the underground gourmet

A New Bar That Goes Back to the Basics

Carousel has become my go-to because there’s nothing flashy about it.

Video: Hugo Yu

The recent wave of bartending excellence has given me my fill of smoked-bourbon cocktails (Angel’s Share), beet foam (Bar Belly), and foie gras sidecars (Shinji’s), but these high-style cocktails can demand so much of drinkers’ attention that they discourage connection between customers, something I didn’t realize I’d been missing until I visited Carousel in Bushwick, which in the few months it’s been open has quickly become my new favorite bar.

The place is not exactly a secret. “I’d been told by so many people how cool it was,” my co-worker Brock Colyar Slacked to me the other week, “and then I went and was actually not let down.” This is due as much to the crowd — a mix of neighborhood creatives and people who take the L train to party with them — as the room, 4,400 square feet of wood-paneled, vinyl-boothed mid-century design that looks like Don and Megan’s season-five Mad Men apartment transplanted to a Brooklyn warehouse. (Yes, there is a conversation pit, and yes, it’s bookable for groups.) A lounge and pool table fill out the back, and in the center of everything is an open-air courtyard enclosed by glass and filled with smokers.

On a quiet night it can feel as though you’re in an upscale private lounge, like the first time I went, late on a Sunday evening, to catch up with a friend over martinis at a back bar we mostly had to ourselves. During a later midweek trip, it was more like a well-organized house party. After I had to defend my cushy bar stool from a rather drunk guy (he took it well), I watched the same zone fill with rows of customers behind me ordering rounds to take back to their banquette, or who were happy to take up space and mingle.

Carousel manages to avoid veering into theme land thanks to the staff, who usually wear short-sleeve shirts and beanies. The drinks they’re making are all business: an old-fashioned, a Corpse Reviver No. 2, a habanero-and-passion-fruit tequila combo on pebble ice, plus the requisite espresso martini that, here, feels less like a nod to any kind of current trend and more like an invitation to drink whatever you want, styles be damned. I’m partial to the house mai tai, a dry and refreshing mix of rums, orgeat, orange liqueur, and lime juice served in a rocks glass that will still catch up with anyone who orders a second.

But the drinks are secondary to the mood, which encourages interactions, no matter how small. Standing in the smoking room the other night, I saw a group of girls celebrating a birthday. I tapped on the window and offered to take a picture, communicating with my Notes app and AirDropping the photos onto one of their phones — easy.

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A New Bar That Goes Back to the Basics