The Bonnie in Astoria: A Log Cabin in the City Bar

IMG_4408New 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.

Vibe: Lumberjack, Affluent, Warm, 90’s Rap, Notorious

IMG_4409Warmth 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

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Winter Punch #2

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.

Con Amor,

Mr. Cohiba

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Suit The Occasion: Astoria Boutiques

Belief: @beliefnyc
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Atlantic Tee – $34
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Parachute Cap – $36 $22
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Midnight Hoody – $68
Other Boutiques in Astoria:
The Stonework: @thestonework
Lockwood: @lockwoodshop

 

Astoria: Finding your Second Home at the RAR Bar

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?

IMG_0946Frankly, 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.

IMG_0945It’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.

IMG_0948Tina, 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.

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My gf acting a fool

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.

Con Amor,

Alexander Cohiba

Address:  30-01 35th Ave #1, Queens, NY 11106

FB:  https://www.facebook.com/RaR-Bar-120276598029985/

Insta: @tinasrarbar

Web: http://rarbarlic.com/rarbar/welcome.html