Battery Harris and the DOT: A Love Story
When opening a new bar, coming away with a positive experience from a community board meeting presided over by a group hawkishly vigilant of both new liquor licenses and rapidly-vanishing parking spaces is no small feat, especially if in addition to drinks you’re trying to serve up a new pedestrian plaza.
However, sitting down with Etan Fraiman, who recently opened bar/restaurant Battery Harris on the once-desolate corner of Frost & Meeker along with partner David Shapiro, makes it sound like the easiest thing in the world – all you need is a little help from the DOT and a willingness to see your business in the greater context of the streetscape.
The owners of Battery Harris were actually tipped off to the DOT’s Pedestrian Plaza Program by the community board itself, and had nothing but praise for the city agency that not so long ago was referred to by many as “the department of No” for their conservative attitude towards innovation in street design. What they’ve done in partnership with the DOT is to take a triangle that once was notorious for the smelly trucks that would park in the striped areas and turn it into an area fit for humans. Splitting both the cost and the work itself with the agency, the owners were glad to leave the traffic design to the professionals, who oversaw details such as barrier placement to ensure that fire truck access would remain uninhibited. In exchange they were given freedom to install a handmade set of wooden planters and green the space up, providing both an improved street for residents and a much more attractive setting for their business. Perhaps most impressively, the redesign actually added four parking spaces, plus a corral for dozens of bikes, to which Etan helpfully added a floor pump. The bar even sells tubes in the common sizes in case you go to unlock and find yourself flat.
Speaking of the bar, what’s that like? Etan and David, Rockaway natives both, have basically put together the ideal place to go if you want to hold on to your relaxed state after a day at the beach. The space is so open you never even have to pick between inside and outside, and the menu is small but clearly well thought out.
Chef Richard Gibbs, formerly of Caracas, translates Etan’s love for the Flatbush Avenue roti shop into solid chicken, fish, and tofu dishes. So far I’ve had the jerk wings ($7,) jerk chicken sandwich ($9), and BBQ tofu with grilled kale and smoky slaw ($11) and each hits that sweet spot between spicy and flavorful, and it helps that they’re clearly using very good-quality chicken. Keep an eye out for art installations, block parties, regular DJ nights, and for me – I think I’ll be here a lot this summer.