Yesterday, Grub Street fretted over the opening of the much-anticipated Long Island City cocktail saloon Dutch Kills, which they — and everybody else — thought was supposed to be in business last month. So I went there myself to speak to part-owner Richard Boccato (the other owner is Sasha Petraske, both of Little Branch and Milk & Honey fame), to clarify the when-will-they-open cloudiness and to get a sneak peek at one of New York’s buzziest (and soon to be busiest) bars.
When I first walked into Dutch Kills (the ancestral name of the neighborhood, and now a nearby cross street), there were two woodworkers building what will eventually be the booths in the front and the banquette in the back. Boccato said once these are done, and his plumbing, refrigeration, and some custom-made sinks are installed, the bar will be ready for the masses. “We just got our refrigeration in this week, so we’re back to a construction site for just a couple more weeks. We’ll be opening in April.” I showed him a printed copy of the Grub Street item, which he was eager to read. “It’s all pretty accurate,” he said. “Our sinks, our plumbing, and the refrigeration are things we take very seriously. We’re juicing fresh to order behind the bar, so all of that has to be meticulously planned, and we can’t just slap that together and expect the same level of quality that we have at the other bars. We’ll also be introducing a hand-cut, made-to-order ice station behind the bar, so when you order a drink, someone will actually cut the ice right in front of you. ” He told me they already held two private parties for investors — one on New Year’s and the other near Valentine’s Day — and that everyone had a great time. And despite catching the bar with its “pants down” (as Boccato put it), the fin-de-siècle charm of the place bled through.
Housed in a former warehouse with 18-foot ceilings, Dutch Kills exudes antique old-worldliness. It’s narrow and shelled in dark, mahogany-stained wainscoting. In the back there’s a sawdust-covered stage area with a piano Boccato got from his mother’s Brooklyn home. He’ll have a band (the same from Little Branch) playing jazz and ragtime from Thursday to Saturday. Even the cash register is old — a stunning relic from 1913 that Boccato found online.
Upon entering, you’re in the “tavern,” as Boccato likes to call it. This has five booths that seat six, and then three more that seat two. The tavern leads into the bar area, which unlike Little Branch, will have stools (seven to be exact). In the back of the bar by the stage, there’s a banquette and room for a large handful of drinkers, bringing the place to a capacity of about 75. “We pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t pack the bar. We keep the ambiance at a level that’s comfortable for people to have their drinks. If there has to be a wait outside, there has to be a wait outside.” And about the bar’s nonconformist Queens locale, he had this to say:
Sasha came up to me a couple of years ago, I guess he must have known I was a longtime resident of this neighborhood. Growing up, my best friend lived here, and I lived here for a while in my twenties. Sasha knew that Brooklyn had been developed and saturated with bars — and we’ve got some great bars like the Weather Up — but Long Island City had this burgeoning presence insofar as art and commerce, but not so much in the way of cocktail places. So this was an opportunity to come into the neighborhood when it’s developing at the rate that it is. If you look around, there are buildings popping up everywhere, and the Jackson Avenue beautification project is happening right in front of us. We have the luxury of being in this space that was a warehouse, and we don’t have a residential presence, so I’m not going to be disturbing my neighbors by selling cocktails until 2 in the morning.
For those Manhattanites who would rather stay in than dare leave their precious island, Dutch Kills is located close enough to at least six subway lines and two cab centers that coming and going should be hassle-free. There’s even has a conveniently spare website telling you exactly how to get there. And in breaking with the stealth of the other bars, Kills will have a neon “Bar” sign out front, in case the line doesn’t give it away.