2004 Summer Guide: Outdoor Drinks 

Brooklyn

Alibi  242 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn at Vanderbilt (718) 783-8519

The ur-dive of Fort Greene, this Irish bar scrimps on the Pine-Sol to offer you the cheapest drinks in the area. Inside, you’ll curse the smoking ban, mostly since a place like this was never meant to be without tobacco. The graffiti-covered deck never seems to have enough seating, despite the benches running around its perimeter. Things get ever-livelier as the night wears on, when suspiciously young art students and the aging regulars bond over their love of World Cup matches, Big Buck Hunter II, and a pathological need to constantly play “White Wedding” on the jukebox.

Bar Reis  375 5TH Avenue, Brooklyn at 6th Street (718) 832-5716 

After a summer concert at nearby Prospect Park, you’ll think of this small Park Slope bar and its bi-level garden. The only problem is that everyone else has already thought this and will be there taking up its limited space. A gazebo in the corner provides some privacy, but if you can’t find a seat, just lean on the railing and wonder why they don’t have any draft beers.

Brooklyn Tavern 31 3RD Avenue, Brooklyn at state Street (718) 797-0677 

Popular with BAM employees for after-work bitch sessions, this bar is safe from the hipster set who head to the far divier Hank’s around the corner. They have no idea there’s a large and unsullied garden for those who brave its basic pub interior. It has the expected: beers, fireplace, armchairs, Sinatra, TVs. But through the French doors there’s a covered deck running along the back and side of the yard. Beyond it, an open garden, with trees and lots of light. The tavern’s nondescript exterior feels like it wants to keep its garden a secret.

Gardens  493 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn at Hall Street (718) 783-9335 

If you’re looking for a spot to meet up with your ‘other’ girlfriend, take her to this nondescript Clinton Hill hole and sequester yourselves in their sprawling back courtyard. Only partially furnished, tables and chairs give way to empty concrete. There’s no pesky ambiance to get in the way of your drinking. And no one but the alley cats will bother you.

The Gate 321 5TH Avenue, Brooklyn at 3rd Street (718) 768-4329 

Park Slopers cram themselves on the Gate’s side deck until it resembles a high-density feedlot for yuppies. Do they do this just to see and be seen by their contemporaries, therefore justifying their existence? Maybe a little. But the huge selection of draft beers is what keeps them there, as well as the pub-like atmosphere that, since the smoking ban, has seen an alarming increase of baby carriages within its environs.

Ginger’s 363 5th Avenue, Brooklyn at 5th Street (718) 788-0924 

I was dancing in a lesbian bar ... Jonathan Richman wasn’t talking about this lesbian bar cum Irish pub, but the sentiment works. While primarily a hangout for the ladies of Park Slope, no one minds much when breeders stop by to play pool or take a pint of Guinness out to their roomy back yard. Antique beer trays decorate the fence, and a variety of aging patio furniture provides a pleasantly low-key atmosphere.

Gowanus Yacht Club  323 Smith Street, Brooklyn at President Street (no phone)

If you have the patio, why do you even need the bar? This summer-only hotspot is already going strong this season, offering a boisterous, crowded atmosphere in a very small space. If the sight of so many young folks packed inside its cast-iron fence rankles you, come back on an off night when the summer heat forces the less-hardy to retreat to the air-conditioned bars. On these evenings, there is actually some space to relax with a cup of Jever and a polish sausage. Everything’s cheap here, from the beer to the decor, the perfect antidote to Smith Street’s continued homogenization.

The Hook 18 Commerce Street, Brooklyn at Columbia Street (718) 797-3007 

With shuttle buses taking Carrol Street subway passengers to its Commerce Street location, the Hook is doing its darnedest to make us like Red Hook. Its indoor space is impressive: huge performance area, basement DJ lounge, huge bar with decently-priced drinks. The only clue to where you are is the industrial back alley, a concrete lot to catch some air and a smoke when the heat of the dancing bodies inside becomes unbearable. If they make good on promises of an outdoor bar, then they’ll really have something.

Iona 180 Grand Street, Brooklyn at Bedford Avenue (718) 384-5008

A slew of new bars have opened (or re-opened) on Grand street in Williamsburg recently, and the best of the backyard-havin’ is Iona. Inside it’s all friendly-pub style, with two sets of window seats so passersby can see you snogging that girl you met earlier. Further trysting can be achieved in the garden, where table tennis enthusiasts will distract from your amorousness in the covered area in the back. Much care went into the patio, with its deck and brick landscaping, but not so much that it comes off as pretentious. What’s missing? Oh yeah, no whiskey.

Last Exit 136 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn at Clinton Street (718) 222-9198 

A group of B&Ters somehow found this bar and were loudly complaining at the lack of Coors Light. But even dopes like this are welcome with open arms, though they be gently chided into accepting the impressive array of liquors and microbrews on tap. They grumbled in the lounge, not even noticing the small back garden. They missed the nautical decorations, the oddball mural, and much of the genuinely friendly vibe that makes this one of the best bars in Brooklyn. Serves ‘em right.

Lillie’s 46 Beard Street, Brooklyn at Dwight Street (718) 858-9822

Like inmates taking over the asylum, this old sailor bar has been absorbed by young & hip homesteaders. The main room has lots of space as well as a stage, and the garden is a multi-level urban paradise. Bordered with razor wire, full of trees, old patio furniture and junk, the deck tumbles around a bamboo bar which never seems to be open. Everyone you meet is friendly, rightly assuming that all present have had the shared trauma of finding their way all the way down to Beard Street. Would it be as popular if it were more convenient?

Mug’s Ale House 125 Bedford Avenue Brooklyn at North 10th Street (718) 384-8494

Williamsburg hipsters don’t seem to have a palette for much beyond PBR, so perhaps that’s why you can almost always get a seat at this house of many taps and never-ending exotic beer list. There’s a lot of space here, including the small, oft-overlooked patio. The waitresses give you a hard time if you bring your drinks from the bar out here, but just ignore them and enjoy the night air. After a couple of drinks, you’ll relent and order some pub grub, and then everybody’s happy.

Patio 179 5th Avenue, Brooklyn at Berkeley Place (718) 857-3477

Very much a lounge, with comfortable couches and an open-air window seat, this dimly-lit bar offers no hard liquor but makes up for the oversight with 10 beers on tap and a variety of wine and sake cocktails. The gravel-covered patio is a little precious with its Ikea folding chairs and waterfall, but the atmosphere is quite calming, faux-Zen or not. Smokers, take heed: the outdoor area claims only half the yard is ashtray-friendly.

Pete’s Candy Store 709 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn at Frost Street (718) 302-3770 

Home to alt-country acts and trivia nights, this former punk rock bar has matured nicely. Case in point, the rear garden is exquisitely appointed with trees and wooden benches. Twin umbrella heaters provide smokers a haven even during the non-sweltering summer nights. Signs implore patrons to keep it down for the neighbor’s sake; it may not be punk rock, but lord knows there are plenty of other places to holler.

Red and Black 135 N 5th Street, Brooklyn at Bedford Avenue (718) 302-4530 

With an ostentatious elevated DJ booth, main room apparently modeled after a Viking longhouse, and glassed-in fireplace in the front window booth, many patrons don’t notice the side door leading out to the modest patio. With just a few tables and chairs, things can get cramped, but it hasn’t been overrun like most other bars in the area. At night the lattice paneling makes this garden seem a mildly exotic secret. In the light of day, you realize you’re sitting next to the back door of some vinyl-sided house.

Robin Des Bois  195 Smith Street, Brooklyn at Warren Street (718) 596-1609 

When you just can’t take one more hour of your mind-numbing day job, squirreled away in a climate-controlled cubicle, sneak out early and get to this eclectic café. The interior is full of kitschy pieces, lightening your mood, and nearly everything is for sale. The lovely garden is outfitted with a variety of antique patio furniture, and the abundance of light and plant life can make that slab of an office building seem like a bad dream, if only for a little while.

SODA 629 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn at Prospect Place (718) 230-8393 (718) 230-8393 

We’re walking from Prospect Park after a spring picnic. We’re tired but aren’t quite ready to give up each other’s company. So we duck into this Prospect Heights bar, housed in what used to be a soda fountain in the last century. The Sunday Special means $3 pints; the garden doesn’t disappoint either. It has several tables and a tree but doesn’t feel cramped, with a view into the kitchen from which the cook serves up perfect pierogies.

Stonehome Wine Bar 87 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn at S. Elliott Place (718) 624-9443

Wine is still a bit of a mystery to us, but Stonehome’s staff offers such good suggestions there’s almost no need to really know what we’re doing. With a little imagination the garden feels like a tiny Napa vineyard as we smoke, nibble fine cheese, or buy slices of red velvet cake from the Cake Man Raven bakery. Prices are a little high for Fort Greene, but part of the cost includes the gorgeous cherrywood bar and the feeling we’re a little more successful than we actually are.

Union Pool 484 Union Avenue Brooklyn at Conselyea Street (718) 609-0484

Possibly due to their “Rockabilliy Sundays” this joint has become a de facto hangout for hipsters of the greaser/drape persuasion, as well as all the other Williamsburg kids. The whiskey could be cheaper and the indoor space could probably be better utilized, but in the summer it’s all about the big back yard, complete with fountain and the source of all that smoke drifting into the bar. There are tables, but on weekends it’s standing room only. Bands play either in the main room or separate performance space, the addition of which means this bar has all the bases covered.

Yabby 265 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn at Grand Street (718) 384-166

Williamsburg’s answer to the beer garden. All the other fine amenities of this bar (pool table, limited menu, inexpensive drinks) don’t hold a candle to its large graveled yard, replete with picnic tables and smoking hipsters everywhere you look. The bar staff could be a little more on the ball, and it seems like they’re always out of one or more draft beers, but while waiting for them to change kegs you can amuse yourself watching the denizens of Williamsburg walk by the bar’s metal doors.

Manhattan

Barramundi 147 Ludlow Street at Stanton Street (212) 529-6900 

We visit Barramundi with a bunch of people, including a trendwatcher for a hipster clothing company. She’s loud, drunk and namedropping, wearing what will be fashionable in six months, and we’re embarrassed to be in the same generation with her. But there’s no escape. It’s packed and the music should be loud enough to drown her out, but it isn’t. Mirrors reflect her trucker hat everywhere. We can’t even get to the nicely appointed garden, but promise ourselves we’ll return for happy hour when we’ll be able to lounge before the scenesters wake up.

Boxcar Lounge 168 Avenue B at 10th Street (212) 473-2830

The underlying design theme here is hobo-chic. The bar is small and narrow, with corrugated metal on the walls and a ribbed ceiling. Magic Hat is on tap at $6 a pint, worth the price and stepping gingerly over feet in the interior to relax in the garden, which is much bigger than you’d expect a bar of this size to contain. Gingham-printed tablecloths are a nice touch, as is the amusing lion’s-head fountain on the back wall.

UPDATE JUNE 12, 2006: Boxcar is getting into hot water for their noisy backyard. Read more here.

Bull McCabe's 29 Saint Marks Place at 2nd Avenue (212) 982-9895

Pub with a small front seating section pretty much designed for watching the few remaining freaks wander up and down St Marks Place. After about ten minutes that gets old, so it’s time to check out the bar’s one distinctive trait: really big garden. Several umbrella-ed metal tables adorn the patio, the trees are alive with squirrels and other nonthreatening vermin, and the Noon-7 Happy Hour keeps everybody in good spirits (a hefty Powers on the rocks only costs $4). Now, why is there a crashed Cessna propped up against a tree? This was probably funnier a few years ago.

Central Park: Loeb Boathouse Central Park Lake, Park Drive North at E. 72nd St. (212) 517-2233

We’re here with our ex, attempting to be civil and see if this “just friends” idea will really wash. We can’t go to one of our usual haunts, too many bad memories. But the Park feels like sanctuary, and the serenity of the lake and mildly overpriced drinks makes us momentarily forget the people hovering over our shoulders for a table, the lame gondoliers, and our broken hearts. It reminds us of the New York we saw in movies but could never afford. Of course, when the sun sets and the drinks wear off, cheap whiskey can be found elsewhere.

Druids 736 10th Avenue Manhattan at 50th Street (212) 307-6410 

Our theater friends always rave about this place, and for once they haven’t overstated things. The Celtic letting on the sign makes it appear to be just another pub, but inside things are a couple of notches above the norm. But of course they still have Guinness. The back patio looks like you have teleported somewhere far from Hell’s Kitchen. A great place to get away from the less-inspiring parts of the neighborhood, and raise your spirits after that lousy audition.

Ear Inn 326 Spring Street at Greenwich Street (212) 226-9060 

This is one of the oldest bars in the city, and the decor reflects it while not shoving an ‘old-timey’ esthetic down your throat. Cheap steaks and Guinness, however, go down easy. It’s a handy escape from Don Hill’s around the corner, providing patrons a few scant seats out front. A plaque marks the edge of the building as the previous western border of New York (the current, landfilled border is now another two blocks closer to Jersey). Even a few iron ship moorings remain to testify that some things are better left as they are.

International Bar 120 1st Avenue at 7th Street (212) 777-9244

They don’t have anything on tap, but they have all your favorite whiskeys, and at $4.50 it’s cheaper than most places in the neighborhood. The bar is narrow and old; you can imagine it was once a men-only, no-barstools affair. Past the famous “Play at your own risk” jukebox and closet-sized bathrooms, the garden is even tinier but makes up for the lack of space with long benches. It’s a bit of a shock it’s so bright out here on afternoons, since it’s surrounded on all sides by tenements, and inside it’s perpetually midnight.

The Porch 115 Avenue C at 8th Street (212) 982-4034

The bar was loud and crowded, but it had started pouring so we dashed inside. Despite the rain, we pushed our way outside, to find the staff deploying a retractable awning to protect its patrons. Couples huddled under the umbrella tables, while a folding tent was erected over the exposed garden. We ended up drinking generously poured Jameson’s in the covered porch swing, and we were thankful. Many didn’t even seem to notice the storm, so engrossed were they in boisterous conversation and fake-flower leis. Finally, one woman leaned out and remarked, “Guys, it is soooo raining!” Indeed.

Sweet & Vicious 5 Spring Street at the Bowery (212) 334-7915

It seems like a huge space inside, but on weekends it gets so crowded you reconsider just drinking 40’s on the stoop at home. The garden’s reputation is valid, it’s beautiful, but there’s a catch: it closes early to cut down on noise complaints, so you might find yourself with your nose pressed against the back window, both because you wish you could get out there and because there is absolutely no room to move. Drink prices aren’t bad assuming you can a) find the bar under the blanket of flesh, and b) get on the bartender’s good side.

White Horse Tavern 567 Hudson Street at W 11th Street (212) 989-3956

Since the smoking ban this place has lost a little of its charm. It somehow doesn’t seem right that this historic spot, awash in fried pub food and its own White Horse Ale, as well as being Dylan Thomas’ last bar-hop, should have to obey the puritanical laws of the current culture. Isn’t there some kind of Grandfather clause here? At any rate, we’re sitting outside anyway, where there is still a modicum of choice. When not overrun with tourists, the Tavern serves both as historically-significant structure and solid neighborhood bar.

Queens

Bohemian Hall and Park 29-19 24th Avenue, Astoria, at 29th Street (718) 274-4925 

Within the high walls marking out the truly enormous beer garden, you are sheltered from all that threatens in the city, from terrorists to the incredibly slow subway you took to get here. Pitchers of Staropramen are $12, and everybody is extremely friendly. Long tables stretch out and conversations naturally cross-breed while somebody is dispatched to stand in the long lines to refill or pick up some kielbasa or portobellos. You won’t want to leave, especially when you realize how long it’s going to take to get home.

Brick 3095 33rd Street, Astoria at 31st Avenue  (718) 267-2735

We visit the Brick only when we’re accidentally near it. It’s somewhat more expensive and definitely more upscale than your average Astoria bar, attracting a mix of image-conscious young women and slick Greek guys who have perfected the leer. Everyone here has their scoping goggles on all the damn time, which is kind of funny considering that this place, on a quiet residential street, is never quite packed. Drink until way, way past midnight (sometimes 2 a.m., sometimes 4 a.m.) outside on the more-spacious-than-most enclosed sidewalk patio.

Cronin & Phelan 36-14 Broadway, Astoria at Steinway Street (718) 545-8999

Run by friendly Irishmen, this place has plied us with plenty of buybacks, thanks, no doubt, to our slender, girlish wrists. Sit at the bar for the occasional free perks; otherwise, enjoy the back “yard,” where no blade of glass dares emerge. The incessant whirr of a giant industrial fan off the back of the kitchen is grating, but it least it drowns out the sappy radio station usually playing. Ten tables are pretty busy in the warm months; food orders aren’t required out here, so mostly it’s just folks drinkin’ and smokin’.

Fleming’s Pub 34-07 30th Avenue, Astoria, at 34th Street (718) 728-9624

This gritty Astoria bar contains a small back patio that belies its rough exterior. Sure, fights break out here from time to time (some of which have included the bartender on occasion), but the vibe is ultimately genial. Take your $3 cocktails out to one of the resin tables and puzzle over the photograph of JFK, Jr, captioned “Good night, sweet prince.” The jukebox is 3 for $1, so you can listen to “Radar Love” as many times as you please. As long as it’s okay with the bartender.

 
 
 


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