Photography by Gabriela Landazuri
Does anyone still have a local hangout where, as the old Cheers theme went, "everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came," or is that idea becoming as antediluvian as the local fishmonger and baker? I once worked at a pub that kept engraved tankards hanging from hooks along the bar for a group of regulars whose loyalty was unbound. Vekslers, a convivial den in Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens, is not quite that kind of place, but it comes close enough to make a local like me want to call it my own. In a city like Brooklyn, where bars and restaurants hatch and die like butterflies, that's no small achievement.
On the cold fall night that I first stepped into Vekslers, Billie Holiday followed Morrissey on the sound system as the staff bustled around. We were off to a good start. A chalkboard behind the bar offered salt cod fritters and scallop crudo. A range of regional beers, such as the piney, aromatic Captain Lawrence Freshchester Pale Ale from New York, was written up on a mirror. I'm a sucker for an old-fashioned, and they do them well here -- with a big cube of ice that keeps the bourbon bright and cold without overly diluting it. So I had two of those, plus an obligatory plate of fries. Then Dana, a chatty barmaid with a rose tattoo on one arm and a horse on another, showed me how to make her favorite drink, the PYT: one ounce of rye whiskey to equal parts Aperol, Averna, and lemon juice. So that made three cocktails, by which time I was settled in for the night.
Until early last year you would have found Rob Veksler, whose good Russian name hangs over the entrance, selling hydroponic equipment out of the space. Then, an epiphany! "I was sitting in my store, discussing the efficiency of parabolic lights and differing plant nutrition, when I realized I had taken this career as far as I'd wanted," he recalls. "So I sold off my stock for practically nothing, found a contractor and architect, and began the weird and stressful journey of construct- ing a bar inside a 100-year-old building leaning into the wind." To complicate matters, he took over the space next door and turned it into an adjoining restaurant.
A former funeral parlor, Vekslers is not in a propitious location -- next to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and a 10-block walk from the subway -- but it has ambience in spades and just the right number of people to feel lively without being crowded. The 14-foot-long bar, like many of the fixtures, was discovered at a nearby salvage yard, but it might have been there forever. Ditto the old painting of a pipe-smoking Chinaman by the door. The lighting is mellow and soft without forcing you to peer too hard at the menu. "What kind of bar do I want this place to be?" mused Veksler one recent evening. "A neighborhood joint with honest food, a comfortable environment, and happy people." Amen to that.
PYT (PRETTY YOUNG THING)
Courtesy of Vekslers
1 oz. Old Overholt Rye 3/4 oz. Aperol 3/4 oz. Averna 3/4 oz. lemon juice
Shake ingredients hard with lots of ice, then double strain into a coupe.