Field Trips: Crown Heights Cocktail Tour
It’s a subway sipping safari in Brooklyn!
When I was writing my book New York Cocktails in 2017, my publisher, Cider Mill Press, requested that I include a subway drinking tour. I was to suggest a few places to visit that are within walking distance of each other, in a particular neighborhood that is easy to access by a single train line. Now, if you’re familiar with the city at all, you know the last component of that request is a laughable order depending on the hour or weekend, thanks to all the rerouting machinations of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). I have described these revised schedules as “Escher-esque”, as they often appear to be full of stairs and alternative track suggestions that will lead absolutely nowhere, or at least nowhere within a reasonable travel time. However, in some areas (and at certain times) the trip is completely do-able by a single train, or a not-too-painful transfer between two. For my book, the commissioned cocktail safari led to my neighborhood of Carroll Gardens/Cobble/Boerum Hill, which is indeed a great place to do this (I refer to it as the “Barmuda Triangle”). However, a recent trip to Crown Heights made me realize it is worthy of its own destination spotlight.
So, following a similar New York Cocktails format, here’s how to plan a trip to this historic, vibrant and delicious Brooklyn neighborhood.
(Disclaimer: so many other places to eat and drink here representing all sorts of delicious cultural backgrounds that aren’t on this list, including The Islands at 671 Washington Ave., which serves some of the best Caribbean food in the city. Don’t make the below tour your only visit!)
A Crown Heights Crawl
Trains: 2 or 3 to Eastern Parkway- Brooklyn Museum; 4 or 5 train to Franklin Ave
Bars/restaurants: Hunky Dory, Chavela’s, Glady’s (all located on Franklin Ave); Citrico, Tooker Alley (Washington Ave)
Note: though Hunky Dory, Glady’s and Chavela’s are all open for lunch/brunch (HD is even open for breakfast as early as 8am), the other destinations, all on Washington Ave., don’t open till much later in the day. However, one could easily make this an all day excursion by taking a cultural break in the afternoon to visit the nearby Brooklyn Museum and/or Botanic Garden on Eastern Parkway, then head to the other destinations on Washington Ave. for snacks or dinner.
Please time accordingly and, since you’re visiting more than one location that serves alcohol, sip responsibly (this is a good opportunity to travel with a small group and share)!
IMPORTANT: Be sure to check the latest updates on mta.info or its app, or another reliable transit app, such as citymapper, to avoid getting stuck or Eschered out of your way. Also, note that the annual West Indian American Parade and Carnival will take place along Eastern Parkway on Monday, September 2nd. (Labor Day), which means fabulous food, music, dance and celebration in the streets for all to take part in, but it’s not an ideal time to navigate the neighborhood for a restaurant/bar tour.
The subway lines listed above are all located on Eastern Parkway. Depending on which train is most convenient from your starting point, walk—shorter from the 4 or 5 route—to Franklin Ave., turn and head toward Lincoln Pl. (If you’ve reached Union, that’s the wrong direction.) Walk another couple of blocks to Hunky Dory at 747, between St. John’s and Sterling Pl.
747 Franklin Ave.
Important note: closed Tuesdays!
What it is: This restaurant and bar was opened in the winter of 2019 by Tin Roof Drink Community co-founder Claire Sprouse, who specializes in creating low waste and sustainable environments in hospitality. This friendly, communal spot is conveniently open from breakfast (8am weekdays, 9am weekends) till dinner, serving as late as 1 a.m. During the day it’s one of the best spots to either set up in a quiet corner and work, or sit at the bar to chat and mingle with staff and fellow patrons.
What to eat: in the am - amazing egg dishes include coddled duck eggs. Anytime - the “very good side salad” is indeed as advertised, fried chicken sandwich (if the salad is “very good’ - this is phenomenal), cod “tots” and onion dip. These are only some of the standouts on a menu that really anyone can find something to order from, be it a light bite or a more substantial meal.
What to drink: Stop & Stay (a delightful coffee pick-me-up with rhum, averno, fig leaf); Golden Year (bourbon, sunflower seeds, Cynar, lemon); Smoky Mountain Bird (mezcal, turmeric, madeira, lemon); Fix Me (Bloody Mary variation with a choice of spirit mixed with a carrot juice, orange and hot spice mixture)
Satiated? Walk across the street and to the next corner for your next destination.
736 Franklin Ave.
Opens at 11 am, closes at 11 pm
What it is: Bustling Mexican restaurant from Mexico City-born chef Arturo Leonar which has been in the neighborhood since 2007 (originally on Classon Ave.) and moved to this location in 2011. The restaurant specializes in fresh takes on traditional Mexican cuisine, ideal for a snack and a cold drink, or to gorge on a larger meal. As of press time, Death & Co./Mayahuel alum Phil Ward is looking after the agave spirits focused bar program until his own place opens.
What to eat: Guacamole con Trucha (with smoked trout!), queso fundido, tlacoyo (stuffed and fried tortillas with choice of fillings and dipping sauces), a variety of tacos both meat and veggie, or share a platter of larger entrées
What to drink: a cold beer, Michelada or one of the many Margarita variations from fruity to savory and spicy. Or try a Conde - Negroni variation Montelobos Mezcal, Campari and sweet vermouth. Or a Oaxaca - mezcal, Champagne and cassis. Or choose from a well curated collection of Mexican spirits of all categories including sotol and raicilla to sip neat or in a flight. This is also a good place to take an alcohol-free breather and have an agua fresca, Jarritos soda or fresh juice.
Head out the door, turn right. Continue one block to the next destination.
788 Franklin Ave.
Opens noon everyday, closes 10:30 weeknights, 11:30 weekends, 10 pm Sundays
What it is: Head chef and co-owner Junior Felix, who hails from St. Lucia, opened Glady’s in 2013 to uphold, and also redefine, the neighborhood’s historic culinary traditions from the Caribbean islands. The restaurant includes an outstanding cocktail program by Shannon Mustipher, who this year published Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails (if you’ve been put off by tiki for being too over-the-top and fussy, this book will change your mind and bring some new go-tos to your home bar repertoire).
What to eat: open for both brunch/lunch and dinner, I highly recommend one of the roti and scrambles or jerk pork hash earlier in the day. Excellent jerk chicken (or a smaller bar snack of wings) is served all day.
What to drink: Dark and Slushie, anyone (the answer is “yes!”)? Or try an excellent Mai Tai variation with arrack and falernum, or Lookin’ For Trouble (rye, Cynar, homemade blackberry shrub, mint). Don’t fancy cocktails? Relax with a cold Red Stripe or non-alcoholic sorrel tea.
Choose your own adventure!
Is it time for a break and early enough in the day? Then turn around and walk back toward Eastern Parkway, hang a right, walk a few blocks to check out exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum or wander in the Botanic Garden next door to it. Your next couple of destinations are nearby on Washington Ave., just a block from the museum.
Past 5 pm, still thirsty and want more snacks? Walk to Sterling Place, turn left, continue to Washington Ave. Make another right, and walk two more blocks to Prospect Place. Your next destination is in the middle of the block.
681 Washington Ave.
Open 4pm to 11 pm Monday to Thursday, till midnight Friday/Saturday, till 10 pm Sunday
What it is: Owners Noor Shakiri and husband/Chef Luis Dávila named their intimate restaurant Citrico to celebrate the lighter, more refreshing side of the Mexican cuisine of Dávila’s upbringing. A mix of recognizable dishes as well as unusual contributions and flavors set this restaurant apart from the typical NYC Mexican/American spot. Though there is no perceptible bar (the open kitchen is front and center), they do serve cocktails prepared in the back, and keep a rotating selection of excellent agave spirits.
Tip: Don’t rely entirely on the menus. Conversation about the food and drink is encouraged with the staff, therefore one just has to ask, and thusly, shall receive.
What to eat: Be daring! Order tacos filled with chapulines (fried grasshopper) (trust me, so delicious!) or huitlacoche (corn that has been allowed to grow an edible fungus). Or fine, get fried pork rind, shrimp, chicken, pork, steak or a number of veggie options in your tacos instead. Share the mole enchiladas (the traditional sauce here has a lighter, more nuanced take), available either completely vegetarian/vegan upon request or with meat. Other standouts include fried avocado stuffed with shrimp ceviche, a variety of quesadillas and other shareable plates. Don’t skip dessert - order the Carlota, an airy citrus lime cake served with homemade key lime gelato. Vegan and gluten free options available.
What to drink: Excellent, not-too-sweet, fruit flavored Margaritas mixed with Perfect Purée, mezcal Margarita, beers, sangria or ask for the daily flight of mezcal or tequila.
Specials: during the summer months, entrées are half off between 4 - 7 pm, plus a Taco Tuesday special of 3 tacos for $10 or 3 seafood tacos for $12. On Monday nights, $1 Margaritas with every dinner entrée and $2 off additional Margarita orders including flavors.
Where to Nightcap
One last stop for a nightcap! Walk out the door, turn left. Walk a few blocks to next destination on Washington between Lincoln Pl and St. John’s.
793 Washington Ave.
Open 5pm to 2 am most nights, closes later on Saturdays
What it is: This cocktail bar with light bites was opened in 2012 by Grange Hall and Pegu Club alum Del Pedro, who is truly one of the best har hosts in the biz. The name refers to a passageway in Chicago that housed the Dil Pickle Club (that’s the correct spelling), which was known for its “…crowd drawn from all quarters of society; a high-spirited atmosphere; free-flowing banter; and, finally, pure and simple fun.” And that’s exactly what this bar has to offer too.
What to eat: toasts with spreads, prosciutto wrapped dates, chicken skewers and deviled eggs
What to drink: this is one of those places you honestly can’t go wrong - a fine selection of wine, beer and fabulously balanced cocktails with names like Woody Cuthrie, Hi Falutin’, The Manhattanite and Outlaw Josie Wales.
Alright, that’s it. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.
SAFE travels! (Please take a cab or car service if you’ve been indulging and don’t travel alone on the subway during late hours).
See you in Brooklyn!