Best Spots for Backyard Cocktails

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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

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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

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Summer Date Ideas by Neighborhood: Prospect Heights

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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.

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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.

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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.

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