If you’ve ever wondered—and even if you have not—what it would be like if a friendly neighborhood bar was mashed up with an old-timey, trend-transforming look, get thee immediately to Diamond Dogs in Astoria.
It took me all of three minutes one recent Thursday night to decide this is my new favorite place in New York City. Because in those 180 seconds I took in the soft pink wallpaper with Gorey-esque drawings of bats and Venus flytraps; heard the softly thumping, dark New Wave soundtrack; and asked the bartender if he might suggest a cocktail, which prompted him to rec a Negroni but with gin swapped for bourbon, barrel-aged, and served delightfully in a glass bottle.
“If you don’t like it, I’ll drink it,” he said.
The bartender, a solidly built and tattooed gentlemen with the well-groomed mustache of a 1930s train robber, turned out to be one of Diamond Dogs’s co-owners. It was his tunes pulsing through the shadowy room, lit perfectly by steampunk bulbs that Edison himself might have installed. The songs and thoughtful drinks were being deeply admired by enough patrons that the bar felt warm but not crowded.
I’m normally skeptical of cocktails with too many ingredients, but the concoctions sampled by my evening’s drinking mates—the Times of Grace (tequila, Campari, grapefruit, chamomile syrup, sea salt, and more) and the Forever Midnight (rye, Amaro Lucano, Velvet Falernum, lemon, pineapple gomme syrup, and bitters)—were both expertly proportioned and complex but still accessible. That is to say: They were delicious.
I wandered out back to take in the garden scene and was soon in the midst of what felt like a beachless beach party. A line of white picnic benches stretched into the long yard and held a dozen beautiful New Yorkers chatting, smoking, drinking, and loving a prestorm summer evening in the city. I would have stayed there to enjoy it longer, but my three friends and I were now ready for dinner.
And here’s where Diamond Dogs is special again. For while it doesn’t serve food, it is completely cool if you want to BYOG (bring your own grub) from any of the many excellent restaurants nearby. While we were tempted by the wood-oven-cooked pizzas and elegant salads at Milkflower two doors down, we roamed a bit further and found crisp empanadas, coconut shrimp, rice and beans, and fresh salmon at Sabor de Cuba. The Cuban comfort food helped us have our own beachless beach party, and we made a pledge to come back to Diamond Dogs to visit Brian Eno, the taxidermied jackalope hanging by the bar.
It wasn’t just Brian calling me back to the watering hole. The streets surrounding Diamond Dogs were thick—but not too thick—with city dwellers who had cracked a secret code and yet didn’t appear smug about it. There is, after all, a good reason Astoria has become one of the city’s most-desired spots for city dwellers who want all NYC can offer—compelling culture and good food and curated cocktails—without being so cramped and bothered all the time.
I clearly needed to explore the neighborhood in greater depth. To spend more time sampling Diamond Dogs’s drink list. To languidly hang under Brian’s stoic gaze. And perhaps most pressingly,to dig into the bar’s locally famous beer offerings. Yes, I would be back. Soon.