A few weeks back, Jason and I had a glorious dinner at French Louie and stopped for drinks afterwards at Grand Army Bar just a few blocks away. There, we had a pretty terrible experience as described in my write up of the night. I was contacted by the social media person at Grand Army, via Instagram with the following message: “So sorry to hear your experience wasn’t top notch. Hope you’ll pop by again to give us another shot. We aim to please.” So while I had originally intended to never step foot into the place again, I decided to reward their management’s apology with a second try and a full write up.
And I was taught something about restaurants and bars that I once thought only applied to interpersonal relationships: second chances are a big huge waste of time (and money).
In planning our meals for the week, Jason and I declared Saturday (yesterday) “Brooklyn Day.” It’s something we do once in a while when we have a full day with no plans; we figured we could make a sort of bar crawl out of the day. After receiving the message from Grand Army Bar, I decided to put them first on the list as our main lunch/drink spot, and then we’d wander and explore the surrounding area afterwards. Since I was giving them a second chance really only because of their message, I thought it would be fair to give the management a heads up and a chance to really redeem themselves. I found a contact email for Leslie, the “press person” at Grand Army on their website, and sent a quick message to her yesterday morning, as well as a message to the person who had contacted me from the bar on Instagram. My first disappointment came from not getting a response to either message. But whatever… maybe they check their social media outlets and emails later in the day. So we went fully anonymous, which I prefer anyways.
We arrived and were seated in the back. The hostess was friendly enough.. I saw her force out a smile as she sat us and later joked with her about the bar trying out a “tree” in the bathroom – I thought it warmed the room up quite a bit.
To drink, I started with the Lil Smoky, and Jason did the Chevelle from the brunch cocktail list. The lil smokey is the one with the red seeds on top, and I could not drink it. It had been described as “mezcal, lime, smoked pineapple shrub, and sea salt.” Being a huge fan of smokey flavors I thought it was right up my alley. But it was so overwhelming and weird. The smoky and sweet of the pineapple was unbalanced, and it left a weird almost artificial taste in my mouth after each sip. Jason agreed that, while we knew they didn’t use artificial sweeteners in making the drink, it did leave that “Splenda” taste in your mouth after. The taste of it actually gave me a headache. Jason’s drink, the Chevelle (bourbon, lemon, sugar, topped with Pilsner) was much better. I found it odd that the waitress never asked if there was a problem with the completely undrunk Lil Smoky as it sat mostly full for the entire hour and a half we were there.
To eat, we decided to do “The Plaza,” which the waitress had to go check with someone else before she could tell us what it was: a dozen oysters and any two raw bar items of your choosing… maybe it was her first day? So we did the oysters with a king crab leg and an order of the hamachi. For $65, if you’re coming here for raw bar food (which you should), this was a great value. The oysters were shucked beautifully, with all of the oyster liquor still in tact. The little droppers of sauces they give you with the oysters were cool (hot sauce, mignonette, Thai, and ponzu), although my favorite was still the classic mignonette. Jason got a little shell in one of his oysters, but I guess sometimes it is unavoidable. The king crab leg was huge and so full of delicious crab meat. And the hamachi – something we weren’t too excited about – was really excellent and a generous portion.
Those of you reading this who live locally, you know we’ve had a pretty mild March so far. But this weekend our temperatures took a dive into the 30s and 40s. At Grand Army Bar, we were seated all the way in the back on the booth along the back wall. So while (trying to) drink ice cold drinks, and eat ice cold raw bar items, I thought maybe that was what was making me cold. But no. By the end of the meal we realized it was simply that they had their front door wide open. Remember that heinous smell I told you guys about in the last review? Well, as it turns out they do a lot of their cooking on induction burners behind the bar, and there is absolutely no ventilation system in the space to clear out the air. So my guess is that they struggle between having their patrons sit in a waft of horrifying oniony vinegary armpit smell, or freezing them out. I’m not sure which one I would prefer… the smell was really gross, but the meal was uncomfortably cold yesterday.
I also found it odd that when the waitress brought our check, I immediately put down my credit card before she left – I was excited to get out of the place. She didn’t take it right away: fine, I know servers like to give you an opportunity to read over the check and make sure you understand it. However, she checked on the table directly next to us (literally 12 inches away) three times before I was able to get her attention to run my credit card. WTF. Just weird and inattentive.
I’m going to up this place’s rating from the previous two stars to three, simply because the raw bar food really was delicious. And they have happy hour $1 oysters, which is a great option for locals. But the service was pretty awful. And the drinks, in my humble opinion, were extremely overrated, overthought, and unbalanced. If you’re in the neighborhood looking for a good cocktail, there are just way too many better options (i.e. Clover Club, Prime Meats, French Louie, Dover, Brooklyn Social, etc). I would really only recommend this place if you’re in the neighborhood looking for a quick snack from a raw bar.
We left Grand Army Bar again, very disappointed. And it sucked when we went from being really cold in the space to being equally cold outside – usually the indoors are supposed to be slightly warmer than the outdoors during winter.
We needed to get some booze shopping done to stock up on some basics, so we stopped by Free Range Wine and Spirits around the corner from Grand Army. We were blown away by this tiny space. Not only did they have a full selection of the hard to find Orphan Barrel bourbon line, but they had tons of other really exciting products. Plus, they had a really nice variety of expensive items in half size bottles, so I could try some cool stuff out without spending over $100 on each bottle. Jason and I totally splurged: we did the dry and sweet vermouth and Campari (the three things we “needed” that we had originally come in for), plus the Orphan Barrel Gifted Horse, Orphan Barrel Forged Oak, a small bottle of Green Chartreuse, a small bottle of Neversink Aged Apple Brandy, and a small bottle of Meadow of Love Absinthe. The owner – I didn’t catch his name – was insanely knowledgable and so excited to share that knowledge with Jason and I. This was an awesome little find on Brooklyn Day!
Next, we walked to Clover Club, a great little space and a pre-determined favorite of ours. We did an order of their deviled eggs (bacon, mushroom, paprika, and smoked whitefish), and a few cocktails. Jason started with A Man About Town and I did the Meet Me in Montauk. Next, we shared the Improved Whiskey Cocktail. We sat at the bar and watched the bartender while he created. He was quick and precise with his movements, creating beautiful drink after beautiful drink. Very fun to watch. Plus he gave us a quick tutorial on how to make an egg white cocktail, so I loved that. Drinks here were incredibly delicious, I think they stood out even more than usual because of the awful taste left in my mouth by the Grand Army Bar’s gross drink.
Next, we were going to head to Prime Meats, but I literally got sucked into Frankie’s Spuntino a few doors down first. There was nothing I could to do stop it. There, we did a few more cocktails (Disco Queen and the Strong, Silent Type) – both of which were great. We shared the cured meat tasting, meatballs, and a dish of the pappardelle with braised lamb. The meat tasting was delicious – you really can’t screw up prosciutto. The meatballs were great too… not overly breadcrumby, and I liked the surprise of raisins and pignoli nuts in them – unusual and flavorful and a cool way to change up the texture. The pasta was actually a bit of a letdown for me. The lamb was extra gamey, which I usually don’t mind, but the rest of the flavor was just… missing something. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as crazily wonderful as I was expecting. Don’t worry, Jason and I still managed to devour every bite. It was also a totally awesome surprise being seated directly next to an old elementary school friend (Hey Toni!!! St. Rita’s pride!!!).
Our last stop on Brooklyn Day was our always favorite Prime Meats. It’s just so good. We did some classic cocktails, which are always completely perfect here. And even though we had basically had three meals already, we simply could not resist the Gruyere and Herb Spatzle – it’s one of our all time favorite dishes and at $11, it’s really an insanely great deal. For dessert, our favorite coconut cream pie. I don’t even like coconut cream pie, but this one in particular is some kind of magical. So good.
Overall, Brooklyn Day was a great success as it always is. We love the Cobble Hill neighborhood, and love taking any opportunity to walk to streets and check out what’s new. Grand Army Bar, I’m sorry to say that you are out of chances – we are officially breaking up. I deserve a restaurant that doesn’t smell, keeps me warm, and whose drinks don’t hurt my head.