Sometimes we feel we were born in the wrong era, or a nostalgia for the good ol’ days strikes us like a hunger pang. And an old-fashioned potent potion can be just the remedy for such an ailment. Since time travel is not a feasible option, the next best thing is to throw back some classic cocktails at a historic-inspired spot. In a borough with such antiquated character, it’s only appropriate that Brooklyn will house the best of these back-in-the-day bars. Let these unique standouts transport you to the haze of a better time.
With a comfortable charm that feels both new and old, everyone is welcome at Huckleberry Bar. Opened in 2007 by team Andy Boggs and Stephanie Schneider, Boggs was determined to open a great bar in under-the-radar Brooklyn that left the oft-found pretension of Manhattan on that island. "Fancy without the fussy," he quotably said, adding that the ambiance is a nod to Williamsburg staples like Dumont and Diner. Industrial tin and iron mix with natural Lyptus oak for rustic-antique chic. The cocktails (spearheaded by Stephanie) run the gamut from seasonal to classics to unconventional concoctions. The Brooklyn(photo left), which classic Manhattan cocktail drinkers would appreciate is a medley of rye whiskey, dry vermouth, house-made bitters, and a touch of Maraschino liqueur: a lovely rendition on tradition. The William Miller is another whiskey choice, and includes a salty bacon-infused bourbon. Simply finished with more whiskey liqueur Drambuie (Scotch variety) and orange bitters, this drink is straight to the point - and to the head. Huckleberry winds worlds of spirits with the influence of new and old that allows you to bask shamelessly in that limbo. (Cocktails $10-$12) 588 Grand Street, Williamsburg
Brooklyn Social doesn’t want attention, but it will capture yours with its nonchalant and easy spirit. It does not put on any airs about its authenticity because it does not have to; the space really was a private Sicilian men’s club and all the trappings of that feel were preserved in the decor when it opened in 2004. Faded sepia photos hang on the walls, red tin laminates the ceiling, an over-sized jukebox belts blues and soul, and an antique cash register gives you change. Owner Matt Dawson created a concise ten-drink list with appropriate old-Italian influence like the Sicilian Fizz with Italian mirto, gin, blood orange, egg white and soda. The Palermo Fix (photo right) also utilizes the Italian Averna with rye, maraschino liqueur and effervescent ginger ale. Don’t miss a great whisky martini in the Brooklyn with orange brandy and bitters or Matt’s (muddled) Ginger Old Fashioned which is exactly like it sounds. A more mature patronage only contributes to the sense that you are part of the social club this once was, and still is. (Cocktails $10) 335 Smith Street, Cobble Hill
From the same owner of Brooklyn Social came a newer bar five years later that feels even more old-fashioned, if that’s possible. Henry Public “replicates an American saloon honoring the history of Brooklyn”, owner Matt Dawson said. The particular aesthetic is geared to “feel like an oasis in the fast-paced modern world,” with dark cherry wooden booths and suspendered staff. Literal tribute is paid to historical figures of the era like Whitman, DuBois, and Beecher with inventive cocktail old-world style offerings like Beecher’s Tonic with Pimm’s, Curacao, and cider. Henry’s Martini boasts two vermouths with Old Tom gin and orange bitters, and thePublic Smash (photo right) is their take on a bourbon Mint Julep with the sweet addition of maple syrup. American history claims its turf at this public saloon, sans the quick-fire draw. (Cocktails $10-$12) 329 Henry Street, Brooklyn Heights
An homage to New Orleans, step into the French Quarter at Maison Premiere (photo via website). From the same designers behind Moto, every decor detail emits a transporting power - from the antique mirrored-walls, to old street lamp bulbs demarcating the “Exit”, to a pull-chain toilet. And it does not stop there, but pours over to the staff: the gents decked out in Prohibition-era suspenders and curly mustaches, the gals with coiffed up-dos and ruby lipstick. Perhaps a draw unto itself is their exemplary Absinthe selection, enhanced in allure by a functioning replica of the Olde Absinthe Fountain once famed in the Big Easy itself. If absinthe peaks your interest, brave it straight from the drip or try the excellent Krummholz Frappe(photo right) frothed with Creme de Casis and milky cream. No doubt the elegant cocktails will take you back, especially theSaint Helena, sophisticatedly layered with Aquavit, Champagne and yellow chartreuse. With a raw oyster bar, spicy gumbo, and bluesy jazz music, it is all too easy to dream of old Orleans - though the absinthe may help. (Cocktails $8-$14) 298 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg
Dram may not be blatantly old-fashioned on the surface, but scrape through the layers of wood-paneled walls and kitschy Christmas lights to find a spot paying tribute to Tiki-bar classics and old-school drinks. You will find House Cocktails like the Bitter Mai Tai or the Sweet Avenue Swizzle (photo right), but also Classic Cocktails like a Sazerac or Hemingway Daiquiri. Modern Classics like a Oaxaca Old Fashioned with tequila, mezcal and bitters will put you in a giddy tizzy, and the popular swizzle’s aromatic baking-spice bitters will put you in an olfactory trance. Owner Tom Chadwick says he puts an emphasis on the Bartender’s Choice cocktail, showcasing the true expertise of those bar mixers like those before them. Don’t let the tropical theme fool you, as we could all use a 1940’s Tiki-drink throwback to take us back. (Cocktails $10-$12) 177 South 4th Street, Williamsburg
It doesn’t get any more authentic than a place rooted in history and this list wouldn’t be complete without them.Clover Club was indeed the name of an eating and drinking social club of Philadelphia journalists who met at the Bellevue Hotel from the 1880’s to the 1920’s. Thus, is the inspiration for this “club” on Smith Street with brick walls, dim lights and a cocktail list invoking times passed. Enjoy the exclusivity of a secret society with drinks grouped with a historical description for your learning (and consuming) pleasure: Sours & Daisies, Apple Brandys, Punches, Cocktails, Equal Parts, Collins & Fizzes, Royales, The Correction, and even The Work of Harry McElhone, a Prohibition bar proprietor. It cannot speak more of a speakeasy than that. Though you may feel overwhelmed with the choices, the knowing bartenders can push you in the right direction with the right old-time rendition. (Cocktails $12-$13) 210 Smith Street, Cobble Hill (photo via website)
While open and airy with big, bright windows, Walter Foods (photo via website) still provides the ease of retro diner-counter culture. Black and white checkered tiles, a large mirrored bar and plush black booths all convey this cozy familiarity. The bartender is outfitted more like a white-clad, bow-tied soda “jerk” of that fond time period, who can still mix more than a malt. Straightforward cocktail categories by spirit (gin, tequila, rum, whiskey) allow you pinpoint those that have stood the test of time like a Tom Collins, Dark and Stormy orMint Julep. By the same token, mixed in are creative cats like a Bitter Margarita (photo right) with a dash of Campari, or a Fig Side Car, rum infused with fig syrup and lemonade. You can’t go wrong in your drink choice to accompany a blue-blood menu replete with a raw bar, a French-dip sandwich, a Rib-eye, and old-fashioned mashed potatoes. What more could you ask for from the days of yore? (Cocktails $11) 253 Grand Street, Williamsburg