The Brooklyn Social is my neighborhood bar. As far as neighborhood bars go it’s no Del Rio, God rest its soul, but it earns high marks.
In Brooklyn a neighborhood bar means there are two busy periods on weekdays. One is right after work—6 to 8pm—when the F subway line empties the bankers from Wall Street and publishers from Midtown. You spot a lot of wingtips, a few loose ties, women in heeled boots. The second period is after 10pm. Writers, musicians and anyone else who doesn’t have to wake up early arrives then.
The name Brooklyn Social is a reference to the Italian social clubs that litter my neighborhood. This used to be one of those clubs. Members’ portraits still hang on the walls. Sometimes family come in and reminisce. There’s a framed portrait of JFK too, who, I guess, being Catholic, is an honorary Italian. For me, this helps place the bar and all good bars have a sense of place, a feeling that you could be nowhere else but here.
The bar top is curved, a soft “L” shape. If any of you are going to build a bar some day remember this: make it curve. It’s a key to making a bar work its magic. The reason is people go to bars to look at each other. You can’t do that when the bar is laid in a straight line. (Mirrors help, too.)
There is an old fashioned cash register, not digital, the one that clanks, standard issue for most bars in New York.
There are fresh herbs and citrus on the bar.
Citrus peels get lit for several drinks. This is where the Brooklyn Social makes one of its few mistakes. Folks, if you’re going to do pyrotechnics—I like it, it makes great bar theater—make sure to remove the wax from the peel first. All citrus is waxed these days. You light it without washing and your customer’s drink will smell like a tire fire.
Neighborhood bars in Brooklyn also have a wonderful tradition: the buyback. It works like this. You come in now and then. You buy a couple drinks. You tip well. You don’t be a douche. Once in a while, when you order a third, the bartender says, “I got this one.” You tip extra well and say thank you—you just got a free drink. Buybacks are probably illegal for all I know. But they do create regulars.
This is the kind of place where bartenders are a fixture, part of the reason you come. You don’t know their names but they say, “Hello,” and “It’s nice to see you again” if you’re a regular. The one I see most often, Ivan, is a bit of a lothario, but he’s also the kind of guy who recognizes when you’re reading The Savage Detectives and tells you how much he liked it.
The bar menu is the size of an index card. It lists ten drinks, all nine bucks each. I appreciate the brevity. It says what they’re about quickly (cocktails with an Italian edge). You can hold it to a candle and read it all in a minute and make up your mind quick because, hey, this is a neighborhood bar, the lothario is going to take your order now, there are girls to talk to.