TAKING A DATE to a bar you’re reviewing is not standard operating procedure for me, as such work entails a certain level of throwing sobriety to the wind for the evening. It also causes you, as deadline approaches, to immerse yourself in memories of a fun date that ultimately went nowhere.Writing about bars can often make you want to drink, but it’s not supposed to make you need one.
Since we’re talking about Henry Public, the bar in Cobble Hill brought to you by the gang behind Brooklyn Social, the tonic I currently crave is their Brooklyn Ferry ($11). A deep, dark mix of rye, antica vermouth, maraschino and absinthe topped off with a fiery twist of orange peel, the drink provides to this palate the kind of complex flavor journey wine connoisseurs seem to get from great vintages. It’s my favorite kind of cocktail: strange, strong and demanding of your attention. Perhaps it’s me in a glass. My date for the evening tasted it and said, “Wow,” before indicating it wasn’t really for him. Insert hidden meaning here. His first cocktail was the Public Smash ($10), a Yankee twist on the classic Southern Julep that employs maple syrup and bitters to refreshing effect. In retrospect, it was a safe and noncommittal choice: perfect for a guy just three weeks out of a long-term relationship. But I didn’t know that until after round two.
Speaking of Yankee sensibilities, the refurbished gas lamps, recovered wood furnishings and crackly, old-timey music lend the bar a cozy warmth that combines with the potent cocktails to erase any wintery malaise. Unlike so many glossy, Prohibition throwback bars devoted to the slow cocktail movement—Brooklyn Social included—Henry Public radiates a more casual, heartening glow. Some of the bartenders do dress in that speakeasy drag, but it’s hard to quibble about anachronisms when people around you are taking pictures of their grilled cheese & apple sandwiches ($8) with their iPhones. Be charmed that the proprietors have embraced the theme hard enough to list a burger and fries as a “hamburger sandwich served with French fried potatoes” ($13-$16) and order another round of drinks to help you ignore any thematic hiccups that may occur.
You might want to avoid my second cocktail:The Oddfellow ($10), a too-tart mix of rum and maraschino with citrus juices. It got better as I got tipsier (as most things do), which is probably why I didn’t notice my date didn’t bother to sample the sour drink, and who can blame him? Oddfellows are an acquired taste, to be sure. My date’s second cocktail, a Ward Six ($10), is a nod to the Ward Eight cocktail and tastes like washing down a handful of white gummy bears with a swig of orange juice, which I mean in the best way possible. It’s sweet and tangy and childlike, a perfect choice for a guy who plays immature instant message games after ending your date with a kiss.
For our third round, I went for Beecher’s Tonic ($10), mostly because I’m a sucker for Pimm’s. It’s a bracing and light mix of the ginbased liquor with lime, Curacao and cider.The polar opposite of my first cocktail, it was cheery and fun (just like me!) and in retrospect tastes like denial. My date asked the bartender to whip up a non-alcoholic treat for him, and a few questions about what flavors he likes later, was presented with a personalized fizzy mocktail ($6). Is it the drink choice of someone who has already cashed out on the date at hand, or someone who has drunkenly realized they’re on a date too soon after a break-up? Unclear, but I do know a mocktail is the choice of those who can’t keep up with someone like me.
I won’t pretend that I’m likely to make the voyage out to Henry Public again. It’s a place for locals, like the nice guy you date because he lives down the street from you. It’s nice and warm and does the job, but you probably wouldn’t make the effort if it weren’t so easy to get to. And personally, I’m looking for something worth all the effort.
329 Henry St. (betw. Atlantic Ave. & Pacific St.), Brooklyn, 718-852-8630.
Bartenders Miss Alyssa and Mike "Moose" Simpson.