When I came up with the idea of The Wandering Brooklynite column earlier this year, I made it my mission to chronicle cultural attractions in New York that were decidedly off the beaten path, both figuratively and literally. When I first moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn last year, I felt so out of the way that I was worried I’d unintentionally cut myself off from civilization. Lucky for me, a bar was being renovated just around the corner from my new home. A trip to this watering hole, located half a mile from the nearest subway stop, is a journey that tests the patience of its visitors, but rewards the faithful who endure to have a drink.
The bar is Greenpoint Heights, a small pub located on 278 Nassau Avenue just north of Williamsburg. The nearest subway stop is Nassau Avenue on the G train, a line notorious for unreliable service and frequent delays amidst a plethora of local stops between Brooklyn and Queens. Originally known as Onyx Bar, it underwent a change in ownership last fall and re-opened for business one month later under the name of Greenpoint Heights.
Rather than being crowded on either side by dog grooming salons, privately owned bookstores or coffee shops, Greenpoint Heights is in a residential section of town populated by working class Polish families. The bar has grown in stature since last year’s re-launch, attracting a steady stream of regular patrons. I count myself among these regulars, conveniently living right around the corner on Hausman Street. I was thankful that a friendly bar was so close, but harbored some anxiety over its future. Just how could a small bar so far from the established section of town hope to survive?
The answers to that question are substance and accessibility. In addition to a fine selection of mixed drinks and beers, Greenpoint Heights boasts a good food menu, including brunch on the weekends. As a guy who takes breakfast very seriously, I can say from experience it’s a notch above most bar room cuisine. The taco selection in the evening is nothing to dismiss either. Though I generally only visit the bar once or twice a week, several bartenders know my name and are familiar enough with my drink selection to ask me if I’d like my “regular” poison. Pabst Blue Ribbon — they know me so well. Suddenly, the theme song from Cheers doesn’t sound so far-fetched.
The bartenders’ courtesy is matched only by their fine taste in music. You can find them spinning an eclectic combination of traditional jazz, indie rock, electronic music and hip hop on any given evening. It’s a musical selection that always pleases the usual crowd of patrons, mostly twenty-somethings who seem just as content as me to have a local hang out. Chill is the general atmosphere of the place, it’s rarely noisy or overcrowded. The main bar gives way to a comfortable lounge in the rear with leather couches, a photo booth and flat screen televisions with cable. Those who aren’t interested in watching Mad Men, Breaking Bad, or The Walking Dead on AMC there every Sunday (as I do) can peruse the well-stocked bookshelf or play a game of Scrabble at the bar’s in-house game counter. This is the sort of place that makes you feel at home and always eager to visit again.
Greenpoint Heights has made it a point to appeal to the neighbors too, opening its doors to all for occasions special and otherwise. On Independence Day, the bar proudly held a neighborhood barbeque in its backyard patio. Cost of admission: nothing. Cost of food: nothing. Visitors weren’t even pressured to buy a drink at the bar if they just wanted a hot dog or a hamburger on our nation’s birthday. The event proved to be such a success that they did it again on Labor Day. I was there with my roommate and girlfriend in tow to enjoy some nicely prepared cookout staples. As our way of saying thank you, we even made it a point to enjoy a couple pints. When Hurricane Sandy plunged many local residents into darkness in late October, Greenpoint Heights joined several local businesses in allowing those displaced by the storm a place to charge their phones or check their e-mail using their wireless network. Cost: nothing.
It’s possible nothing about Greenpoint Heights may sound that exceptional from the description I’ve given. Plenty of bars across the city maintain similar practices. A year ago, however, when I felt like a stranger in a strange land in my new neighborhood, it was one of the only places I truly felt comfortable. It started as just a place to grab a drink, but has gradually become a favorite local hang out. My roommate and I are never hurting for a place to watch our favorite AMC programming and I always know exactly where to go unwind after a long night of writing to mental exhaustion. It may not be a place “where everybody knows my name,” but it’s close enough. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, come and see for yourself just what all my fuss is about.