Recently, I was having a discussion about how trends recycle so quickly that style has collapsed on itself to such a degree that now you can wear whatever you want and it doesn’t matter anymore. When the friend I was dining with last night asked where I got my butt-ugly white lug-soled sandals without calling them butt-ugly, it was totally conceivable they could be Alexander Wang, for example. Of course I bought them online for $15 at Target last summer. I’m not at a point where I could saunter into work in a crop top and harem pants, but that says more about my office than me.
The same lack of rules goes with neighborhoods, architecture and food. It’s a great time to be alive. Earlier, this same friend, a graphic designer, wanted me to see the jaunty font and signage being used at The Bean outpost that opened on Bedford in the ground floor of one of those new brick buildings that look like they belong in an upscale development in Denver. (Actually, I assume it’s the same font used at all four locations, but it’s really allowed to come into its own in this particular setting.) It’s so middlebrow, occupying the space between the character by virtue of age bodega awnings (not to be confused with deli grossery) and overly precious peak Brooklyn handwritten everything aesthetic.
This is a long-winded way of saying that a nouveau fern bar with an explanation of what a fern bar is (don’t make me link to wikipedia) on the menu and a wine bar opened by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy in the former Foodswings space make perfect sense for right now even if neither objectively make sense.
Oleanders. I, for one, am welcoming this weird shift. Bring on the rattan and potted plants. Dust off the Galliano. I knew fern bars were eventually coming and Williamsburg might be the epicenter. Reynard has been serving a Harvey Wallbanger. Donna has that awesome brancolada. Dark carved wood and damask has been giving way to Scandinavian lightness, warm metals and copious foliage on design blogs for some time. Restaurants are getting there. (Meanwhile, Bushwick gets the chimichangas. Who’s making the English muffin pizzas?)
Technically, Oleanders should be getting The Middle Ages treatment since I sat at the bar and didn’t eat a full-on meal but 5:30pm on a Monday isn’t exactly a meet/meat market in any era (though for the record, the one other female patron, solo, could’ve been a mature 38 or youthful 42, or maybe it was that she looked more tan and tailored generally than you see in Williamsburg and it made her look aged i.e. more grownup).
The thing about The Elm’s demise and total overhaul is that it’s not clear how people who were turned off by that too much for Williamsburg menu are going to be into beef wellington and lobster thermidor–poolside? In a girls with boyish figures neighborhood? Too highbrow even ironically for dadbods? I dunno. As the consensus arose on a Facebook discussion: “Too regal, not enough beagle.”
The fantasy fern bar of my childhood totally would’ve served potato skins (crème fraîche and roe just an added bonus) and grasshoppers. The clams casino never would’ve crossed my mind but they are the perfect bridge between T.G.I. Friday’s (which is not only a native New Yorker but as some claim the O.G. fern bar) and 1970s continental cuisine. Honestly, I can’t think of any better place to drink an elevated shot (I tried both, including the Alabama Slammer, which crams Medley Brothers bourbon, Southern Comfort Reserve, Plymouth sloe gin, Caffo amaretto, cranberry, orange juice and Morris Kitchen grenadine into one tiny glass and results in fruit punch) while listening to Bob Seeger and ELO.
Also, that name. I do appreciate the extra S in Oleanders, though it doesn’t read preppy (I’m more of the west coast school anyway where you can have wicker and wine spritzers and not be all Ivy about it). It’s a flourish I affectionately call “the white trash S,” since it’s a written and verbal tic I’ve fought to repress on many an occasion. At least it’s not an apostrophe S.
But back to business, there’s a real opportunity here as Wegmans (no apostrophe) the beloved upstate grocery store coming to the Navy Yards in 2017, adds in-store pubs with Tiffany-style lamps and high-backed tapestry booths, to tap into this zeitgeist. In two years all of the cool kids will be eating prime rib and Tuscan fries in a Fort Greene grocery store and no one will remember what Tinder was.
Four Horsemen. Would you like some orange wine to go with your kale crostini? Sure, why not. I’ll take it over a vegan milkshake and chick’n cordon bleu made from mock poultry, soy ham and Daiya mozzarella. Say goodbye to the second-wave of Williamsburg gentrification (as much as I loved my local lazy brunches, Taco Chulo, your days are numbered too, I’m afraid).
I had a few wines by the glass like the aforementioned ‘Coenobium’ Field Blend Monastero Suore Cistercensi, a slightly nutty unfiltered blend that I have to admit went pretty well with that kale toast spread with fresh sheep’s milk cheese and garnished with pickled golden raisins. Nothing is crazily priced and all of the wines are natural, which is the angle, far simpler in concept than a retro revival. There’s room for that, as easy as it is to poke fun of anything new and veering toward earnestness.
The food was better than I expected for a newly opened Williamsburg wine bar, emphasis sort of on the bar. A terrine with tiny florets of fermented cauliflower, beef tartare speckled with seeds, and carrots roasted to nearly maduros-like texture and sweetness with Thai peppercorns and bound together by gooey ribbons of stracciatella all packed strong flavors but nothing that would compete with a light, biodynamic Gamay.
And for the record, the pink and green (mine was just brown and I didn’t feel right swapping) Opinel knives were pretty sweet–and I managed to not even Instagram the cutlery.