Today at 5 p.m. sharp, Billy Durney’s much-anticipated, much-delayed Red Hook Tavern opens at long last. The road to burgers has been a long and winding one, but there’s a reason the excitement from Brooklyn food geeks hasn’t let up. Durney was a body guard turned first-time restaurateur when he opened Hometown Bar-B-Que, which serves serves a compellingly idiosyncratic version of barbecue that many consider to be the city’s best: pastrami bacon, Jamaican jerk baby-back ribs, lamb belly, expert brisket, and so on. The Tavern, on the other hand, is a move in a different direction, a place inspired by classic New York spots. Durney and his team have gone into lockdown mode in the days leading up to the opening, save for some posts on Instagram, but there’s still plenty to unpack. Here’s what you need to know about Brooklyn’s biggest opening in a while.
It’s inspired by classic New York spots, but that wasn’t always the case.
The tavern was originally envisioned as a fried-chicken restaurant. Now it’s a restaurant that serves roast chicken and burgers. Speaking to Eater in May, Durney described the final form of the restaurant at 329 Van Brunt Street as being inspired by Corner Bistro as well as McSorley’s Ale House. Durney’s chef here is Allison Plumer, who knows a thing or two about cooking cozy food at cozy neighborhood spots that Brooklynites love. She was the chef de cuisine at Lot 2, a longtime favorite known for its chicken and gravy, and for its burger topped with cheddar.
There’s chicken, but not what you expect.
First, the bad news. The fried chicken Durney has been talking about for several years now and which he told New York Times was inspired by Memphis classic Gus’s and New Orleans institution Willie Mae’s Scotch House? No dice. It was axed from the menu “sometime last week,” Plumer says today, and replaced by a roast chicken that she says is “a far better chicken dish and more suited for the tavern style.” It’s rosemary brined and cooked like brick chicken, then served with mashed potatoes boasting a gravy crater.
The burger is inspired by Brooklyn’s most famous meat palace.
Don’t despair: the thoroughly New York burger will still be served. Made with a dry-aged patty blanketed with cheese and served on a sesame bun with thick-cut, salty salt fries on the side, it’s meant to bring to mind personal favorites of Durney’s at Minetta Tavern, and particularly at Peter Luger Steak House. If the burger lives up to the promise, well, you’ll finally be able to eat Luger’s famous lunch-only burger at night … sort of.
There will be a lot more than chicken and burgers, too.
The menu takes a tavern-y bent. Chicken-liver pâté and steak au poivre have been floated, and a quick look at Instagram indicates there will be grilled spot prawns with garlic mojo, a postmodern-ish wedge salad with a big old strip of Nueskes bacon and fresh dill, and other dishes. Chef Plumer also Instagrammed a family meal spread that included, among other appetizing things, some fine-looking spaghetti.
Sam Sifton likes the clams.
They’ve been inviting in friends and family for at least a few weeks now, including Texas meat chef John Tesar and Instagrammer Jean Lee, who says the burger is “banging.” Times food editor and Red Hook resident Sam Sifton is pleased, writing in the June 28 edition of his newsletter about the clams he ate, describing the dish as like “linguine with clam sauce, hold the linguine.”
There’s a lot of a natural wine.
Taking inspiration from McSorley’s, there’s a light and a dark ale. But that won’t be the only drink to drink, and it will be a good place for all you funky wine lovers. There will reportedly be 170 bottles, most of which will be natural wine; Durney told Eater last year that natural wine is “literally my favorite hobby.” Classic cocktails are on the menu, too. As for what to expect from that wine list, beyond the broad focus on natural wines, Durney told Parsons he likes drinking wine at the Four Horsemen, Franks Wine Bar, and Popina, which he says has “probably the most underrated wine list in the city.”
It’s got a full-on tavern vibe.
The space was formerly a liquor store and, from the looks of it, the ye olde New York–tavern inspiration carries over into the design: There’s brick wall and floral wallpaper that’s, no, not tropical, but straight out of your great-aunt’s house, wood tables and lots of white oak, and the lamps from the now-closed Prime Meats.
It’s been a rocky road.
The restaurant is several years in the making and was first announced in 2016. It was delayed in 2017 — when it was still going to be a fried-chicken place — because its contractor was barred for life from working in the city. Durney & Co. were able to proceed after getting their permits back and applied for a liquor license in October of that year, when Patch reported they hoped to open in February or March of 2018 . The restaurant was described then as “Sunny’s meets an old-world restaurant.” In May, Durney told Eater that they were good to go — but the gas wasn’t yet on. Well, it’s official now: The gas is on!
This post has been updated to reflect that the fried chicken was taken off the menu.