How New Owners Revamped Brooklyn’s Historic Long Island Bar

The longshoremen who jammed the Brooklyn bars once lining the foot of Atlantic Avenue are gone, and the bars themselves have dwindled to just a handful, but the large neon marquee at the corner of Henry Street has recently sputtered back to life in wraparound red and green letters. “Every time we light it, people go bonkers,” says Toby Cecchini, who, along with partner Joel Tompkins, somehow stumbled into one of the city’s most elusive commercial leases: that of Long Island Bar & Restaurant, a mid-century diner and neighborhood landmark that has sat shuttered for the last six years in all its vestigial Art Deco glory.

The restaurant has been run by owner Emma Sullivan and her cousins Pepita and Maruja Fernández for as long as anyone can remember. “I started leaving notes under the door about four years ago,” says Tompkins, co-founder of the Coach Peaches supper club and an erstwhile bartender at Cecchini’s defunct meatpacking tavern Passerby. Tompkins eventually heard from Marissa Alperin, the granddaughter of Emma Sullivan, who owns a jewelry studio nearby. “She was very nice,” he says, “but politely said, ‘Sorry, they’re not interested.’ ”

By chance, however, Cecchini made the acquaintance of Emma’s grandson and, through him, Emma herself. She and her cousins were ultimately won over by the prospective tenants’ experience and their intention to faithfully preserve and restore the space. They have made one change: Long Island Bar & Restaurant has become Long Island Bar. (Although the kitchen is surprisingly spacious, Tompkins and Cecchini have yet to hire a chef.)

Things are firmer on the beverage front: Cecchini, after all, is a bit of a legend in bartending circles—not only for running Passerby but for inventing the modern Cosmopolitan at the Odeon in the late eighties. On matters potable, he is quite particular. For one thing, he has pointedly decided not to invest in a fashionable Kold-Draft ice machine, known for making super-dense cubes that take longer to melt. “I believe in a ferocious amount of dilution in cocktails,” says Cecchini. “To make them palatable and to chill them.” He adds that the drinks will be “straightforwardish,” and there may not be a printed menu at all.

When the doors open in the next week or so, expect very subtle twists on classics like the Jack Rose, the Boulevardier, and the Corpse Reviver. It’s undoubtedly this immunity to trends that helped Cecchini and Tompkins secure the space. That, plus the way their respect for the hangout’s past melds with their vision for its future. In Tompkins’s words: “It’s a fifties bar, it’s near the water, and it’s the most gorgeous, warm place you’d want to have a drink in.”

Long Island Bar, 110 Atlantic Ave., at Henry St., Cobble Hill; 718-625-8908.

*This article originally appeared in the October 21, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.

How New Owners Revamped Brooklyn’s Historic Long Island Bar