint Tavern (strangely not in the Greenpoint neighborhood to the north, but instead right there in the heart of Williamsburg) is a peach. A stark contrast to the fancy bars and restaurants of aggressively-gentrified Bedford Avenue, it’s the perfect specimen of a longtime locals’ joint. Not a dive at all, as it’s often described, but a clean, cheerful, well-tended place to drink with good natured, grown up regulars, and the well-behaved tourist or two. At least during the day. I don’t know WHAT kind of debauchery goes on at night. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
We walked in and found two seats on the far end of a long bar. The first thing we noticed: it smelled good. Not cleanserish, not urinalcakey, not dank and not beery. It smelled like wood and clean air. Jackie Wilson’s “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher” played at perfect volume over a set of decent speakers. Hallelujah! I had not been steered wrong! The willowy blonde bartender reminded me of a wood nymph with perfect teeth. She was welcoming, attentive and sweet, and got us our beverages (me: a gin and tonic, she: a whiskey sour), tout de suite.
One of the first things you’ll notice at Rosemary’s are the bouquets, baskets and bunches of silk flowers. They’re everywhere: behind the bar, on the walls, atop the jukebox, hanging from the ceiling. Colleen took one look and said “It’s like a wedding reception at a hall decorated by your old Polish aunt.” Rosemary herself showed up 20 minutes after we did, looking like a punkishy-coiffed version of Colleen’s Aunt Glennie, departed grande dame of the Pewinski clan.
Oh and our bar tab? Two well-poured drinks, $8. I am smitten, and will be back.
I’m including both these bars in the book along with Williamsburg’s German biergarten Radegast Hall and craft beer geek heaven Mugs Alehouse. If you can think of any other NYC favorites I should consider, especially in out of the way neighborhoods, let me know!