A Place to Drink

The New Yorker’s creative director reflects on his favourite bar in the Five Boroughs 


The Long Island Bar opened in 2013 after Toby Cecchini, the bartender who invented the Cosmopolitan as it is known today, sensitively restored it. It don’t remember the first time I went there. It had shut after being in business for 50 years and sat on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Henry Street, in Brooklyn, as if it had been there forever: The art deco styling, the curved low lights, the concentric mirrors behind the bar, didn’t seem to exist in any particular era. It is timeless, and, as such, so are my memories of it.

I knew Toby from Passerby, a bar he ran in the Meat-packing district, where I had a design studio. When I moved to Brooklyn Heights with my wife, Luise Stauss – an area of New York famous for having no bars or restaurants – I bumped into Toby, and he told me how he hoped to renovate a bar across the street that had just shut down. It was a dream that this bar, with its beautiful cursive neon sign, could break the curse of the neighbourhood. And then one day it opened.

As soon as you walk in you feel at home. The warm lighting, the old chrome cash register (more reliable than the iPad that was supposed to replace it), the red stools at the bar: it all welcomed you, looking exactly as it had when the bar originally opened. Toby and his business partner, Joel Tomkins, did a lot to make it look as if nothing has been done. It’s retro without being nostalgic.
There’s a lot that makes the Long Island Bar special, like the little booth next to the bar, or the beautiful art deco clock that sits as a kind of centrepiece, or the love and care that they put into the restoration being echoed in the way they prepare the cocktails. And there’s something about the fact it sits on the corner of the street – it has these windows looking out north and east: It really occupies that space well. It feels like a neighbourhood bar.

A lot of bars in New York strive hard to bring in a lot of people – you can smell that there’s an investor behind it somewhere, trying to get their return, or some high rent they need to pay; they try a bit too hard to please you. This place doesn’t cater to you too much, and Toby, a bartender with attitude, will always push you to try something more interesting than a vodka tonic. It’s a place where that sort of connoisseurship is respected, where you can sit in a booth and discuss the latest shows in Chelsea, or life at a fast-paced magazine: a place to drink, rather than get drunk.

As told to George Upton

This article is taken from issue 24. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here