People go to bars for lots of different reasons. Some of us meet friends or colleagues for conversation. Others go to dance, meet potential mates, see bands, or just plain old fashioned get drunk. It’s a less common perk to experience a bar that treats its drinks like a renowned restaurant treats its food.
On the stretch of Jackson Avenue between the Court Square stop on the 7 train and Queens Citibank building, lies a warmly welcomed breath of fresh air to the bar scene. Nestled amid the industrial likes of an engineering business and a transmission shop, is an unassuming flashing retro neon sign reading very simply, “BAR.” Pull open the heavy metal doors to enter Dutch Kills Bar and you walk into time’s past.
A collection of vintage booths leads toward the back of the room where the concoctions are crafted. How lovely it is indeed to see a display of bottles that include none of the usual suspects like Grey Goose or Malibu? Instead Appleton Estates Rum, Laird’s Applejack, and Hendrick’s Gin hold court with a host of bottles unfamiliar to many bar-going patrons. These bottles sit like a collection of potions waiting to be mixed with fresh fruits, fresh squeezed juices, and individual small bottle sodas. All drinks are measured exactingly with jiggers, while the bar-back shaves and cuts ice off large olde-thyme blocks in the corner.
The atmosphere is early 20th century speakeasy done to perfection. I tried the Taj Majal, a combination of Applejack, Beefeater, apricot liqueur, and lime juice. As gussied up as all this sounds, I have rarely seen a more unpretentious, warm, and knowledgeable staff. You don’t have to be an enthusiast of Single Malts, Sazeracs, and muddling to enjoy Dutch Kills. The bartenders are prepared to give you what you like with their own personal touch. You sense a love for their craft that translates to an ideal feeling of hospitality. This establishment is so charming, you almost feel like the experience of being there is flirting with you.
Off the beaten path like many of Queens’ greatest charms, I was happy to be part of a smallish group of barflies, which enhanced the relaxing atmosphere. Featuring live music Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I was lucky to happen upon Gerry Holland tickling the ivories and singing classics like “The Entertainer” and other selections you might hear from Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong. Everything about this place is steeped in history. Prior to the 1870 unification of many enclaves into what is now known as Long Island City, the surrounding neighborhood was referred to as Dutch Kills. “Kills” is a Dutch word, meaning “creek,” that refers to the Newtown Creek that separates Long Island City and Greenpoint below the Pulaski Bridge. Proprietors Richard Boccato and Sasha Petraske, who earned their stripes with the Lower East Side’s Milk and Honey, opened this 1890’s themed venture in early 2009. Their non-alcoholic options were just as delicious and inclusive to those who want to go out and enjoy something a cut above your garden-variety soft drinks.
How to get there: Take the E,V or G train to 23rd St.- Ely Avenue/Court Square or the 7 train to 45 Road/Court House Square. (Dutch Kills Bar, 27-24 Jackson Ave., Long Island City, 718.383.2724, dutchkillsbar.com) Cash only, open 7 nights a week from 5pm to 2am.