Best Spots for Backyard Cocktails

IMG_1055

Though I’m fairly confident in my NYC expert status, I do have a blind spot: bars. I’m not a big bar hopper. I’m not always aware of the coolest dive bar with the just-surly-enough bartenders or the latest microbrewery bar with the 3 dozen beer taps. I do love well-made cocktails, though. And, I love drinking them outdoors in snazzy backyards come summertime. It’s a quintessential New York warm weather experience. Below, a list of places to check out.

Weather Up: A moody upscale bar in Prospect Heights with delicious, well-priced cocktails. The drinks take a while (a good sign, I think?), but you can wait in the string bulb-lit, verdant backyard, which has ample seating. Thanks to the vegetation and the Brooklyn humidity, it can get muggy back here. Take advantage of the bug spray at the yard’s entrance!

June: This Cobble Hill newcomer is winning fans all over the city. The thoughtful interior is downright beautiful, the small plates are delicious, and the natural wines are unique. The cocktails, which feature uncommon ingredients (just ask and the waitress will explain), are strong and tasty. Did I mention the prices are reasonable? The backyard, which wasn’t completed when things first started to warm up, is now ready for the spotlight.

Leyenda: Cobble Hill seems like the place to drink this summer. This new bar on Smith Street from cocktail maven Julie Rainer and aptly named partner and rising star Ivy Mix, has all the makings of a summer hotspot: an extensive list of creative Latin American-inspired cocktails and punches, tasty small plates from acclaimed chef Sue Torres, and a bare-bones, but pretty backyard perfect for a friend date.

Blueprint: A cozy, low-key place to grab a backyard cocktail in Park Slope. There’s a varied cocktail list with agreeable prices and small plates for soaking up the booze. A comfortable, dates-heavy garden space makes this a very adult, very 30-something place to imbibe. (Park Slope dope!)

Tooker Alley: They take their drinks very seriously at this Prospect Heights watering hole (binder menu, orchid garnishes), but the bar, especially on weekdays is void of pretension. The retro outdoor space with green plastic chair and twinkling lights amps up the casual factor.

Huckleberry Bar: The lush yard at this East Williamsburg cocktail bar is a haven in a not-very-tree-filled part of Brooklyn. They’ve been open for 8 years, so they’ve had some time to hone their craft. Unlike similar establishments that close their yards before midnight, this yard stays open until 1 a.m.

The Raines Law Room: This Flatiron destination is best avoided on weekends, when waits can be cruel. Weekday evenings, though, it’s great for an expertly made, albeit very pricey, cocktail with a friend or date. The back garden is teeny, but lovely.

Maison Premiere: With unique cocktails and the most extensive $1 oyster happy hour in the city, this Williamsburg bar/restaurant fills up fast on weekday afternoons. Get here early, by 5 p.m., to guarantee a spot. The outdoor space, with its pergolas, greenery and white wrought iron tables and chairs is transportive. (Fair warning: mosquitos abound.)

Lavender Lake: Ah, the Gowanus–the polluted waterway that’s attracting loads of development along its banks (only in New York?). What the area does provide is space, and there’s loads of it at this chill, expansive bar. Come early to snag a table with an umbrella and wile away the afternoon with a refreshing cocktail and some fried brussels sprouts.

Mulberry Project: If Maison Premiere transports you to seaside France, the backyard (named La Isla Escondida) at this Little Italy lounge makes you feel as though you’ve hopped a super quick flight to coastal Mexico. Graphic murals, bright green artificial turf, multicolored tile and straw thatch couple with fuchsia and lime-hued cocktails to create a vibe that’s anywhere but NYC.

Wrought iron chairs and twinkling lights at Weather Up; courtesy of Weather Up, Brooklyn

Wrought iron chairs and twinkling lights at Weather Up; courtesy of Weather Up, Brooklyn

leyenda

Low-key vibe and inventive drinks at Leyenda

A retro feel at Tookey Alley

A throwback feel at Tookey Alley

Courtesy of Maison Premiere

Lush greenery at Maison Premiere; courtesy of Maison Premiere

Courtesy of Mulberry Project

An eternal summer vibe at La Isla Escondida; Courtesy of Mulberry Project

Advertisements

Summer Date Ideas by Neighborhood: Brighton Beach and Coney Island

summerdate3

No, summer’s not winding down, and I have proof! This past Tuesday, September 2nd, was the hottest day of the entire season. This means summer plans on sticking around for a while longer. Venturing out to Brooklyn’s iconic Brighton Beach and Coney Island neighborhoods is one of my favorite ways to capture the spirit of a summer in NYC. The two neighborhoods offer food, people watching and entertainment–the trifecta of a fun night out. Brighton Beach and Coney Island are about a 10-15 minute walk from one another along a nice, wide boardwalk.

1. Eat: There’s pizza! There are hot dogs! There is mediocre Russian food (I’ll explain below)! Let’s start with the pizza. One of the best pizza parlors in the city, Totonno’s, is in Coney Island, not too far from the boardwalk. This is a classic New York pie. If you’re going to sully it with toppings I suggest crowd pleasing fresh garlic and pepperoni. Consistency varies, but on a good day, the pizza here is nearly unbeatable. Last seating is at 7:30 p.m., practically an early-bird dining hour in NYC.

(Image via Liz, Flickr.com; made available under Creative Commons license)

(Image via Liz, Flickr.com; made available under Creative Commons license)

Then, of course, there’s Nathan’s Famous, home to one of the best hot dogs in the world and the yearly Hot Dog Eating Contest. I’m a sucker for the chili dog, but the original, topped with sauerkraut and onions is great, too. The dog itself is meaty with a satisfying snap. A bit of advice: go to the sprawling original location instead of the smaller oceanside outposts. Though the service there is painfully slow, the original has the freshest inventory.

Courtesy of Andrea Hubbell Photography

Courtesy of Andrea Hubbell Photography

And then there’s the riskier Russian food option. If you decide to go this route, make sure to follow my rules exactly. First, it’s better to go at night when the restaurants aren’t clogged with beach goers. Second, get a small bottle of chilled vodka at a liquor store on Brighton Beach Avenue, below the elevated subway track. Most Russian restaurants in Brighton are BYO, and we were actually once admonished by a waitress for paying for a few shots instead of bringing our own (it was late! the stores had all closed!), and thus, according to her, wasting our money. Next, grab an outdoor table at one of the Russian boardwalk cafes. If you’re primarily after great food, go to inland cafes Oceanview or Skovorodka. Since it’s summer, ambiance is probably more of a priority. There are only three boardwalk options (Volna, Tatiana and Tatiana Cafe) and the quality is fairly comparable between them, so no need to fret about this decision. Now we’ve come to the most important guideline. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, order from the “American” section of the menu. Just don’t do it. “But I’m really craving a burger,” you say, “and “it’s hard to mess up, so I just thought I’d…” NO. Please, for the sake of all that is holy, do not do this. I can’t even guarantee it will be edible. Get traditional Russian (or Russia-appropriated) things like blini with caviar, fried potatoes with mushrooms, shashliks, etc. Those dishes will be good, if not life changing. Next, sit back and enjoy some of the best people watching in New York City. Russian families celebrating, elderly men and women walking arm-in-arm, surly Russians being surly. It’s a fascinating slice of Brooklyn that feels almost entirely removed from the rest of the city. It’s like a wormhole to seaside Odessa circa 1975. Another point: expect your service to be slow and probably somewhat rude. It’s okay, you’re using them for their location. You’ve got a 375ml bottle of chilled vodka, the sweet company of the person you’ve brought with you and the salty breeze blowing off of the Atlantic. You’re good.

brighton

A recent meal on the boardwalk

2. Play: Aside from the preternaturally entertaining boardwalk and beach, you can indulge in a bit of minor league baseball or in a few amusement park rides.

The Brooklyn Cyclones play in MCU Park, which abuts the boardwalk and overlooks the old parachute tower. Personally, I love everything about baseball except the actual game. I love the spectatorship of it, the beer drinking, the Dipping Dots eating. Did the Cyclones strike out again? Ho-hum. The Brooklyn Cyclones are also an organization that knows how to have fun with theme nights. This past July they hosted a Seinfeld-themed night, marking the show’s 25th anniversary. There were creative costumes, inventive signs and even a marble rye fishing competition. After every Friday and Saturday evening game the stadium puts on a fireworks display that rivals the pageantry of any small town July 4th show. Sounds fun, right? Well, unfortunately, the Cyclones’ season is over so save this idea for next summer!

cyclones

Luna Park, Coney Island’s amusement park, is still open on weekends through October. Come and ride the famed 87- year old Cyclone (not recommended for those with frail bones or the easily bruised) or the makeout mecca Wonder Wheel, a Ferris wheel with fully enclosed passenger cars for privacy. More than just a collection of historic rides, Luna Park also features brand-new coasters and rides that spin a full 360 degrees. Me? I’m more of a ride observer. My own coaster riding days are behind me, but it’s fun to watch the youngins’ have a grand time. I prefer the arcade sports–basketball and skeeball. Just leave me a bunch of tickets and check on me every few hours. Oh, and don’t forget to buy me a funnel cake.

wonderwheel

Summer Date Ideas by Neighborhood: Park Slope

summerdateideas2

I’ve often employed the following rigidly tested formula for NYC events: NYC + seems fun + free = usually not worth it. Free events, especially really fun-seeming ones, tend to be uncomfortably crowded. There are, however, ways around this. Mainly, don’t go directly into the scrum. One of my summer bucket list activities is sitting outside a show at the Prospect Park Bandshell. True, the acoustics aren’t amazing, but you can still make out the words to every song, and you have all the space in the world to spread out. There’s only a little over a week of performances left ! Media darling St. Vincent, preforming on August 9th, is sure to draw a big crowd.

1. Picnic: Before you head over, you need provisions. If you’re coming from central Slope, grab a few classic banh mis at neighborhood staple Hanco’s.

If you’re trekking from North Flatbush, El Gran Castillo De Jagua makes an extremely filling Cuban sandwich. It’s less than $7, and big enough for two. Or, you can go all in with a rotisserie chicken dinner and sides.

There’s also R&D Foods (from the team behind 606 R&D restaurant) in Prospect Heights, which offers a wide assortment of sandwiches, veggies and sides by-the-pound, drinks and sweets.

picnic1

Sandwiches and sides from R&D Foods

A word about alcohol consumption: it’s technically illegal to drink in public in NYC, but many people do it anyway. I think colorful beer cans that resemble soda–21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon beer–are a good bet and are safer than glass bottles in terms of attracting the least amount of attention. The key is to be discrete. My husband once witnessed a group of corporate softball league players in Prospect Park get tickets for consuming Brooklyn Brewery beers. Those rowdy hooligans!

2. Concert: Now it’s time to settle in. I prefer the north side of the bandshell, near the ticket entrance. The ground is flat and easy to sit on and there’s ample grass coverage, which isn’t always true for the south side of the stage. The major caveat is you have absolutely no view of the performance.

But! There is a major advantage to sitting here. When we parked ourselves outside the National concert a few weeks ago, multiple people came by to give away free tickets (why? I don’t know). We had the chance to enjoy the second half of the show from inside the concert area, free of charge. There are no more paid shows (well, technically every show asks for a suggested $3 donation) on the Celebrate Brooklyn! schedule for this summer, but definitely something to keep in mind for next year.

picnic2

concert2

Thank you, random stranger, for the free National tickets

3. Drink: Leave before the end of the show to beat the crowds and grab a seat at The Double Windsor, a nearly perfect iteration of what a cozy neighborhood bar should be. They have over a dozen craft beers on tap, in addition to well-made versions of beloved cocktails like Dark & Stormys. They also serve a truly delicious Pat LaFrieda beef burger if you’re still hungry post-picnicing.

thedoublewindsor

Summer Date Ideas by Neighborhood: Prospect Heights

photo

I love summer in the city as much as the next gal, but there’s something about it that for New Yorkers can be, well, a tad anxiety inducing. It’s more than the obsession with getting the most we possibly can out of the warmer months, it’s also that fact that New York in the summer is almost too awesome. There’s so much to do, and so little time in which to pack it all in. Every non-humid 80° F day feels like a gift from the heavens, one that must be enjoyed to the fullest, lest we conclude that the day –and if the day, then the week, the month, and obviously the season–has gone to waste.

In order to help, I’ve started a new series focusing on summer dates, whether romantic or plutonic, that take full advantage of the city’s neighborhoods in a low-key way.

Prospect Heights is a Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhood northeast of Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Take advantage of both the park and gardens, if you’d like, or, escape the heat at the Brooklyn Museum, a large, stately museum with one of my favorite permanent collections. Currently on view is an exhibition featuring more than 40 works by subversive modern Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Head to the museum for First Saturdays (the next one is July 5) to enjoy reduced admission to the Ai Weiwei exhibit as well as music and entertainment from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

brooklynmuseum

After museum-ing, take a 2-minute walk up Washington Avenue to craft cocktail bar Tooker Alley. Enjoy inventive cocktails (in the $11-$12 range) and a short menu of small bites in their low-lit bar or in the spacious backyard (open until 10 p.m.). Free jazz on Monday evenings if that’s your thing. Check on the wait time at Bar Corvo (below) so you can imbibe a few drinks al fresco until they call to tell you your table’s ready.

tookeralleybackyard

Bar Corvo, a neighborhood-y Italian restaurant, is a more casual offshoot of the insanely popular Park Slope spot Al Di La. The food here is hearty and delicious. I’m especially a fan of the anchovy-and-breadcrumb cauliflower and their pasta dishes (tagliatelle, squid ink, semolina gnocchi). The string light-illuminated backyard is a romantic spot in which to wile away a summer night over a glass of red.

barcorvo

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: