In the Twin Cities, where I’m from, neighborhood bars don’t just close after ten years; they tend to stay around for while, and they tend to be old. Which is why it’s so jarring to see them disappear in New York.
But the positive side to that is new ones will open pretty often too. I was talking about this with Josh, co-owner of Uncle Barry’s, which opened on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn last November. He was behind the bar on Saturday afternoon, entertaining a steady trickle of friends and regulars. We talked about another neighborhood bar on Fifth Avenue: the now closed Great Lakes, a wonderfully unpretentious Midwestern-themed bar with a great juke box. Josh had heard Great Lakes called it quits after its rent tripled when the lease expired. “When you think about it,” he said, “ten or fifteen years is a pretty good run for a bar. They can’t all be O’Connors.” O’Connor’s, down the block, was open from 1931 until June this year.
I came into Uncle Barry’s because I wanted to try two things I’d read about online: the Twix bars wrapped in prosciutto and the Can-hattan cocktail. The former, which has been covered by at least six media outlets and local blogs, including Gothamist and The Brooklyn Paper, was not in stock.
I had the feeling Uncle Barry’s was a little tired of its odd delicacy, and the slew of copycat stories that followed The Brooklyn Paper. Most of them falsely reported that the meaty candy bar was a new menu item; it’s been there since the beginning.
The Can-hattan, an $8 ($6 at happy hour) Canadian Club cocktail that’s actually closer to an Old Fashioned than a Manhattan, was still available. It’s Canadian whiskey, maple syrup and bitters served in an Old Fashioned glass with ice and a cherry, topped off with a little soda. “What do you think?” Josh asked me. I liked it. “I’d say about six out of ten people who try it like it, but the last two guys who didn’t like it wrote about online.” It’s a bit on the sweet side — maybe too sweet until some of the ice melts — but there’s a hint of mapley flavor that’s imparted by the large dose of syrup, and that’s good. This is not a craft cocktail bar, so I don’t expect fussy and innovative drinks. I got a kick out of this young bar’s wit and the Can-hattan is refreshing.
That said, their other house cocktail, the Cøcktäl, was innovative, and even a tad fussy. It was inspired, Josh told me, by a trip to Ikea, where he and his cousin and co-owner Jake bought a large supply of lingonberry syrup. They mix that with either gin or cucumber vodka, Aperol, St. Germain, and lemon juice, topped off with soda. I had it with the cucumber vodka, and I liked that hint of vegetal flavor with the sweet, fruity and floral elements of the other ingredients. And at $8, it’s a damn fine summer drink.
As much as I love the careful cocktails I get for $14 (and more) at some great New York bars, I’m actually most comfortable in bars like Uncle Barry’s where the staff don’t wax their mustachios and the drinks and conversation are easy and relaxed. I hope this bar lasts a long time.