Armed with $20, a healthy sense of adventure, and a tattered old Tom Waits t-shirt, Greenpointers writer Erik Keithley sets out on a weeklong tour of Greenpoint’s grungiest gems. Note that for the benefit of your billfold, Erik has made note of the cheapest and best beer available at each of these establishments at the time of his visit. You can have a beer at every one of these watering holes over the course of a week for a grand total of $14.75!
I noticed this bar shortly after moving to Greenpoint and was very intrigued because it shares a name with one of my favorite spots in New Orleans. Thankfully, it is remarkably similar to its barebones Crescent City counterpart. The bar features an austere but friendly interior with red walls, some scattered old trophies, a pool table, and a few booths up front by the electronic jukebox. I went in on a Tuesday night and was the only one there except for the owner Greg and his 12-year old son. The family-run business aspect of the place was quite obvious, as every time I went to pay for a beer the owner would have his son take my money and give me change in order to work on his math skills. Greg seemed like a really great guy and told me he even grills free food for customers on holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter (he said he will be hosting a free Labor Day BBQ on Sunday, September 4). R-Bar’s happy hour deal is amazing, as almost every draft is $3 until 9 p.m every day of the week. The only beer that was excluded was a high-end German IPA (BraufactuM Progusta), but that still leaves you with eight other tap selections, including such winners as Founders All Day IPA, Gaffel Kölsch, and Brooklyn Lager. I shot some free pool and ended up getting in a conversation with the 12-year old kid about his favorite heavy metal drummers (Lars Ulrich) and vintage Mario Kart courses (Rainbow Road). This is a basic but friendly neighborhood bar where you can enjoy free pool on Tuesdays, a free jukebox on Wednesday nights, and quality $3 pints every day of the week. Considering you’re just over half a mile from the heart of Williamsburg, that is truly incredible.
At the intersection of Nassau Avenue and Russell Street on the north end of McGolrick Park lies the eighty-three year old Irish gem the Palace Café. You can read all about the history of the place in this fine piece from Greenpointers, however in a nutshell, the Palace is one of the most iconic dives still remaining in Greenpoint. Sadly, it will be closing down on September 3, so if you want to experience its stopped-in-time old Brooklyn charm, I suggest you go, like, well…tonight. Take a seat at the big half-moon bar, order a $2 Budweiser or Miller Lite and admire the evening sun streaking through those old stained glass windows. There is an ancient NCR cash register behind the bar, an incredible illustrated map of Greenpoint in the back party room, and an old yellowed Greenpoint Gazette clip dated 1982 hanging on the wall. As you drink you can feel years worth of joyous, working class laughs and imagine generations of Greenpointers enjoying many a fairly priced pint and simple, Irish fare like corned beef sandwiches or potato chips. If you look above you, you will notice original, medieval-looking cast iron chandeliers depicting strange, Grimm fairy tale-esque scenes including witches taking pies out of ovens and a king sitting on a large throne. Heavy metal is probably playing on the jukebox as you ingest all of these seemingly incongruous, but somehow perfectly harmonious details when you realize something. Pretty soon, the strange, wonderful vibes of the Palace Cafe will be the stuff of fairy tales too, known only to old Greenpointers and younger ones lucky enough to have made the trip.
Best beer deal: Miller Lite Draft or Budweiser bottle for $3.75
If you’ve ever traversed McGuinness Boulevard, you may have noticed a bar with a big blue awning with a clip-art style baseball bat/football thing and an American flag that didn’t quite get placed far enough above the checkered border beneath it. If you’re even a casual dive bar connoisseur, this awning alone is enough to get you excited. If you make a slightly closer inspection, all suspicions are confirmed when you notice a neon New York Lottery sign in the top left corner of the window and a big black sign below it aggressively reading “NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS”. Upon walking in, you are greeted by an old school Greenpoint crowd wearing T-shirts that say things like: “Harley Davidson Orlando” and “Make America Great Again”. This is a hardcore working class bar where “My Home’s in Alabama” or “American Pie” is likely playing on the jukebox and sports or Jeopardy are perpetually playing on the seven nice TVs located around the bar. They have a Silver Strike Bowling arcade game, a real dartboard, a TouchTunes jukebox, and cheap beer (domestic longnecks $3.75, most expensive draft was $5.50 for Guinness). I talked to the owner Frankie, who happened to be drinking next to me at the bar, and he told me that he grew up across the street and had been coming into the place since he was a kid. He said he has owned it since 1992, although it has been a bar since Prohibition and before that was an Atlantic & Pacific grocery store. This is absolutely a dive bar, just be aware that it is definitely a place where the prices are on point but the jokes may be off color.
Capri Social Club (Irene’s Capri Lounge) | 156 Calyer Street
Best beer deal: PBR 12 oz. can for $3 (Although Goose Island or Harpoon IPA for $4 ain’t bad)
Tucked away a block off of Manhattan Avenue in a very mellow residential corridor of Greenpoint lies the crown jewel of Greenpoint’s old school dive bars (especially now that the Palace is sadly closing down). The bar is situated at the corner of Calyer and Lorimer Streets on the bottom floor of a four story building with an old brown fire escape above it. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much—a couple of neon Pabst and Budweiser signs adorn the window and an ancient looking sign spells out the bar’s name in red letters. But, upon walking in and seeing the classic looking Irish snugs and the wooden Jack Russell wearing a green smoking jacket next to the antiquated cash register, one is immediately won over. The place has an immediate familiarity to it and you feel at home before your three dollars for your PBR has even hit the old cigarette-burned hardwood bar. I found myself in a conversation with the owner herself, Irene Kabala, after about five minutes. She told me that the bar was originally Irish, but that she bought it forty years ago after moving to New York from Poland. She said the bar has become a favorite of film and television crews over the last twenty years, which is not surprising given its’ vintage looks and universally relatable feel. Some of my favorite stories she recounted were Kevin Bacon’s character Nokes being “killed” in the bar during the filming of the 1996 drama Sleepers, Bill Murray dancing by the jukebox in the back during the filming of St. Vincent, and Bill Murray chatting with everyone during filming breaks and taking a neighborhood kid’s scooter around the block for a joyride. Also note that while the (real) jukebox in the back is mostly stocked with 50’ and 60’s oldies (think Elvis, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra), there are a few more recent selections, including Amy Winehouse and Justin Timberlake.
Tommy’s Tavern | 1041 Manhattan Avenue | 718-383-9699
Best beer deal: Schaefer for $3
This is by far the roughest, dingiest, grimiest dive bar on this list. I must say that before I went by Tommy’s, I had already stumbled upon some very intriguing news stories about the place in my research. These findings included this piece, about a lower level Greenpoint/Williamsburg politician getting punched in the face while defending a female bartender from the tavern’s disgruntled owner, and this Greenpointers piece, about an MTV film crew having to call the police when an intoxicated bartender refused to leave the bar during filming. The bar itself feels like somebody turned a sad little Motel 8 lobby somewhere off the interstate in the middle of Ohio into a bar and left the dumpy, little hotel lobby couches sitting in the corners. There is a pool table in the center of the room, a funny school desk with KISS-OPOLY and some other board games on it by the window, and an electronic jukebox blaring so loudly in the back you need to scream to talk to the person next to you. My own experience at Tommy’s was excellent, as I enjoyed two Schaefers for $3 a piece and listened completely captivated by the hilariously deranged musings of the bartender Bobo. Of course, in the interest of accurate reporting, I feel compelled to mention that like The Pit Stop, this is definitely a place you are very likely to hear some off-color jokes. Some of my favorite Bobo bits included:
“To send me to the Poconos to dry out with my family is like sending a cokehead to Miami! My dad smokes three packs a day and my mom is always yelling at me for another beer!”
(to a customer) “Why don’t you take that dollar and go put on some of your Earth music or some s*#t?!”
“I never put ketchup on hot dogs, never in my life! Maybe once every three years some relish but never, ever ketchup! Just mustard!”