Published May 29, 2015
- What we think
- Veggie burger is great, but the rest is a mess and don’t expect anything Brooklyn.
- Charcoal burgers & fries
- Chatter and low-volume playlist or ear-splitting troubadour warbling. Service:
- Friendly but need urgent training
- Price for 2 (no drinks)
- 6-8,000 ISK
Brooklyn is a hodgepodge of a hundred different nationalities, ethnicities and customs and does not present a single unified presence. I won’t delude myself into thinking I have any claim to Brooklyn, but after living in three separate parts of the borough (Crown Heights, Greenpoint, and Fort Greene), I feel I do have a halfdecent outsider’s perspective.
The owners of Brooklyn Bar, on the other hand, seem to have arrived at their concept after having the laundry directions of a Yankees cap shouted at them through the bathroom door of a crowded bar. At first I thought they had just picked a random name because they thought it sounded cool, and that would have been fine—but the exteriors, interiors, the marketing, and menu betray their intention of creating a Brooklyn-themed bar and restaurant. So, where have they gone wrong?
The name says “bar,” so let’s start with the drinks. There’s not a single Brooklyn beverage for sale. No Brooklyn Lager, no Sixpoint, no Brooklyn cocktail, no egg creams, no vodka shots at Tatiana’s. It’s your basic three beers on tap and a small selection of spirits.
The same goes for the food, which is pretty amazing seeing as they could have picked almost any cuisine and claimed they were repping Brooklyn—anything from Jamaican to Jewish. Instead it’s the same burgers and ribs you’ll find all over Reykjavík these days. The one attempt at a New York dish is a decent “New York style” hot dog which does get the caramelised onions spot-on, though the mustard and the dog don’t feel right.
It seems they tried to name their menu items after Brooklyn celebrities and landmarks, but quickly ran out of candidates. There’s a Jay Z burger and a Spike Lee burger—so far so Brooklyn (the Spike Lee burger is even vegetarian). But then we get an Al Pacino (born in Manhattan, raised in the Bronx), a Lindsay Lohan (Long Island—also wtf ), a Yellow Cab sandwich (try taking a yellow cab to Brooklyn and tell me how that goes), a Superman (Metropolis), an Empire Steak (building in Manhattan, not made of meat), King Kong (big fan of that building in Manhattan), and so on. Most egregious of all, the Biggie dish turns out to be a measly cheese nachos with salsa—Biggie would be spinning in his grave if the laws of physics allowed for it.
Also, if you’re going to laminate sheets of The New York Times over the walls to celebrate New York culture, try and avoid making the centrepiece out of the planes flying into the towers, haloed by articles about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. You know, on the off chance that a real New Yorker were to stumble inside. The upstairs photo of the Manhattan skyline plastered over a wall didn’t exactly scream Brooklyn either.
Concept-wise, the design of Brooklyn Bar does get some things right. The neon sign and Chinese dragon mural emblazoned over the front of the house are more cartoon Chinatown than Brooklyn, but it’s a really fun and well-executed design. I only wish they could have gotten that guy to design their logo instead of downloading some hideous generic “urban” font.
Similarly, the exposed brick, spiral staircases and grimy back alley add a lot of charm. Seriously, make sure you grab a smoke in that alley, it’s full of stairs to nowhere, graffiti, weird angles and Brooklyn Bar’s smokestack, caked with enough tar to sustain a week-long grease fire.
The food also carries them some of the way. The burgers are cooked on a ceramic charcoal grill and they taste it. My friend had the Jay Z (1,990 ISK) and it was a flavourful burger, a solid medium-rare with a nice char and a deep flavour. They could take it a little easier on the BBQ sauce and the server forgot to have them leave off the tomato and onions as asked. At the table to our left, people were complaining about getting fries instead of the side salad and the table to our right had similar problems.
Their chicken wings (1,490 ISK) and pork ribs (1,590 ISK) are above the Reykjavík average, but not by a mile. They are tender and crispy, well-seasoned, with a good price-to-portion ratio, but they are missing that extra touch to push them over the wall. The waiter forgot the blue cheese sauce with the wings (and forgot to give us a choice between buffalo and BBQ wings).
Our waiter was very friendly and eager to please but was clearly untrained. The place has been open for six months and I would expect a tighter ship. In addition to the aforementioned slip-ups, they forgot to lay and clear the table, and they didn’t know the menu.
Surprisingly, it was the veggie burger (2,290 ISK) that stood out. Made with a pâté-like mulch of what I would imagine includes textured soy protein, nuts, carrots, chili, and possibly mushrooms, it’s one of the most savoury veggie burgers I’ve had in Iceland. It had a fantastic texture and the perfect amount of some kind of cream-cheese sauce. In fact, it’s probably the best veggie burger in the city. It’s served with sweet potato fries (ask for garlic sauce with them), and I recommend washing them down with a Dark ‘N’ Stormy.
This probably reads like a laundry list of half-assery, but 90% of their problems could be solved in a couple of weeks. With some attention to detail this could be a really solid burger place. They just need to round out their concept, maybe add some Brooklyn-like items to the menu, burn their music collection, and get a fry cook veteran to pull a ‘Full Metal Jacket’ drill sergeant on the front of the house. Either way, it will be hard to keep me and that veggie burger apart.