Listen. Tapas are Spanish, but the Spanish don’t just eat Tapas. Got it?
One of my friends from Madrid reminded me of this cliché like…hmm..they only drink sangria, and dance Flamenca, and stay up gabbing until 4am, wait, no, that is a real thing. If anything, the Spanish rival the French in terms of tradition, but the French will forever be difficult to top in cuisine.
So, when the French make French tapas, believe that they are insane.
Hol’ up. This site is about drinks though, correct? True, but while in Europe we have to get a few things straight. Each country in Europe has their own drinking ideology, and they are often very different from ours.
The French believe in complements, not to be confused with compliments. Rather than balance, drinks build off of a meal and elevate the experience, creating uplifting, convivial atmosphere. A stark contrast from a moody dive bar banging Gang of Four, ironic leather vests, and empty rocks glasses. If the French sound uppity, they’re not, they are just raised this way. It’s instinctual. And it’s a little unfair to label instinct as uppityness (yes, it’s a word).
Anyways, back to the food, back to Des Pres Tapas. I’m almost done and I’ve hardly written about the restaurant!
Their raison d’etre is their tapas, a spectrum of flavors, neatly divided on a menu as meat, fish, or vegetable. Gambas sauteed in Pastis, hand-made falafel, mini-croque monsieurs, and roasted veggies with thick wedges of Pecorino delight the table. Pair four or five plates with a cheap glass of Rosé, and you won’t be disappointed. Pair it with a bottle, and you’ll be feeling all types of jolly as you hobble out of the somewhat cramped, casual yet elegant spot.
Opened just earlier this month, Des Pres is the laid back edition of their next-door neighbor, and the Montrouge culinary Juggernaut, Aubergine et Cie. I’d imagine that the owners have plans for the future.
They have draft beers from Brasserie Toussaint, a craft brewery from Louveciennes, (dare you to pronounce that) France. And a large list of wines as cheap as 3 Euro a glass.
If you want a drink without all the fuss of eating involved, below I have a list of other bars in the area for a cocktail. Also, I’ll attach Des Pres info, if you want to do your own snooping.
New York winters are tame, well, at least they have been since I moved here. Of course, by saying this, I risk being called out by my gf (afrosty apartment is different, ok?). It’s cold here, sure. But after one or two blankets of snow, the streets clear and Brooklyn metamorphasizes back into the unique, beautiful butterfly that it is. New Yorkers jump to all types of conclusions when the weather hits above like 42 degrees.
Honestly, I like wintertime.
Ipuddo’s Shoyu ramen, Raclette, DOUGH donuts, and recently porridge, are my staples. At night, there’s nothing like a nest for drinks and sub-par trash talk about your roommates. The drinks are important, the trash talk is more important, but the place is, dare I say…sacred.
During one of the two snowstorms this winter, I find myself in the backwoods of Astoria, Queens leading two bankers to a promised land to spend stacks. In the snow, streets seem large, and avenues swell like rivers in the wet season. After a 25-minute walk (5 blocks) we arrive. We’re half frozen and red-faced, but safe in the log-cabin-in-the-city bar: the Bonnie.
Warmth sets the Bonnie apart. It’s like checking into a Finnish sauna for a couple of hours. Literally, the entire place is built of planks of wood. The four walls, the ceiling, the bar, the table–aka that shit is cozy af.
The people are friendly, the atmosphere is full of warm tones, and you can get some gooey, top-tier mac-n-cheese (with shells). The ideal setting is in the afternoon, as it’s a place you can post up on a cold day, sip cocktails, nibble on finger food and forget about the dregs of wintertime.
To me, the decorative highlights include the spacing and atmosphere of the different sections within the bar. There are four distinct areas: a lively front bar, a romantic parlor, an intimate back bar, and a spacious beer tent. On that snowy day, it felt like a fortress, a respite from the desolate tundra of hipster Queens.
I make the distinction ‘Hipster Queens’, because for a beginner, NYC-Queens really has three different regions. The 7 Train. Old School Greek-Italian Astoria. And Hipster Queens. (LIC is really an extension of Manhattan). Hipster Queens, to me, feels a lot like the ‘little Seattle’ of NYC. You can find great gastropubs, flannel-shirt people, content-with-where-they-are people, and good coffee, just like in Seattle.
Curiously, Astoria has some of the best restaurants, bars, and places that you’ll find in the city, but you won’t hear about them. The community is modest and close-knit.
Savvy dress-down clothes, a couple of lowlifes and a Saturday is what you need for the Bonnie. It’ll be great you tell yourself–
You may discover poignance in an afternoon where there is no place you’d rather be. Your mind becomes lucid and present. You unwind. You forget about the city life. You lose the concept of ‘waiting.’ Minutes become hours. You may ask yourself, how did I get here? The Talking Heads will play right as you ask yourself this question.
This is an Astoria day, a voice from the darkness tells you. Stay, another whispers, Stay with us. You begin to panic. The N train will be backed up, an uber ride estimate will show up on your screen as $50, Google shows the nearest option is a 40-minute walk. It’s dark. People’s laughter seems to turn towards you. It’s too late. You’re stranded in Queens. But it’s all good!
The Drinks: Seasonal, Craft, Aromatic, Mezcal, Subtle
The drink menu is a stand-out, certainly one of the best in the neighborhood. Elegant nuances and complex notes build off of classic cocktails like a well-composed jazz quintet. A large sprig of Rosemary rises from a highball glass. A dried grapefruit ring drifts on the surface of a rocks glass. A stack of cinnamon sticks, a plume of mint leaves, a bouquet of basil, these arrangements hit you like a loverboy on Valentine’s day.
The cocktail director, Mike Di Tota is the romantic, and yes, he has a background in botany.
A Whiskey drink named: the Pursuit of Happiness, embodies the light, yet addictive sentiment anchored by a historic darkness. To me, the mix of Maker’s Mark, honey and pomplemousse juice is a tad too sweet. So, I rotate after the first, to a heftier drink called Winter Punch #2. Ironically, it is a whiskey drink with honey, and grapefruit (the same thing). However, it consists of a darker whiskey, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a twist of lemon juice, which turns it into an aromatic affair. It’s spiced, well-mixed, warming, and what you need on a cold day.
Winter seems to have passed in New York, but the cold, bitter individuality remains in each of us–just kidding…Or am I? I have yet to see if the Bonnie turns into the lush-beach-resort-and-day-spa-in-the-city bar during the summer, but I can leave that to the immeasurable tiki bars that exist year-round.
Lounge chairs procured from some noble’s parlour in Eastern Europe; a globe taken from Vermeer’s the Geographer; a beer list crafted by a pretentious guy with a graphic T-shirt and suspenders, bocce courts, a comedy club. The owners must’ve been like, ‘let’s create a chill bar, yea a chill bar, but on any given night–shit can go down.’ Politics as usual in BK, and at Union Hall, the choose-your-own-adventure bar.
Beyond a neighborhood haunt, since 2006, Union Hall has been a Park Slope mammoth. It was a decade later that I’d move from Seattle to Queens. No matter how far I settled, however, word would travel. Word always travels in a town without trees.
But before I wax philosophical on ya ass, let’s play some oldies. Back in the Astoria days, we had our own classics, the neighborhood bruncheries, dives, and greek on the street. Brick, stone, and metal from the suspended N train track, dozens of languages, we had it all, so, nothing else mattered. At least, nothing else should’ve mattered. Park Slope was eons away.
Those serene streets and brownstones that I’d read about in the New Yorker, that I’d overheard in conversation, that I’d seen in movies, didn’t impact my daily life whatsoever. I couldn’t delineate South Slope from North Slope from Central Slope, and Gowanus surely wasn’t a legitimate thing.
So why was it, that unknowingly, I found Union Hall.
In the summer of 2016, a friend brought me, promising a great time. The bouncer rejected us. This incident taught me a lesson in expectations, only seconds before had the bar looked welcoming. Through the glass windows, people did look happy, they were becoming champions in a one-armed sport that cultivated their knowledge of the world with each new match, while simultaneously drinking a craft beer that literally sharpened their palette as they spoke. It’s as if you could smell the culture brew inside. Fresh culture sold here, must have ID to be a part of said culture.
Not until the following summer, after a front row viewing of Dunkirk–and my adrenaline fucking jacked–was it that I finally entered that door. I walked in, ordered a beer, and sat in a chair, but not just any chair. One of those chairs. Yeah, those chairs. The ones that you don’t sit but slide into. My chum and I happily slid into those chairs and talked about rubbish. We tried to analyze the movie. He started an anecdote as I stopped listening, and instead admired the layout of the expansive bar. 2 Bocce courts spread out in the middle of the space. A large hall downstairs for comedy shows and concerts: Ilana Glasur, Jim Gaffigan among others had performed there. So, I leave, satisfied that I’ve breathed the same air and potentially drank the same Gose/Goses (what’s the plural?) as them.
Vibe: Early 30’s, affluent, eclectic, open, international
The Union fought the deadly stroller wars of 2008, which gave way to a new era for young Brooklyn, Brownstone couples. UH wouldn’t let them enter with strollers and screaming babies, and the couples retaliated with smoke and keyboards. You can still find vehement comments on archived reviews in NYMag. Life, Liberty and Bocci, man,–petanque for parents.
I’ve never been to UH when it’s an acceptable hour for a baby to be awake, but I’d imagine old wounds run deep. Now, as a mid-20’s urbanite, I find that most of the crowd is a similar age-range, or a little older than me. I wouldn’t consider it a hipster bar, more like the bar of the one successful friend of that hipster. Because of that, I’ve never seen a rowdy scene. More like, polite conversations, theory exchanges and mingling between groups of like-minded folk.
Surprisingly, this bar all the way out in Park Slope also draws a large number of international clientele. I met a couple from the Netherlands, see plenty of French and on a later occasion bumped into two mates from Manchester. They told me ‘you go to London, I’ll tell ya six bars you can get laid. And you’re telling me, you got nowhere for me to go?’ The response to me telling them, Park Slope really isn’t that kind of neighborhood guys.
In the winter you’ll want to dress casual but smart, a long overcoat, blanket scarf, skinny jeans, unique looking suspenders, and boots. Don’t forget your funkiest/nerdiest pair of glasses.
The great fire of 2016 is another reason I didn’t visit sooner. The chimney of their fireplace wasn’t irritated properly, smoke built-up, billowed, and seared signs, walls, and windows of the property. Twas a cold winter when the embers stopped burning. And it also reinforces my theory about ‘anything’ being in the realm of possibilities. But sincerely, it was devastating, to the community, and to the Brooklyn live venue scene. A pillar of the Brooklyn comedy scene had shut-down for months.
Their beer list (7-8$) is perfect. It’s perfect if that’s what you’re in the mood for, and that’s what you have in mind. They do, however, have cocktails for when a locally picked, Emmy nominated, hand-curated beer list isn’t perfect enough for you! Let’s be honest, a good beer is never good enough. The only perfect beers are bad beers that accompany the best times. That’s what UH is really about, having a good night and being able to do whatever makes you happy. The bar is less about the drinks and more about what the drinks create. And I, Alexander, can live with that.
I’m telling you–it was another misty winter night in Paris, same as all the others. Accompanied by sneakers and patterned socks, flowing overcoats and black-brimmed hats with pluming feathers, we arrive. It’s never so cold in Paris to not dress with elegance; life is never so challenging to not act with the same sentiment. Tip the bouncer. Hold the door for Mlle. Remove your garments. Fold them over your arm. Send a signal from the entrance to the bartender. Here, this is the way to do things, but maybe, and finally, that’s changing.
Location: Saint Germain des-Pris, 6th arr.
The atmosphere on Rue de Princesse, a small stone road in St. Sulpice, is enchanting. People spill into the street, chatting, buzzing, percolating with energy. (Later, I found out this street is considered touristy, but personally, I believe that any street with greater traction than locals is considered touristy by French definition.)
In blue cursive, a neon sign illuminates the word ‘Tiger’. The banker looks excited. She turns to me with big eyes. ‘It reminds me of New York,’ she says. But I’m not as easily impressed. We push open the heavy wood door.
Tiger labels themselves ‘the first (or premiere) Gin bar in Paris,’ and WorldsBestBars.com labels them ‘not a normal cocktail bar.’ Phrases like these are tricky and distracting. They’re nothing but marketing tactics that convince you how you’re supposed to feel about a place before walking in.
Vibe: Trendy, Colorful, Rowdy, Modern
When we walk in, it’s packed. Orbs of light dangle overhead, ferns, and potted plants line the walls and nooks. A DJ spins near the entrance, dance hall. We thread through the vicious crowd, bobbing to the cramped space near the bar.
A flamboyant man behind us becomes impatient as all six of us order. He’s opulently chubby, salt and pepper hair, red-faced wearing a black turtleneck, and thick directorial glasses. ‘Attends!’ I yell. It diffuses the situation.
We head upstairs to the nook area. People are laughing and chatting, a great vibe rings throughout. It’s loud, the good kind of loud. A loud where you can’t hear the people across the table, but encourages yelling, shouting. One of the girls in our group climbs on the table and starts dancing. Two others stand on the booth to join her. I chat with the hotelier. She speaks of how the France is in freefall, and how the young president might not be up for the task. Politics aren’t faux-pas yet in this country. It’s a nice change. The waiter asks if we’d like another drink. Sure, why not?
The price, of course.
Drinks: Gin-Based, Aromatic, Flavorful, Expensive
In spite of appearances, Tiger takes Gin seriously. 6 types of Gin & Tonic, more than what would ever be necessary. They use a soda stream method, spraying the tonic from afar, and cascading into the goblet. I had never seen such a technique until now. The bartenders are young, friendly, but they are showmen. The drink prices reflect a bar that takes itself ‘seriously,’ but a showman should never be taken seriously.
My girlfriend orders a gin-take on a bloody mary. It’s sumptuous, full, really an outstanding cocktail. I order a gin, mezcal, blood orange, honey drink. At 16 Euro, I have one-shot and it misfires. The drink is average at best, tart, smokey, but overall not what I had hoped. Two of the other Mlles order a gin-cranberry-lavender drink that doesn’t far surpass a good Capecodder. The last two had one of the six Gin-tonics.
I’d say I loved the place if it wasn’t for the price, but the bar was packed, so I guess…they can get away with it.
Opposite of me there is a couple, friends, what have you. One sports a poofy hairdo with blond tips, and the other a high-n-tight cut with a dad cap. They share a twine corner table for lack of space, one sitting on the other’s lap, both smiling, carrying Tecates and sipping with leisure.
Across the room, an expansive couch section remains unoccupied. It’s reserved for VIP clientele, presumptive influencers who smile into their Instagram feed to sway even more urbanites to pack themselves 2-by-2 on twine corner tables.
You enter on the fifteenth floor. Limpid light enters into a room that’s surrounded by scenic metal. To the South is Fidi, East is Brooklyn, West is Soho. But here you are in the Lower East Side. This isn’t just another rooftop; Mr. Purple is a rooftop redefined.
Post industrial lighting dangles like lanterns in an ore mine, no, more like fluorescent jellyfish in the deep sea. Rooftops are usually appreciated from the outside, and Mr. Purple doesn’t disappoint.
They took time however, to decorate the interior. Ropes strung across the ceiling like vines in a canopy. And this is what I mean when I say that they are redefining the rooftop.
An NYC rooftop is made up of expensive drinks, tourists, faux artists, and a general NYC classist malaise. Mr. Purple traverses this tight rope, by I think, one factor alone said three times…Location, location, location. Amid the Attaboys, Bar Gotos, and Nightcaps, there are some heavy hitters in the cocktail scene. And by being nearby, it attracts the people who frequent these bars, and who just have something different in mind for the night.
It must be said that Mr. Purple does flirt with all of these rooftop features. It is pricey, it does have some tourists, and it does host some judgey looks as you pass, but it also goes beyond these features.
You’ll see tinder dates, meet ups, old friends and sorority sisters, Argentinian newcomers, French bankers, skinny and plus sized models, the director, cast and crew– and if you get lucky, maybe you’ll see Mr. Purple.
No, not really, unless you count the bar manager standing over there with his arms crossed. Mr. Purple actually derives its name from Adam Purple, a controversial gardener who constructed New York’s Garden of Eden nearby. This glossy rooftop bar is supposed to pay homage, but paradoxically does the opposite, by ‘standing for’ exactly what Mr. Purple opposed. Urban expansion.
They have a line of what I like to call “specialty” drinks, which are cocktails particular to a bar. I took the Barrel of Monkeys, while my gf ordered the eponymous drink, Mr. Purple.
During Negroni week, arguably the dopest week of the year, me and the gov’na rendezvoused over libations at this quaint, yet highly recommended Italian Bistro. It’s a joint that I’ve read much about, but up until now, I hadn’t had the pleasure.
At first impression, the inside makes you want to redo your sorry excuse of a kitchen. Plants, white accents, natural light, classic tiling oozes vintage Greenwich Village, but rings contemporary as well. The outside makes you want to judge with distinguished authority.
Breezy Parisian seating on the south end of Macdougal provides ample space for relaxation, and enough traffic for people watching. The houses across the way are painted vibrant hues. Every once in a while a UPS truck will block your view, and a dog from the far table will bark at the delivery man. The wind picks up, and dares to swipe your napkin from the table. The glassware is sparkling, vintage looking, but is actually new and from the supplier cocktail kingdom.
The drinks are crisp, tart, impressionable.
I took this vermillion baddie of a drink.
The Negroni moves across your palette like models on a Milanese runway. Smooth, practiced, and full-bodied this cocktail was awarded the prestige of a Triple Crown Drink, which places it alongside the company of the Manhattan and Martini.
Originating in Florence, when Mr. Negroni asked for Gin instead of soda in an Americano. Bold move. The bartender, feeling himself, threw in an orange wedge just because. And like magic, Mr. Negroni slated his own gold star in the walk of cocktail fame.
This tall, tan and handsome drink is the Garibaldi.
We got the juice, forreal, we got Orange juice. Blended until fluffy, then they pour Campari into polished glass. Easy to assemble, but noteworthy. Its another of the bar’s favorites, but has proliferated throughout the world as a distinguished summer beverage.
Dante is a place that has, with evidence backing it, a mastery of its craft. To me its a perfected version of what it embodies, a laid back, but visually tickling tavern that specializes in Italian Food & Drink. You can get a banging Espresso, Bolognese, or Flatbread, but I’d always recommend one of their drinks.
On the outside, it resembles a little Bohemian haven that you’d expect to catch while whizzing past the town of Woodstock. Wooden trinkets cover the windows, the chandeliers are crafted from wine glasses, live music is often emanating, and when it’s not live, it’s music from the Woodstock Era, Crosby Stills, Hendrix, Credence Clearwater. This bar occupies a very special place in my New York experience. And when I move from Astoria this summer, it will be dearly missed.
Rest-au-rant or RAR bar is at once replaceable and irreplaceable (think U2 With or Without You), because it’s a component vital to any neighborhood. It’s the bar next door, metaphorically and literally.
And what’s so special about Rest-au-rant?
Frankly, it’s not the food. Although their hamburger with a slice of Gorgonzola, 3$ Sliders, No Commitment Charcuterie, and a couple of others get the job done. A couple of plates however, have left me with quizzical looks.
The events that they host, Comedy Night (Tuesday), Live Music (Thursday & Saturday), Film Night (Sunday), are very cool, and I oft-go to them, but they are nothing specific to this bar.
It’s the vibe. The vibe is extraordinary, especially on humdrum, foggy Winter Thursday nights when it’s just you and a hatful of other faces jaded from the city life. Like a randomly unfriendly patron once told me during a long talk, ‘I don’t talk to random people at bars.’ He was an indie Movie director, with Andy Warholic looks, and a mercurial gaze that shifted from his drink to his phone screen. But we talked, and talked, until it was time for a nightcap and to head our separate ways.
Another night, I met a Puerto-Rican businessman with girlfriend troubles. We talked about Hawaiian-Puerto Ricans, the diaspora. My family’s diaspora. He seemed to take off his troubles with his winter coat, as he showed me a Youtube video of how these two little islands connected.
Once I met a pair of lawyers who had just left the courthouse. They just needed to blow off some steam with Friday afternoon Pear Martinis, and pork belly tacos. I was there to get some Headspace, but ended up with free tacos and a great time with a convivial bunch of never-see-you-agains.
Tina, the owner of the bar, hand-crafted most of the items that give the bar that boho-chic flavor. She says that she wants it to be a gathering spot for the artists in the neighborhood, and she has succeeded while still having a clientele that are the unpretentious, Astorian leftovers from the pre L-line shift. The bar itself is built in a horseshoe shape that she designed. The plates are molded and crafted for the particular dish. The stage for live music was assembled by her.
DB, the daytime bartender is the friendliest, most laid-back guy you’ll ever meet. He played American Roots music down across the Mason-Dixon, and graced us by coming up North. I bought his album. No shame. And every time I’ve walked in, he’s given me a new viewpoint on anything that’s been troubling me.
They know what kind of beer I want when I sit down; they boast a real community of locals, not just eccentric individuals who reach for attention, but genuine, humble, as salt of the earth as you can get in the biggest city in the U.S; and they are the embodiment of the second home–an antithesis to those wayward souls who languish over a drink in a stuffy Manhattan cocktail bar.
Basically, find yourself a Rar Bar and hold on for as long as you can.