A cold, tired and gray Saturday was the
inspiration to get inebriated in the veritable garden of bars
that has sprung up around Court Street and Atlantic Avenue. This
part of Brooklyn has slowly evolved into a hotbed of bar life.
This intersection is close to the courthouses and Brooklyn Law School; it’s well served by numerous subway lines; and it’s just across the river from Manhattan. These factors combine to make Atlantic Avenue, between Henry Street and Third Avenue, a natural nightlife launching pad.
Learning the specials in this part of town is the key to drinking affordably, both for the local student population and those young folks fleeing the astronomical rents of Manhattan. A bender in Brooklyn needn’t empty out the checking account.
At Court and Remsen streets, I began the afternoon at O’Keefe’s Bar and Grill. O’Keefe’s is a wood-paneled, after-work kind of joint and mostly empty on Saturdays. But Saturday isn’t a good yardstick to judge this bar’s popularity; on weeknights, the place is packed to the gunwales with students and drunken business types.
An internet jukebox provides a virtually limitless selection of music, but expect to hear a lot of Top 10 stuff from 10 years ago. In one form or another, the place has been a bar for a very long time, catering to the lawyers from the nearby courts and the clients they represent. It has been O’Keefe’s since 1960, although the ownership has changed more than once.
There aren’t any weekend specials at O’Keefe’s, so go on a weeknight to drink cheap - especially Tuesdays, when all draft beers (including Guinness, Stella Artois, Bass and Yuengling) are $3. They have food too, including the usual bar fare (chicken tenders, wings, nachos) and a full selection of passable - but not amazing - sandwiches served up by a friendly bar staff.
Nearby, on a formerly empty stretch of Atlantic Avenue, the afternoon crawl took me to Floyd, a low-key pub decorated in a sort of Victorian cast-off meets decaying library theme that may be able to claim the unusual distinction of housing Brooklyn’s only indoor lawn-bowling court. "Bocce," an Italian lawn bowling game played since at least 5000 B.C. and enjoyed enthusiastically by historical figures ranging from the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates to Sir Francis Drake, according to the American Bocce Ball Association, is enjoying a mini-resurgence among the drinking crowd at Floyd.
The bocce court takes up nearly half the bar and it is undeniably fun to throw back a few cans of cheap beer (including $3 cans of Old Milwaukee, and the "Crap-a-copia," a rotating selection of six cans of swill served in a bucket of ice for 12 bucks) and watch barflies toss a stone bowling ball around a stretch of packed clay.
Floyd has a full selection of liquor and bottled beer, including Guinness on tap, and serves up fun with the "45 and a Bullet" special (a shot of whiskey and a can of cheap beer for $6).
The patrons are as varied as the entertainment, but lean toward the young and outgoing. Like every bar in the area, the weeknight crowd is generally made up of people affiliated with the courts in one way or another.
Almost directly across Atlantic Avenue from Floyd is Last Exit, a great little bar/art gallery named after a great little novel by Hubert Selby, Jr., called "Last Exit to Brooklyn." The art is all right, if a little strange, and the drinking is spectacular; the backyard is especially fun on warm days and you can bring your own meat to cook on the barbecue.
Last Exit caters to a young crowd, serving up six-pack buckets of Pabst cans for $10, all the time, and trivia games on the first and third Mondays of every month. (Get there by 8:30 pm to register, the place fills up fast.) Karaoke follows Pub Quiz and the place is usually packed on weeknights, mostly by young attorneys from the nearby courts. This crowd clears out early though, and the hipsters move in around 10 o’clock.
All the music played (basically a little of everything, leaning more toward the independent but running the gamut from techno to classic rock and hip-hop) is from the owner’s album collection and fits the personality of the place pretty well.
The decor is ghastly but fitting, with velvet couches and thrift-store IKEA tables.
Wandering down Atlantic Avenue toward Smith Street, one finds The Brazen Head. The name may be a swift double entendre (Joyce reference or flagrant sexual innuendo?), but The Brazen Head is a fun local bar with dart boards and a patio in the back. A wide selection of single-malt Scotches combined with a day devoted to them (Fridays all single-malts are $3 off) is the major reason to come to this bar, which is populated mostly by regulars over 30.
Monday nights are an exception to this, designated as "Brooklyn Law School Night" and thus attracting a large student crowd lured in by the promise of free chicken wings and $3.75 pints. During football games, Pabst cans are $1 - and $2 all other times.
For the less budget-constricted, a full and rotating selection of 15 draft beers are available (including Brooklyn Reserve, Boddington’s Cream Ale, Guinness, Penn Fest, and Victory Hop Devil). Sundays, the place is a great hangover hangout, featuring $5 Bloody Marys and free bagels. Saturdays feature $5 martinis, and I had a couple of these before wandering on down Atlantic to the final stop on my crawl.
Hank’s Saloon at Atlantic and Third Avenue is a garish, multicolored one story joint that looks and smells like something out of a Charles Bukowski novel.
If you want to recapture the kind of place where your grandfather drank away the Eisenhower years, Hank’s around noon is as close as you can get without a time machine. The men’s bathroom even features an old-fashioned toilet complete with box and chain a la "The Godfather." When I was there, the clientele consisted of a few old men watching horse racing on television and a well-dressed young man passed out at one end of the bar.
Cans of Pabst are always $2 and on Sundays, Hank’s features free barbecue and live country or rockabilly music every night. This is part of the paradox of Hank’s Saloon, because shortly after the after-work crowd and the all-day drunks have shuffled home, the place becomes a rollicking hillbilly bar complete with free live music many nights of the week. Here, the young and trendy rub elbows with local construction workers and bus drivers.
Hank’s is a true and pure dive bar in the best sense of the name, featuring cheap alcohol and good music combined with a surprisingly welcoming attitude. Those old men drinking at the bar are actually friendly and the mixed drinks are ridiculously stiff: I watched a bourbon and Coke being made that looked more like a highball of bourbon with a splash of cola.
Hank’s is the perfect place to end any bar crawl: dark, warm and cheap. It is also very close to the Atlantic Avenue subway station, which makes getting home to almost anywhere in Brooklyn an easy task. And with that, I clamber onto the train, drunk and happy after my day of research.
The Brazen Head is located at 226 Atlantic
Ave. between Court Street and Boerum Place in Cobble Hill. The
bar is open Tuesday through Saturday, from noon to 4 am, and
noon to 2 am, Sunday and Monday, and accepts American Express,
MasterCard and Visa. For more information, call (718) 488-0430
or go to www.brazen
Floyd is located at 131 Atlantic Ave. between Henry and Clinton streets in Brooklyn Heights. The bar is open from 5 pm to 4 am, Monday through Friday, and 1 pm to 4 am, on weekends. Floyd accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. For more information, call (718) 858-5819.
Hank’s Saloon is located at 46 Third Ave. at Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. Hank’s is open 8 am to 4 am Monday through Saturday, and noon to 4 am, on Sundays. Hank’s is cash only. For more information, call (718) 625-8003 or go to www.hankssaloon.com.
Last Exit is located at 136 Atlantic Ave. between Henry and Clinton streets in Cobble Hill. The bar accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Last Exit is open 4 pm to 4 am daily. For more information, call (718) 222-9198 or go to www.lastexitbar.com.
O’Keefe’s is located at 62 Court St. at Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights. O’Keefe’s is open 8 am to 2 am Monday through Friday and 10 am to 2 am on Saturdays, and until 9 pm on Sundays. The bar accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa, with a $15 minimum. For more information, call (718) 625-8455.