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Monday
Mar172014

McMahon's Public House Opens in O'Connor's Space on Fifth

One year and nine months since closing for a renovation, a completely rebuilt O'Connor's bar soft-opened yesterday (the official opening is today), with an entirely new look and a new name: McMahon's Public House.

Owners Mike and Jimmy McMahon, who purchased the classic dive bar (on 5th between Bergen and Dean) a few years ago from the descendants of original owner Dominic O'Connor, decided to rename the bar in honor of their late father, and if you thought that the new bar would bear any resemblance to its beloved predecessor, think again: it's more than tripled in size, is gleaming, has an extensive draft beer selection, and is anything but a dive.

The old bar hadn't had any major upgrades since first opening back in 1931, meaning that while it was a veritable time machine there were no draft lines and a crumbling infrastructure (a back wall collapsed in the earliest days of the renovation). "If it was still the way it was, the roof would have collapsed this winter because of all the snow," Mike told me. "We salvaged as much as we could, but honestly there wasn't much we could do. We tried to save the bar itself but it was worm-eaten."

A handful of decorative touches remain from O'Connor's, including a giant moose's head with a bra still hanging off of it, an old wall clock, and (miraculously) the old phone booth, which has been refurbished and installed in the downstairs room with a working pay phone. A small section of the rear brick wall was also left intact.

Once you make your peace with the fact that the O'Connor's we knew and loved is long-gone, you'll notice that the new bar is one of the biggest in the neighborhood, and is comfortable and nicely appointed. The front room lets in a ton of natural light and has ample seating, and a back dining room seats about 40. There's plenty of dark wood, high ceilings, and charcoal gray walls.

The back room

There's also a second floor, which will open up for private events and when the first floor is at capacity. It boasts a second full bar, ample seating, and a patio. It has a slightly more industrial feel, all black and metallic gray.

There are 12 beers on tap at the moment but Maher plans to install more, with a goal of having about 30 taps in total. Beers average $5-7, and there will also be a daily happy hour. They're planning on opening at 9 am every morning like in the old days, and the kitchen (with a full menu, including homemade corned beef and cabbage) will be up and running in about three weeks.

So raise a glass to O'Connor's; it'll only remain the way it was in our memories. But I think it's been replaced by a shiny new bar that's hard to find major fault with, one that certainly appears to be a very solid watering hole.

So here's one last look at the old bar room:

And the same view, today:

Friday
Mar142014

The Soup Bowl's Chef/Owner to Open Restaurant on 9th Street

Richard Gussoff, the chef behind the popular Soup Bowl on 7th Avenue near 9th Street, will be opening a full-service restaurant called Uncle Arthur's Cafe on 9th Street near the northwest corner of 4th Avenue, in the space that was last occupied by Italian deli Catene. Above is the sign that went up inside the Soup Bowl last week; construction is wrapping up and the restaurant should be open in about two weeks.

Gussoff, a Park Slope native who lives in the neighborhood, spent 19 years as chef/owner at three restaurants in Hell's Kitchen (seafood spot Sag Harbor, trattoria Pietrasanta, and Rachel's American Bistro) before opening up The Soup Bowl four winters ago and a second location in Prospect Heights the following year. He told me that this restaurant will draw inspiration from all his prior menus, including The Soup Bowl. "The menu will be eclectic American cuisine," he said. I'll be serving pastas from my trattoria, other dishes from the menu at the bistro, and three to four soups on the menu at all times." There will also be plenty of new items. The menu "will be a good size, but not like a diner menu," he added. "I like a lot of options. The more the merrier." Sample menu items include pecan-crusted chicken, blackened salmon, fish tacos, and linguine with chicken, and an extensive side vegetable selection that includes Brussels sprouts, roasted butternut squash, corn pudding, and quinoa.

Like The Soup Bowl (which will be closing on Friday and returning again next year), some of the ingredients will be sourced from greenmarkets daily, and will largely dictate what's served as specials.

The restaurant will seat about 40, including 8 or 9 at a custom-built bar. Only beer and wine will be available because of the proximity to a church, but there will be a nice selection of wine and predominantly local beers. To cater to the commuter crowd, they'll be operating as an upscale coffee bar during the earlier hours, serving coffee from Staten Island-based Unique Coffee Roasters.

The vibe will be casual, and offerings will be inexpensive: entrees will start at $12 and top out in the low 20s. "My feeling is, you should make the room comfortable, treat your customers well, and make it affordable," he added. 

Bottom photo via Lost City

 

Tuesday
Mar112014

Closed for Business: Cozbi, 351 5th Avenue

Cozbi, the small boutique on 5th Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets, has closed. The front window has been papered over, the sign has been taken down, and the phone is disconnected.

Opened in the summer of 2011 by Honduran clothing designer Cozbi Cabrera, it showcased her handmade dresses, skirts,  and outerwear for women and children. Aside from designing clothes, Cabrera also made quilts and muñecas, hand-sewn dolls with custom-made outfits that sold for up to $1,500 (and earned her an appearance on Oprah). The average item at Cozbi averaged well over a hundred dollars, however (blouses cost $145 and sundresses cost $200), which most likely limited her customer base. 

She also ran a shop on Court Street that closed before this one opened. If you're in the market for a quilt or muñeca, they're still available through her online store.

Monday
Mar102014

El Gran Castillo De Jagua to Move into Z-7 Diner Space up Flatbush

It's been known for a few months that the landord who owns the building that's home to Dominican restaurant El Gran Castillo De Jagua has been trying to push them out, and it appears as if he's accomplished that task. They'll be closing up shop at the end of March, but luckily, they're not moving far.

Over the weekend 7-Z Classic Diner, the mediocre eatery that replaced the popular Parkside Diner in 2012 on 7th between Park and Sterling, shut down, and signs were put up in the window saying that "El Gran Castillo de Jagua is relocating to this location." I took a short walk to Gran Castillo, which has occupied the corner space six storefronts away for the past 40 years, and a manager told me that they'll be leaving the space on March 31.

It was previously rumored that they'd be moving into the gutted space up the block last occupied by a mattress store if forced to close, but this is actually far more promising news, for obvious reasons. It's still a decent-sized space, and there's already a long counter and a full kitchen. It appears as if the Z-7 folks packed up pretty quickly and left most of their equipment behind, so hopefully the closure doesn't last for too long.

This stretch of Flatbush Avenue is one of the most-coveted stretches of real estate in the city at the moment, and landlord Stuart Venner of Vlacke Bos Realty has been in the process of booting out other tenants of this prime corner, including a barber shop and bakery Little Miss Muffin ‘N’ Her Stuffin', for months. An emergency care facility is slated to move in the space next door that has been vacant since 2011; hopefully the fact that temp signage has been up for 10 months is not an indicator that this corner will remain vacant for years as well.

Gran Castillo has been the anchor of this block for decades, but it's nice to see that they'll just be moving a few storefronts up. The manager assured me that the menu will remain exactly the same.

Friday
Mar072014

Bonnie's Grill Adds Hot Dogs, Ribs to the Menu

Bonnie's Grill, a Fifth Avenue mainstay for spice-rubbed grilled Black Angus burgers and Buffalo wings since 1999, added a couple of new permanent items to their menu on Tuesday: namely, ribs and hot dogs.

At the narrow restaurant, dominated by a long counter and a grill constantly inundated with flaming burger patties, at least 90 percent of those who visit buy wings or burgers, and the bustling staff has always seemed perfectly okay with the limited menu. But these new additions are the first non-sandwich items to be added in years.

The ribs are St. Louis-cut spare ribs made with Berkshire pork, slathered in homemade barbecue sauce and sold at $15.95 for a half-rack with your chouce of fries, salad, soup, chili, or cole slaw. They're most likely not smoked, but slow-cooked ribs still can taste pretty darn good.

Grilled hot dogs are also made with Berkshire pork and are applewood-smoked. I tried one and it was clear that this was a pretty high-quality hot dog: it had natural casing, was closer to the size of a bratwurst than a standard hot dog, and was nicely smokey and not too agressively-spiced. A manager was unable to tell me what company produces them, but my guess is that they're from Schaller & Weber or a similarly well-respected German butcher.

You can get them plain on a New England-style bun for $6.95 with a few pickle chips and and side, and poblano pepper relish or Reisling-braised sauerkraut cost $1 extra. For $7.95, they'll top it with their vegeterian chili, cheddar, and raw diced onion.