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.


Bored and Fjord: Series Looks at Finnish Doldrums

The title “Filmland” suggests a low-output day at the punning factory, but this would-be witticism carries a polemical edge. Overshadowed by its neighbors both east (Russia) and west (Sweden), Finland is mainly known to American filmgoers for the deadpan stylings of Aki Kaurismäki. BAM’s series aims to showcase the country as a more diverse cinematic resource. Perhaps to emphasize this movieland’s marginalization, “Filmland” opens with Screaming Men (2003), a minor, half-Danish documentary produced by Lars von Trier’s Zentropa company. Men follows an all-male choir whose members bellow and shriek instead of singing. Membership is so swollen that auditions now resemble hazing rituals. Why join? In the industrial city of Oulu, there’s little else to do.

If the selection has a recurring theme, it’s that of chronic boredom interrupted. A plodding shaggy-dog tale mislabeled as Hitchcockian, My Friend Henry (2004) tells a story of a mischievous girl and her possibly imaginary friend that pivots on unacknowledged middle-class ennui. In the hopeful agitprop Eila (2003), an apathetic cleaning woman half-thinkingly breaks a picket line, then develops a political conscience after losing her job. The mawkish Pearls and Pigs (2003) plunges four brothers into a world of adult responsibility, pressing them to care for (and exploit?) their angel-voiced half-sister when their father is thrown in jail. Social awakening of a different sort occurs in Seven Songs From the Tundra (2000), a sensationally shot anthology about the Nenet of northern Russia. In its patient ethnographic observation, the picture begs comparison with The Fast Runner, but it departs from the Inuit film by portraying an ancient culture colliding with modernity; in a particularly bleak sequence, a Nenet man doesn’t comprehend why he’s obliged to donate his reindeer to traveling Leninists. It’s a powerful incident that implies an inevitability of cross-cultural connections.