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Whistlin’ Dixie’s Texas Tavern on Eleventh Avenue

The last time I was in Texas, I felt like a novelty item. “She lives in New York City!” exclaimed this woman who’d dragged her sister over to meet me, as though she’d happened upon a bearded lady or the One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater.

Perhaps that saying about needing a passport to leave the Lone Star State isn’t so far off.

As if traversing the open plains themselves, the walk to Whistlin’ Dixie’s Texas Tavern (714 Eleventh Avenue) was so far west we may as well have crossed a border. “Is that the Alamo?” I wondered. Ah, no, it’s the U-Haul rental facility. But perhaps after a few Diablo Margaritas, that might change.

Now, the good old boys of Alabama sang: “If you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band.” I wouldn’t worry so much about the fiddle, but if you’re headed to Whistlin’ Dixie’s, you gotta bring some friends. Though tumbleweed could seemingly blow down quiet Eleventh Avenue, inside was a decent venue to hold a large, no-frills gathering. Along with a picket fence, five flat-screen TVs bordered the range, which was further adorned with kitschy paraphernalia—Texas license plates, a Tequila Mockingbird book jacket, cowboy photos, etc. The mounted longhorn head presided over the scene as classic rock blared and beer-pong skills were refined in the back room. Thirtysomethings walked around with pitchers of Bud in hand, as blissfully happy as college freshmen who’ve never experienced the confines of a cubicle.

Though a Corona would’ve been more fitting, I ordered a Blue Moon—hey, at least the slice of orange brought out the hanging University of Texas flag’s colors. And in a city where people don’t bat an eye at $7 beers, this puppy was only four bucks: Everything is better in Texas. (Note to those whose wallet resembles a ranch hand’s: Cheap drink specials are offered every night of the week under thematic names like “Wild West Wednesdays.”) And if a few brews start to lube the appetite, Dixie’s menu offers an array of Tex-Mex grub—though grub may be the operative word, it’s hard to go too wrong when salsa is involved. Selecting among the “To Kick It Off Y’all” appetizers, my friend had the Bite-Size Sizzling Fajitas ($6.25), which served their purpose.

Would I wave my pom-poms for this spot, like the Cowboys cheerleader featured in framed photos on the wall? Not exactly, but grabbing a beer is grabbing a beer. Back out on deserted Eleventh Avenue, we rounded 52nd Street and headed toward Tenth. Is that the Alamo? Ah, no, it’s a gas station. In the words of George Strait, I actually found myself longing for a night where “The prairie sky is wide and high. [Clap, clap, clap, clap.] Deep in the heart of Texas.”

More Wild West locales

Rodeo Bar

Though it can’t help but be cheesy, this Texas-themed bar (complete with free peanuts and honky-tonk piano) has enough down-home country charm to lasso in the crowds. 375 Third Avenue, 212-683-6500

Double Down Saloon

“What’s in your Ass Juice?” is a hard question to ask with a straight face, but we wanted to know what we were in for when ordering this East Village spot’s dubiously named shot. We kind of liked the fruity-tasting $3 Ass Juice; the actual bar we’re still not sure about. A beloved Las Vegas sleaze spot since 1993, the Double Down has opened a second location on Avenue A with the same murals, reminiscent of ’60s Playboy comics, that cover the original’s walls, not to mention the same “You puke, you clean” motto. The New York location carefully replicates the endearing qualities of the original, from the rockabilly clientele to the drinks, like the Bacon Martini ($6), which you wouldn’t dream of ordering until after you’ve had a few. 14 Avenue A, 212-982-0543

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Western Culture at Barcibo Enoteca

All right, so maybe the Upper West Side can seem like the Grand Prix for the stroller set. Yet in the chill of a February night, many young uptowners feel less apt to swaddle themselves in wool and perform a dramatic reinterpretation of a trans-Antarctic expedition just to cavort with their cooler counterparts downtown. What, then, can save these doomed frigid souls from either rocking the Abominable Snowman look or indulging a newfound desire to hole up in their apartments with a stash of Netflix’s bounty?

The solution is Barcibo Enoteca (2020 Broadway), a little haven on the Upper West Side opened by Lawrence Bondulich, owner of the popular Bin 71. This wine bar is a skip away from Lincoln Center and the Beacon Theater, and a door down from the probably equally recognized Tani shoe store. I arrived at BE on a Monday night, and the place was hopping. The host, who led me to the back where he’d previously located a seat for my friend, was quite a smooth operator—he had the uncanny knack for making everyone feel like they were someone, and he worked to find seats for patrons, either at the bar or among the array of marble- and wood-topped grazing tables.

That said, this place is not a “Singles Scene” or any other cheesy Zagat-esque alliteration: Efficient table service simply keeps chums together and prevents strays. Still, the very soft light emanating from mod hanging lamps—coupled with the cozy exposed-brick walls—does denote Barcibo Enoteca as a good date spot. After all, if the winter has left you with a pasty and sallow complexion, you’ll feel light years more attractive in BE’s flattering warm glow.

To flush the cheeks, choose from 130 varieties of Italian wine, plus a selection of unique liquors and beers. While my friend enjoyed the no-brainer $8 glasses of Pinot Grigio, I shook things up and chose Rogue Dead Guy Ale (also $8). This dark, honey-colored brew with the skeleton label hails from Oregon and was a befitting choice, since obviously only scoundrels opt for beer at noted wine bars. The rest of the crowd was more on cue. Dressed in shades of black, young professionals sipped reds and ordered small plates of crostini, risotto, or Italian meats and cheeses. Tables noshed on panini—because noshing is much more en vogue than snacking—and caught up on each other’s drama.

After an evening shooting the breeze while seated by the open kitchen, we emerged onto Broadway all toasty, though smelling a bit like the griddle. Fortunately, there’s time to air out when home is just a brisk walk away. And when you don’t have to shell out $20 for a cab—well, it’s a beautiful night in the neighborhood.

More Upper West Side spots:

Candle Bar

So named because it’s only lit with candles (way to save on the electric bill, guys), this bar serves as a local cruising joint for Upper West Siders. After all, everyone’s cuter in near-total darkness. 309 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-874-9155.

George Keeley’s

Leaning heavily toward sports that the Irish play (or at least are competing in), this Irish sports bar is also a venue for beer connoisseurs. They feature cask ale (not the beer equivalent of cask wine, no), which is beer in its purest form: unfiltered, room temperature, and naturally carbonated. Typical American/Irish bar food is also available. 485 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-873-0251.

Yogi’s

Yogi’s is a down-home dive bar for those refusing to yield to the upscale, gentrified confines of the Upper West Side. Get down to some country music while swinging back $2 cans of Pabst. 2156 Broadway, 212-873-9852.

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Fine Whine

Tori Amos once recalled that fellow musician Al Stewart (the man behind the ’70s hit “Year of the Cat”) once gave her a valuable piece of advice: “Burgundy’s for sex, Bordeaux’s for intellect.” A fairly handy (if slightly sleazy) way of choosing your tipple. Me, I can never remember which wines I like, and usually end up arriving at friends’ apartments bearing bottles with names like Werewolf. But a recent trip to Vin Rouge (629 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn), a new South Slope wine bar, helped to allay some of the intimidation involved in choosing the right quaff. “Do you like it?” seems to be the guiding principle.

Opened a few months ago by a partner in the Has Bean Coffee spot across the street, Vin Rouge lies on a rather forlorn stretch of Fifth Avenue where it crosses Prospect. The place felt familiar at first—the handsome, dark-wood bar, the exposed-brick walls, and the strains of Sinatra on the stereo added up to what a New Orleans native called “French Quarter authentic.” At one table, a couple of jazz musicians talked shop, even throwing the word cat around in the hep sense. It was nearly too much when the Chairman of the Board began a loungey version of “Mrs. Robinson,” so the bartender laughed and switched it off in favor of the original, which led into a mix of the Beatles, Bollywood, and a certain red-haired piano-pounder.

The menu’s casual and silly descriptions of the 25 wines available by the glass—from “This 100-percent Pinot Noir rocks” to a Sicilian option declared “Superba!”—would’ve been much more charming had the staff been more helpful; they seemed unable to provide much guidance beyond a sort of general enthusiasm. Unfortunately, there were far too many misfires to justify prices in the $8-to-$12 range. The Petite Syrah ($10 a glass) and a bottle of Petite Verdad ($39) stood out, while other options were wan and uninteresting by comparison. Bottled beers like Duvel, Anchor Steam, and Smutty Nose ($5–$7) are also on hand, but seem kind of beside the point.

The menu includes a few bites for nibbling on. The meat-and-cheese platter ($10) was decent enough, and a plate of Ritz crackers with cheddar and a garlicky grape jelly ($5) was satisfying, like the afternoon snack your mom used to make. In the end, though, nothing at Vin Rouge stood out enough to make it worth a return trip. The remote location is incongruous with the prices; the place feels confused, as if unsure who exactly it’s trying to entice. Both the sexy and the intellectual will find it wanting.


OTHER BROOKLYN SPOTS FOR BUDDING WINOS

Black Mountain Wine House

The proprietors wisely chose a place off Carroll Gardens’ heavily trafficked main drag for this newish spot, going instead for something quieter. Whitewashed walls are lined with shelves bearing wine bottles, and the room is filled with tables and chairs of the intentionally mismatched variety. Branch out from a boring old Merlot with a Greek white or Moroccan red (both $6.50) and grab a bite from the short but smartly conceived menu of salads, cheeses, sandwiches, and the like ($4–$10).
415 Union Street, 718-395-2614


D.O.C. Wine Bar

Offering a quality array of moderately priced Italian wines, Williamsburg’s D.O.C. relaxes guests with its laid-back, intimate atmosphere. The bar’s pastoral décor, including a wooden picnic table, fits well with the Sardinian fare (traditionally eaten by shepherds) of flatbread, cheeses, and porks. A smart place for a third date.
83 North 7th Street, 718-963-1925Stonehome Wine Bar

This Fort Greene spot offers 140 varieties, but plan on ordering a bottle—only 30 of those selections can be bought by the glass. Nibble on meats and cheeses while mellow music wafts in the background. 87 Lafayette Avenue, 718-624 9443

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Newark Ave. Nights

This is not an argument about why you should live in Jersey City, where the commute to Manhattan takes eight minutes and costs less than subway fare, and an apartment goes for two-thirds of what you pay in the boroughs. Jersey City locals are tired of defending themselves against outdated perceptions that Jersey is a land of big hair and mob bosses, backed by a Springsteen soundtrack. Get over it. If we’re
always expected to jump on the bandwagon to the next hot spot deep in Brooklyn, the least you can do is cross the Hudson once in a while before Jersey-phobia causes you to completely miss the rapid rise of the gritty sixth borough.

Downtown Jersey City’s metamorphosis from downtrodden fringe city to desirable alternative neighborhood has, for the past several years, been bound to Grove Street—a quaint three-block stretch of restaurants and cafés. On the intersecting, aptly named Newark Avenue, something more desolate once greeted those emerging from the PATH. That’s changing, though, with recent laws extending drinking hours. The strip of 99-cent stores and discount shoe retailers (and one lone bar) that till now has been referred to almost laughably as “Restaurant Row” is finally beginning to look the part. Hair nets and laundry detergent are still the hottest commodities here, but a sprinkling of high-end establishments is brightening the face of Newark Ave. The newest addition, itself a former shoe store, is
Skinner’s Loft (146 Newark Avenue), a two-story bar and restaurant. Crowded in the early evenings with commuters, and then with the late-night crowd returning from the city and seeking one last round, Skinner’s Loft is a stop-by kind of a bar. But with close to 50 beers on the menu (from $4) and fruity cocktails (from $6), it’s no dive. The crisp autumn martini, made with house-infused apple vodka and pear Grey Goose, is insanely strong, while the elderflower Belvedere martini, with sweet, flowery syrup, tastes like spring-flavored candy. Small plates, served until 11 p.m., include baked macaroni and cheese ($8), coconut chicken tenders ($6), and the surprisingly light and fluffy crab-and-corn hush puppies ($7). (Complete lunch and dinner menus are also available at the bar.) As for the décor, gilded mirrors, antique Jersey City maps, and artwork by local painters adorn the exposed brick walls, and scavenged items—including dusty floor tiles, church banisters, and a grand door frame—lend the look of an old-fashioned brownstone speakeasy.

The patrons are as diverse as the neighborhood—and the state. Early on a weeknight, an older writer pecked away at his laptop plopped down on the bar while Spanish-speaking sports fans cheered at the two wide-screen TVs. On a weekend, a loud table of dreadlocked drinkers nearly drowned out an argument between two white kids about whose Bon Jovi concert was better. Elsewhere, a couple of prim single gals brushed off a few frat boys, and by last call, frisky lesbians taunted greasy-haired Irishmen and Brazilians with a little boob-play for beer. It may not sound like much, but next to big, bad, segregated NYC, Jersey City’s limited offerings actually bring people together. Places like the family-owned Skinner’s Loft are gems that quietly make this city the best little neighborhood in New York.

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Greenpoint’s New Bowling Alley: Time-Warp Look and Prices to Match

Sauntering into The Gutter (200 North 14th Street) on a recent Sunday night felt as though we’d just exited a time machine. Greenpoint’s new saloon/bowling alley is also Brooklyn’s first new bowling spot in nearly 50 years—and feels about that old already: The capacious bar, with its blond-wood paneling, stained-glass Busch and Old Milwaukee chandeliers, and (in the most authentic of touches) NFL action blaring from a rabbit-eared TV, is a ready-made set for an Abel Ferrara cop breakdown or a John Cassavetes slap-fest. And that’s the genius of the Gutter, the latest of two L-train-accessible establishments brought forth by partners Jon Miller and Paul Kermizian, formerly known for bringing Tetris back, with booze, at their first watering hole, Williamsburg’s Barcade. Three years after that success, the partners have perfected their theme-bar aesthetic—not just providing twenty- and thirtysomethings with a juxtaposition of two old favorites (old-school video games and alcohol, in Barcade’s case), but actually creating an environment that fully transports one to another place and time. It’s uncertain whether the Gutter best evokes the ’80s or the ’60s, Staten Island or Kansas City, but it’s wherever a dusty traveler first encountered bowling shoes, orange plastic chairs, and a rowdy bar that allowed outside pizza delivery.

The beer and bowling here are appropriately priced for the Cold War years, too. A game is a mere $7 a person during peak hours ($6 before 8 p.m.), plus a $2 standard for shoes. (Compare that to Bowlmor’s $9.95 a game or Chelsea Piers’ outrageous $6 shoes.) Or play by the lane by the hour for $36 during happy hour (prior to 8) or $42 thereafter. Smart strikers will swing by and take a number before dinner: The wait to bowl the night we visited was two hours, as a few of the bar’s eight lanes had gone temporarily kaput. Expect to wait that long even if everything’s in order on Friday or Saturday, or show up on a weeknight for more instant gratification.

On Sunday, our friend, upon scanning the three separate birthday parties occurring simultaneously, noted that it was “like Chuck E. Cheese for twentysomethings.” Perhaps, but in the best possible way. Though some birthday revelers—like the man who pegged me with a Skittle while we interviewed his friend—were clearly regressing (did he have a crush on me?), other revelers were more polite. Furthermore, the bar’s focus on beer—12 on tap, including such niceties as Sixpoint Sweet Action sold by the pitcher ($21) or the pint ($6), plus eight varieties served in 22-ounce bottles (try the Rogue Chocolate stout)—is a quick reminder that the neighborhood’s “Mommy and Me Yoga” set has yet to establish a toehold here. There’s no Bumper Bowling invasion in sight.

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There’s a New Central European Bar in Town—and it’s not Radegast Hall

There’s a new bar with a long list of schnapps, homemade bratwurst, and serious gastfreundlichkeit on the menu, and it’s not Radegast Hall. Unlike its much-buzzed-about Czech relative in Williamsburg,
Cafe Katja (79 Orchard Street, between Broome and Grand) debuted under the radar on the Lower East Side last month with modest class. You might walk past what appears to be a cold, pricey lounge from the sidewalk, but inside, the place feels rather like a traditional Central European inn in which the owners mingle with a spirited crowd over aromatic drinks and inexpensive, hearty fare. In this overly stylish neighborhood where many go to discover their Euro heritage through food and drink, Cafe Katja perfectly bridges the old and new worlds of the LES.

Located on the ground floor of a former tenement, the cafe’s layout resembles a cozy New York City apartment, materials like brick and hardwood the charming trade-off for lack of size. Mirrors along one wall, underlined by a long wooden counter, give the illusion of space. On the opposite wall, exposed brick is the backdrop to leather banquettes and a handful of tables. Below, a hardwood floor; above, a painted old tin ceiling. For space maximization, high shelves support handmade pottery and vats of infused vodkas, and a portable metal rack welded by a local artisan holds the glassware with logos to match the six draft beers (from $3).

There are also 10 bottles of lagers, pilsners, and weisses (from $5), many rare for these parts. Rarer still are the schnapps, which come from honey, walnuts, or pine cones (from $6). The latter, zirbenz, gives an earthy bite to a gin martini. The bar uses natural, fragrant elements like elderflower, thyme, ginger, and violets to induce fantasies of running over hills, alive with the taste of Alp-inspired cocktails ($9 each). The Lower East Cider is by far the most inventive mixture, made with bisongrass vodka, fresh pressed cider, and, as symbol of LES flavor, Dr. Brown’s cel-ray soda. There is also a long list of German and Austrian wines (from $6.50); plans to carry Slovenian and Hungarian wines are in the works.

Forget buffalo wings: With two respected chefs at the helm—one a native Austrian and the other a native New Yorker who lives in the neighborhood—Cafe Katja has a refined take on bar snacks. Co-owners Erwin Schrottner and Andrew Chase offer homemade pickles, smoked trout ($8), pretzels ($2), and beef goulash ($16), the Austro-Hungarian and New York Jewish flavors authentic to diners from either end of the diaspora. Other salty and satisfying drunk-food options include a cured meat plate ($14), landjaeger (dried sausage, $6), and homemade bratwurst with sauerkraut ($7). Food is served until 11 p.m., but like true wirts, the owners won’t let anyone starve. On a recent night, as the hour neared 3 a.m., Chase and his wife Darinka Novitovic, the iconic hostess of Florent for the past 21 years and a part-time manager here, presided warmly like parents over their trusting patrons, repeatedly asking, “Are you hungry? Can I get you something?” A fortysomething Austrian gentleman, who’d been conversing vigorously in his native tongue with a German friend, hailed the chefs. “I’ve been here for five hours!” he boomed, raising his glass with one hand and digging into his linzer torte with the other. “I’m not hungry, I’m not thirsty, and I’m still consuming!”

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New Smith Street Bar Will Mock You Online

Readers of food and nightlife websites breathlessly track the openings and closings of restaurants and bars as though they were following pro-baseball players; now, as you’re preparing to unveil a new brew pub, you can start a blog and get people talking months before your doors even open. That’s what the owners of
Bar Great Harry (280 Smith Street, Brooklyn) have done. They started blogging in early spring at bargreatharry.com, and they’ve kept it up since their opening three months ago.

BGH has taken over the spot previously occupied by the concisely named Bar, a place notable mainly for its complete lack of any defining qualities other than a prime corner location. The new owners, Ben and Mike, gave the space a good scrubbing-up and replaced the weirdly tall bar with a handsome walnut number at a more elbow-friendly height. They’ve also wisely held onto the glass doors that make up the exterior walls and open onto the sidewalk. By far their greatest improvement, however, is the beer selection: They’ve brought in suds by the truckload. The bottle/can list alone runs to 70 choices, from a lowly PBR ($4) to a mammoth bottle of Lindeman’s Cuvée René ($25), clearly the Johnny Walker Blue of beers.

The draft list is a changing list of 12 options—fanatics can track it through the blog. Feeling a little overwhelmed, I ordered the exact same thing as the patron before me: the Aventinus Wheat ($8); it was tasty, but I preferred my friend’s Weihenstephan ($6). (She declared it appropriately Germanic. We have to take her word for it.) Later, I trusted in the affable bartender’s guidance as he steered me towards a Captain Lawrence Smoked Porter ($6). He said it had been described as tasting “like a Virginia ham.” It didn’t, but that’s probably for the best.

Maintaining proper bar etiquette in a low-key place like this is crucial. There is a jukebox, but we don’t want to hear three Sublime songs in a row, sorry. Engage in your favorite childhood board games, but avoid Boggle: too noisy. Also, ridiculous orders—like grown men requesting Malibu and pineapple juice—will be noted and roundly mocked. In the past, these transgressions might have earned you nothing more than a scornful look, but not any longer. The bartenders at BGH are not only silently judging your behavior, but they’re posting it online. A perusal of the blog turns up myriad offenders, including a woman who monkeyed with a pint of pilsner by topping it off with Sprite and a guy who shamefully corrupted his Dogfish Head by drinking it over ice. And woe to the swaggering nimrod who eschews proper glassware in favor of swilling straight from the bottle. Beer consumption is taken seriously here, so show some respect.

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Park Slope’s Pacific Standard

West Coast expats looking for a bit of home in Brooklyn struck gold with the opening of Pacific Standard (82 Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn), a bar firmly committed to drawing Northern Californian transplants. Since last December, owners John and Jon—college chums from Berkeley—have been blogging about the various challenges involved with opening up a new drinking spot, treating readers to insider info like dealing with plumbers (not fun) and reaching out to the new neighbors (“We feel like Mormons, or child molesters”), and even allowing them to weigh in on what to call the unisex bathrooms (the not-so-imaginative Pacific/Atlantic carried the day). The duo also solicited help from friends: “Do you know a good contractor or a cool furniture store?” It says something about the affability of the owners that their buddies were willing to pitch in—although free beer may have had something to do with it. Add a hilarious Korean landlord who says things like “You know, woman very messy, put many thing in toilet,” and this could be a sitcom pilot.

John and Jon’s scruffy charm has clearly rubbed off on the bar itself, which is comfortable and decidedly low-key. The space resembles a cross between a coffeehouse and a surf shop. The front is spacious, with lots of pale wood and plenty of seating. The back has a bit of a dorm-room feeling, with bright blue walls, ugly couches, and a giant projection screen for catching Padres or 49ers games. The three large bookshelves offer an eccentric variety of reading material ideal for perusing while waiting on a tardy friend.

The beer list, however, is quite serious. A two-page menu describes the brews on tap ($4–$6) in minute detail, down to provenance and percentage of alcohol by volume. At a whopping 9 percent, the Old Rasputin was as dark as strong coffee and bears the label “Not for the faint of heart,” which is either a warning or a dare, depending on your point of view. The California selections like Stone IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale were popular choices, and the bartender (John or Jon) was kind enough to provide samples for anyone unable to make up their mind. A much shorter food menu ($3–$4) offers grub like chips and salsa, almonds, cheese and salami, and a San Francisco treat called “It’s-it,” a peacock-painting ice-cream sandwich dipped in chocolate. If you manage to keep the party going until closing time, all the food is free.

An assortment of theme nights promises continual activity: “Mike’s Midnight Movie Madness” takes over the projector to screen comedic gems like Teen Wolf and more recent fare like Hot Fuzz and Knocked Up. Thursdays feature “Playtime with Cherry Tree,” a collabo with the saloon across the street. (See? Making friends is easy!) The bar kicked things off with a “Fortnight of Fury,” which challenged patrons to show up every night for two weeks and imbibe at least 50 drinks. The winner, a lush by the name of English Adams, emerged as the champion after downing a staggering total of 90. English Adams, we both salute and fear you.

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New Williamsburg bar taps into luxury condo market

On a near-desolate street in north Williamsburg, a noncultural renaissance has begun. Till recently, the signs of gentrification on this block consisted of a cheese shop, a hookah bar, and a Mexican fast food restaurant opposite graffitied trailers and abandoned lots. But when Oulu (170 North 4th Street, Brooklyn) opened a month ago, hipsters finally entered their promised land and became old school. The lounge, named for the northern Finnish city, introduces us to what the owners call “Williamsburg 2.0,” a neighborhood of creative professionals, dwellers of the future luxury condos sprouting up along North 4th Street. The crumbling landscape may once have been dangerous for some, charming for others; to the new kids on the block, it’s their Manifest Destiny.

Oulu’s name and elements of its design were inspired by the sixth largest city in Finland—a place the owners, married couple Ande Bordages and Anthony Pace, have never been. Pace dreamed of honeymooning off the beaten path and discovered Oulu in his research. But he and Bordages used their trip money to open their own version in Brooklyn instead. The West Village–based couple describes Williamsburg 2.0 in terms of pioneers and settlers. “Pioneers get shot,” said Pace, “but settlers get land.”

Based on Pace’s idea of a “super-modern river cottage,” the airy lounge gets its woodsiness from smooth, tree-trunk-length benches and curved wall-mounted tables, and its greenery from the delightful “vertical garden” of succulents mounted upon the façade. A blown-up photograph of a serene forest lake and cabin adorns the wall nearest the bar, transporting patrons—graphic designers, architects, and other well-off freelancers—to peaceful, far-away environs with nary a wireless connection. The deeply considered natural elements complement the bare, dim bulbs, concrete floor, and the massive glass garage door that gives insiders a view of the remains of 4th Street’s wilderness.

The relationship to the city of Oulu ends with the physical space. The owners are adamant their inspiration not be a theme that can become mired in kitsch (in contrast to those hipsters who came to Williamsburg 1.0 embracing kitsch). There is just one Finnish beer (Sinebrychoff, $6), and while some cocktails have Nordic names, they are local creations by the thoughtful bar staff. At $9 each, standouts include the Victorian Cocktail, a concoction of gin, Earl Grey tea, and apple juice, and the Frostbite, a curious combination of pineapple juice and mint in a vodka martini. Wines ($7 a glass) and domestic beers (from $5) round out the menu. Plans for a “Sunday Bloody Mary Sunday” liquid brunch are in the works.

On a midweek night, the crowd at Oulu was thin, the indie rock and lounge music low enough to let the patrons talk about design or art or $500,000 studios over a drink. Saturdays feature DJs playing rock, indie, and “esoterica,” drawing growing numbers of the new locals—those brave, intrepid colonists who have come to tame wild, wild Williamsburg.

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A Rookie Sports Bar Comes to Fort Greene

At first, the idea of a sports bar in Fort Greene seemed slightly odd: In the midst of all the lounges and ethnic eateries, it’s clear that one of these things is not like the others. But now the neighborhood has one, in the form of the rookie joint
Mullanes Bar & Grill (71 Lafayette Avenue), a hop, skip, and jump shot away from the site of the Nets’ (proposed) new home. A mostly unadventurous but amiable place, Mullanes has all the requisite touches, including a collection of flat-screens above the bar area tuned to the Yankees and Mets (R.I.P.)—though, surprisingly, one was showing a Major League Soccer game, to which no one objected. It was cool to watch, as well as simultaneously demolishing any stereotypes of the Brazilians being the most attractive people on the planet. (I’m just saying.)

In fact, only a few guys seemed fixated solely on the games—there was only one backwards cap in sight. The crowd was evenly balanced between males and females, with small groups scattered throughout the bar area and the tables in the back. The spot seemed like a smart choice for a place to meet before catching a flick at BAM—especially early on in the courtship, when you’re figuring out whether to see Eastern Promises (Russian gangsters) or 2 Days in Paris (neurotic couples)—with a mellow vibe and a noise level that’s pleasantly low.

The routine beer list includes the standard options (Bass, Sierra Nevada, Guinness), though local brews like Sixpoint’s Sweet Action ($5) are represented as well. The “Attitude Adjustment Hour” (which runs from 4 to 7 p.m.) sounded like it might finally deliver just what my elementary-school teachers always told me I was sorely in need of.

During my visit, the bartender capably handled the moderate-sized crowd, but the waitstaff seemed plagued by nerves. A typical exchange went something like this:

Waiter: “What can I get you?”

Me: “Can I have a Bud Light?”

Waiter: “We don’t have Bud Light.”

Me: “Oh, well, it’s on the menu.”

Waiter: “Uhmm . . . hold on, let me check.”

(Ten minutes later.)

Different Waiter: “What can I get you?”

But even the bumbling was charming, in a way. It’s hard to get irritated with a place so laid-back; the only uncomfortable part of the night came when a man sitting at the bar with a woman approached the table and asked me if he could buy a round of drinks. When I asked why, he leered back: “Well, the signals have been pretty clear.” (Am I being propositioned? It’s not even midnight, for God’s sake!) “No, no, that’s cool—we’re fine,” I replied. My friends told me I should have at least taken the drinks, but then again, they’re idiots.

That small awkward moment aside, at least now I have a new place to go to debate the talents of Wes Anderson after seeing The Darjeeling Limited.