In their past lives on Long Island, many bars fell into a few easily recognizable categories: Easygoing Irish pubs with a Guinness taproot; smoky dives where lone women might fear to tread; or sports bars where the roar of 10 screens could drown out the noise in your head.
These hangouts still have their necessary spots in our barscape. A growing battalion of merrymakers in their 20s and 30s, however, has fueled a spate of watering holes-as-destinations, including South Shore Dive in West Sayville (a reinvented dive bar with summer Bingo); The Rust & Gold in Huntington — a re-upped sports bar — and Bowery Bar in Rockville Centre, where you can play carnival games such as ring toss while you sip swizzles.
While these “experiences” — from karaoke to giant Jenga to foosball— are not necessarily dependent on drinking, cocktails and unusual brews are often part of the formula. But messing with the formula is part of the formula, whether dive bar or speak-easy.
“Speak-easies were all over New York a decade ago,” said Michael Matarazzo, owner of Repeal XVIII, which replaced the former Ps and Qs Autobody in Huntington. “I wanted the next iteration, to take speak-easies to the next level.”
Matarazzo’s bar is one of at least three such places that have opened on Long Island in the past few months with sly twists on long-standing bar models.
29 Jericho Tpke., New Hyde Park; 516-302-8412. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. Instagram: @_elsie_lane
This spot on a zoomy stretch of Jericho Turnpike has been a string of bars, most recently, The Hyde Away, whose lingering digital footprint is a half-full pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon in Yelp.
The newest incarnation, Elsie Lane, opened in January. New owners Sal Mignano, Ryan Sipp and Bill Oxios did not totally dispatch with the bar’s DNA: Televisions, wings and beer remain, but the remade interior is a more polished assemblage of copper bartop, handhewn booths, subway tile, barnlike wooden walls and the occasional dose of Americana. The on-site activities run the gamut from classic tavern (pool table, darts, a Ghostbusters pinball machine, the Islanders game on TV) to modern playpen (giant Jenga, karaoke), bolstered by classic cocktails, really good beer and bar food created by Johnson & Wales-trained chef Charlie Keller.
Mignano — co-owner of The Leaky Lifeboat Inn and ZA in Seaford, plus Vauxhall and Radio Radio in Huntington — describes Elsie Lane as a “fun local spot,” or “a hip sports bar.” The partners somehow nailed a magnetic yet low-key vibe, with a youngish crowd belting out karaoke and dancing late into the night. They eat and drink well, too: Besides drinks such as bourbon-laced Sidecars in coupe glasses (plus $4 bottles of Tecate), the food from Keller, also executive chef of The Rex Burger & Lobster in Mineola, involves wings that are brined for a day before being baked and fried and burgers that go from simple (mayo, American cheese, pickles) to loaded (pickled green tomatoes, bacon, Cheddar, slaw and barbecue sauce). The bourbon-spiked S’mores ice cream shake, capped with a skewer of torched marshmallows, epitomizes the highly Instagrammable vibe of the place.
GREAT SOUTH BAR
If someone blindfolded you, marched you into Great South Bar and untied your blindfold, you might feel momentarily disoriented. So seamless is this pub’s weaving of dive-bar elements (a pushboard beer list, a marlin mounted on the wall) with elegant details (a pressed-tin ceiling, highly polished bar, artful maps and prints) that it feels like a stylish time warp.
Co-owners James McPeak, Dave Prunier (also co-owner of Tullulah’s in Bay Shore) and Terence Daly, all 31, sought to create a super low-key, affable spot. “Everybody’s got an angle,” said Daly. “We wanted to be just a bar, a place we would want to come to.” A bar with very, very good drinks: Daly was once the beer director at the Riverhead Project restaurant, and worked at Brewology in Speonk.
Great South Bar’s beer selection is solid, and the late-winter cocktail list has entered equatorial territory, with a frothy, tropicalesque pisco drink called the Alpaca and a mai tai on a base of super-smooth rhum agricole , aged rum and Cointreau.
The compact food menu has both hot dogs and Yodels, and while there’s a stack of board games on hand and still-life drawing sessions some Sundays, GSB is mostly a drinking hole that sussed out a bar’s basic elements, weeded out the excess then fused the rest together in masterly fashion.
This bar has history, both micro and macro: In 2014, during an episode of Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue,” the longtime Artful Dodger was remade into a speak-easy called P’s and Q’s Autobody. In 2015, it was damaged by a fire that started in the neighboring laundry; and three years later, Michael Matarazzo — who spent 11 years as head bartender here — bought the owners out, and renamed it for the 1933 repeal of the 18th Amendment that had started Prohibition.
Matarazzo, who was born and reared in Huntington, purposely kiboshed the speak-easy concept but buffed up the bar’s 1930s vibe: There’s dim, vintage lighting, carved antique couches, clubby woodwork and nooks throughout, as well as a tented back patio with a pool table and enormous flat screen TV (you can legally smoke here). A walled garden is reminiscent of New Orleans, with ivy crawling up stone walls. “It’s very warm and cozy, but still spacious,” said Matarazzo.
Matarazzo’s cocktail list segues from classics into theater; a “breakfast” Old Fashioned comes with a smoking stick of cinnamon, and the fuchsia Ne Ne, named for Matarazzo’s late mother, is a photogenic foamy combo of rum, lemon juice and a fruity, dry hibiscus cordial, plus a very snappable orchid.
Despite its FDR-era looks, selfie opportunities abound, from a backdrop of a photo mural proclaiming the end of Prohibition to a marquee-lit, wall-mounted selfie “booth.” Figure in the giant Jenga and the dramatic drinks, and Repeal seems like it might be custom-built for 20-somethings; Matarazzo, however, aims to attract a slightly older crowd.
There is no food menu at Repeal (though there might soon be popcorn); for now, revelers can order in from surrounding restaurants.