If Corner Bistro and Peter Luger Steakhouse had a love child, it would end up looking a lot like Red Hook Tavern.
The reality is that it took a lot longer than nine months for owner Billy Durney to open the anticipated follow-up to his beloved first eatery, Hometown Bar-B-Que. The passion project was in development as far back as 2016, when the bodyguard-turned-barbecue guru originally envisioned it as a fried chicken joint. Many moons (and concepts) later, Durney finally settled on a focus for his new neighborhood endeavor: a love letter to New York’s old-school taverns and drinking holes.
Years-long buzz left some eaters wondering if the long wait was worth it. A casual menu scan, dominated by delicately presented bar food and a natural wine list spanning 170 bottles, may alarm some—especially those who might be anticipating repeats of the caveman cuts that have made Durney famous in the first place. But the deeper I got into dinner service, the more I realized that my patience greatly paid off—and yours surely will, too. Here’s why.
You’re going to want to get your hands on this food (literally).
Even with local gourmands and big spenders making up most of the crowd, this isn’t a prim and proper dinner spot. Instead you’re encouraged to break open gigantic grilled prawns with your hands, slurp the juices from its shell, and slide the meat through the pungent garlicky mojo that coats your plate. Juices from the dry-aged burger (easily an instant New York City classic with its intense beefy taste and impeccable ratio of American cheese to patty circumference) drip down your forearm and onto your plate. You’ll want to roll crispy croquettes, stuffed with sharp cheddar and ham that Durney smokes himself, around the Dijonnaise pool below like a cat with a ball of yarn. And there’s something almost naughty about dipping fresh radishes into a deep schmear of tarragon butter, but you end up gleefully doing just that—while also maybe scooping up the remaining clarified spread with your fork.
The smartest dish on the menu might surprise you.
Red Hook Tavern’s kitchen has perfected the art of the wedge salad. Ditching the unwieldy hunk of iceberg lettuce for a more manageable romaine leaf mountain, each layer is evenly distributed with a beautiful harmony of ingredients slightly updated for today’s palate. Blue cheese dressing is swapped for a punchy buttermilk drizzle with chunks of the earthy curds mixed in, while pickled mustard seeds and fresh dill add additional pops of flavor on every leaf. Finally, there’s the hefty slab of applewood-smoked bacon laid on top of all those greens, balancing out the healthy-ish plate with just enough salt to construct the perfect bite.
Au naturel reds and whites shine.
Durney’s fondness for natty wines dominates the drinks list, comprised of small-batch wineries and indie growers from around the globe. He’s sipped his way through every selection on the menu, so you can rest assured that any varietal you order has his seal of approval. Waiters even explain their selections in a way beginners can relate to. A macerated orange wine from Georgia was described to me as “nicely boozy” and “perfect for a dreary day.” What I tasted upon first pour—hints of brandy, toasted nuts, and honey—were made for warming up from the rainy skies outside.
Old and new Brooklyn live together harmoniously inside.
The vintage “Wines Liquors” sign from the tavern’s past life as a community liquor store hints at the throwback tinges hiding inside. Exposed brick and antique floral wallpaper reminiscent of your grandmother’s peek out from around the bar; lighting fixtures and lamps were salvaged from a nearby gem gone too soon (The Franks’ Germanic-focused Prime Meats); and various reclaimed woods are utilized in interior trims, bar tops, and walls. Balancing out the old-school touches are popular accents from the past few decades—particularly a playlist taking you through the ’80s and ’90s (Janet Jackson and Chaka Khan to—randomly—the Austin Powers soundtrack) and Le Labo candles bringing good vibes and aromas throughout the building. These tiny details add to a stellar final package, one that Red Hookers have been anticipating for a long while.