In Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park neighborhood, a few streets south of the tree-lined blocks of Victorian houses, is its main drag, Cortelyou Road. To people who live here, Cortelyou Road’s continuing development is the double-edged sword of a decades-long gentrification process. To those of us who are visiting from other neighborhoods, it’s the sort of happy surprise that forces us to re-evaluate our visions of what Brooklyn is. On an eight-block stretch of Cortelyou between Coney Island Avenue and Ocean Avenue, west of Flatbush, are a handful of businesses — old and new — that you’d expect to see in Park Slope or Carroll Gardens.
Like the Flatbush Food Coop, which has been around for more than 30 years, or Purple Yam, a three-year-old Filipino/Korean restaurant run by a chef whose last establishment was in SoHo.
Or Sycamore, a combination flower shop and bar. Walking through the small flower section to the bar, it was clear that they don’t do a heavy volume. But the little flower shop does take up the front quarter of the space, and it has its own register and clerk/bouquet arranger who periodically brings small bunches of flowers to a vase on the bar marked, “Pint of Beer and a Bouquet: $10.”
I marveled at the well-stocked bar (a good selection of whiskeys ranging from Japanese and Scotch single malts to American ryes), glancing at the chalkboard signs before settling on the beer and bouquet deal — how could I pass up something so unusual? I can’t recall the beer I ordered now — I think it may have been Red’s Rye P.A. from Founders — but my bouquet included tiny red roses and a black calla lily. My wife liked it enough she bought a full-sized bouquet later.
The bar’s surface looked like it was made of sheets of amber. I asked the bartender about it and was told that it was layers of broken glass laid on chicken wire and sealed in acrylic. The huge quantities of glass, she told me cryptically, were found in the basement when the bar’s owners moved in.
As I sipped my beer, I noticed that one of the signs (visible in the first photo above) behind the bar promoted $5 “tunabacks.” I had to ask. “You know what a pickleback is?” the bartender replied. I did — it’s a shot of pickle juice to go with a shot of whiskey. “It’s like that, but you know, the juice from a can of tuna…” I must have looked confused and upset. “Does anyone order that?” I asked.
Blessedly, no — it was a prank played on the bartender by the closing staff from the night before, and she decided to leave it up. A half hour later, someone else asked about it too.
Sycamore isn’t a cocktail bar. I saw the bartender making gin-and-tonics, but if there was a special cocktail menu, it wasn’t offered to us. But it is a damn fine whiskey and beer bar with a nice little flower shop in the front and a large outside seating area in the back. It’s the sort of neighborhood bar I wish were in Park Slope or Carroll Gardens.