Some of my earliest fine liquor memories were at Pete's Waterfront Ale House in Brooklyn. I had my first memorable experience of what single malt Scotch could be (Lagavulin, specifically) there sometime in the early '90s. I've always returned there when the pretensions and airs of some of the newer Brooklyn bars become too much. The draft selection is always excellent.
A Beer at...Pete's Waterfront Ale House
A middle-aged couple in black, who looked like they had just gotten off a motorcycle, walked into Pete's Waterfront Ale House on Atlantic Avenue. "Hello! Haven't seen you in a while," said the bartender, a 40-something man with a ponytail, glasses, excess bonhomie and a lot of bad jokes. "That's how we like it?" said the guest, scanning the chalkboard's rundown of featured drafts. "You've got a lot IPAs right now." "Yes, that's us," said the barkeep. "One week we've got a ton of IPAs, the next week we don't have any. But really, there are a lot of IPA drinkers here."
Pete's Waterfront has been caring for Brooklyn beer drinkers for 22 years, making it one of the oldest of the borough's discriminating watering holes. Today, you can go to nearby Brazen Head, Strong Place or Bar Great Harry for quality brew, and Char. No. 4 and Jake Walk for top shelf whiskey. But throughout the 1990s, Pete's was pretty much the whole story. An oasis. It opened in a snug space on the south side of Atlantic, where a bar called Last Exit now is, and moved to roomier digs across the street about 15 years ago, keeping a relatively low profile all along the way. It's comfortable and unpretentious and attracts a minimum of empty-headed yahoos.
Being a cocktail person, I tend to think of Pete's differently than do the regular denizens, who are mainly beer people, and come for the food (a good burger, and chili) as much as the drink, not to mention the ever-flowing popcorn machine. To me, it's a bit of a historical site. For it was here that Audrey Saunders, cocktail luminary and owner of The Pegu Club in Manhattan, had her first bartending job. The bartender, who began his relationship with Pete's as a drinker, has memories going back that far. "I remember Audrey," he said. "Haven't seen her in a long time. She's done well for herself, I hear." You might say that.
Pete's is owned by Sam Barbieri (who Pete is/was, I dont know), who's a bit of a culinary tinkerer, and proud of his inventions. Over Christmas, Sam's "serious" egg nog was advertised on the bar wall. Right now, you can buy Sam's Hot Sauce and, more intriguingly, Sam's Honeybell Liqueur. This is made from a kind of hybrid, seedless orange which is available only this time of year. "It's here until its gone," said the bartender. "It's basically grain alcohol and sugar, flavored with the zest of the oranges. You've got to be careful with it." Indeed. It's 70% alcohol, looks like orange juice and goes down pretty smooth. Drinking the hot sauce might be a safer proposition.