The transformation begins most nights around happy hour. The municipal parking lot in Babylon Village swells. The metered parking spots quickly disappear.
As the night progresses, revelers pour from the nearby LIRR station onto Deer Park Avenue — simply “DPA” to regulars — hopping between restaurants and bars as they indulge in California-style tacos, lush sushi rolls and meticulously made cocktails created by a resident cocktail nerd.
This South Shore village has always been a destination for its spacious Irish bars, including Mary Carroll’s and Lily Flanagan’s, and has long been known for its American-Italian dining.
But in the past two decades, the village has also evolved. The grand white stone former Bank of Babylon building is now a neon-accented restaurant with a clubby vibe, Asian-fusion fare and a cocktail menu heavy on the vodka. There are two wine bars, a temple to craft beer and a high-brow coffee house complete with a grilled-cheese menu. Even Mary Carroll’s, which opened two decades ago with food as an afterthought, recently remodeled its kitchen and rolled out a menu, albeit one that leans toward beer-soaking pub fare, including a gargantuan “kitchen sink” burger.
The draw has been a strain on parking, resulting in embarrassing stories of drunkards damaging businesses, and recently led the village board of trustees to issue a mayor-backed moratorium on opening new bars and restaurants for the rest of the year.
“With the existing bars and restaurants that are here, we have our share of late-night partying like the other villages, and why should we increase?” Mayor Ralph Scordino says. “Nothing good happens after 12 o’clock.”
This means, for the rest of 2017, village leaders will not permit any new night-life establishments in retail spaces as they look to bring a balance to the types of businesses that set up shop in town. The more than 40 bars and restaurants currently on the roster are exempt from the ban, leaving the road clear for proposed plans to convert the divey Twisted Shamrock into a beer garden.
“Right now, we only have two retail stores that you can go in and buy a pair of pants, a pair of underwear or a pair of socks,” Scordino says. “You can’t buy a birthday card in the Village of Babylon. You can’t buy a screw to hang a picture on. We don’t have a hardware store. That’s the kind of balance I would like to see.”
It also means you’ll need a guide to get around. Here are 10 spots that best illustrate the culinary identity of Babylon.
Glen’s Dinette (23 E. Main St.): This nearly 60-year-old hangout is arguably the pioneer for Babylon’s dining movement. Bought in 1990 by Hapi and Chrissy Auer, Glen’s has evolved, more than doubling its space in 2000 by taking over the old vacuum cleaner store next door. The short-order fare remains, but gone are dishes like liver and onions. The menu instead takes its cues from Hapi’s travels and a desire to cook everything from scratch, right down to the tender roast turkey and fluffy mashed potatoes and light gravy. Don’t miss the farmer’s breakfast: a slab of sausage stuffing that has been griddled until crisp, topped with two poached eggs and ladeled with hollandaise sauce. Or the waffles. It’s what breakfast should be. More info: 631-669-4700, glensdinette.com
A belgian waffle at Glen's Dinette in Babylon.
The Brixton (111 Deer Park Ave.): The latest hot-spot on DPA pulls straight from the Brooklyn playbook with weathered wood, steel frame windows, Edison light bulbs and a menu that features artisanal cocktails, handcrafted by resident cocktail shaker Bill Carlow. From the open kitchen, meat-heavy small plates. The space starts filling up at happy hour when a well-curated selection of oysters are priced at $1 apiece, and stays open late into the night drawing an industry crowd. Order the Chamomillionaire, a pomelo juice bourbon and rum elixir, and pair it with a duck Scotch egg, the Mexican grilled carrots and the chicken and biscuits. Engage Carlow and his staff at your own risk. This team loves to geek out. More info: 631-587-2000
Chicken and biscuits, a Scotch egg, “The Chamomillionaire” cocktail and the “I Just Left Cali” cocktail at The Brixton in Babylon.
Mary Carroll’s (121 Deer Park Ave.): After shunning food at this beer garden for nearly 20 years, owner Conor Hartnett (right, pictured with chef Lauren VanDenise) relented and built out the menu at this Deer Park Avenue mainstay. The vibe largely remains the same. This is a beer bar first, featuring a long draft list and the kind of food you need after a pint or two, like tater tot nachos (a mountain of crispy potatoes layered with cheese, black beans and pico de gallo) or the "kitchen sink" burger, layered with fries, onion rings, pepper jack cheese, coleslaw and Thousand Island dressing. More info: 631-587-6181, marycarrolls.com
The "Kitchen sink" burger at Mary Carroll's in Babylon.
The Villager (262 Deer Park Ave.): The thoughtful beer list at this top-notch bar features a rotating cast of selections from some of America’s best microbrews, including Hillfarmstead from Vermont, Bell’s from Michigan and Half Acre from Chicago. The rustic space is the brainchild of a few of the partners behind Lily Flanagan’s and a few former bartenders who believed the craft brew boom was missing in town. The menu keeps it playful with twists on Americana, including house-made hot pockets, spruced-up instant ramen and, for a limited time, a twist on the Big Mac. With a 3 a.m. last call and the train station a block away, it’s a popular last stop for those in for the long haul. More info: 631-482-8585, thevillagerbabylon.com
The "DPA Dip" with slow-braised short ribs, caramelized onions and fresh mozzarella is served on a rosemary roll with a side of red-wine gravy at The Villager in Babylon.
Swell Taco (135 Deer Park Ave.): In five years, this taco shack with a beachside vibe and a parking lot view has developed a cult following for California-style tacos from a brother-and-sister team raised near the beach between Los Angeles and San Diego. By day, you’ll find teenagers from nearby Babylon High School. At night, the waits can reach beyond an hour and a half for enjoyable margaritas, large plates of ground beef-and-cheese-loaded nachos, hulking burritos and tacos with fillings that include pulled pork, juicy steak and battered mahi-mahi. The kitchen here takes pride in finishing tacos with shredded Cheddar cheese. Yes, it’s OK. More info: 631-482-1299, swelltacoli.com
Pulled-pork nachos at Swell Taco in Babylon.
Barrique (69 Deer Park Ave.): From the team that introduced Babylon to New American fare with Argyle Grill & Tavern at the turn of the century, this small-plates and thin-crust pizza spot was a trailblazer when it opened seven years ago. The space is one of Babylon’s most inviting, featuring a weathered brick-and-wood look and a fun-to-navigate wine list that spans the globe and features an extensive selection of wines by the bottle, half bottle and glass. Even as others have caught up, Barrique continues to be a draw with guaranteed waits on weekends. More info: 631-321-1175, barriquekitchenandwinebar.com
Crabcakes with black-bean salsa and chili aioli are served at Barrique in Babylon.
Monsoon (48 Deer Park Ave.): Babylon’s splashiest dining spot comes from Bohlsen Restaurant Group. This 9,500-square-foot, bi-level space is part scene, part restaurant, part lounge dropped into one of the village’s most iconic buildings, the one-time home of the Bank of Babylon. Cocktails here veer toward vodka and rum; bottles of Veuve Clicquot are on special most nights, and the menu balances Asian-fusion dishes of the moment with safer surf and turf. More info: 631-587-4400, monsoonny.com
Whole Peking duck for two is served with cucumber, scallion, hoisin and steamed buns at Monsoon in Babylon.
Kotobuki ( 86 Deer Park Ave.): This Japanese chainlet has developed a reputation for producing some of the most satisfying sushi on Long Island. The Deer Park Avenue branch is no different, with a sleek but simple dining room and an approachable sushi bar to enjoy imaginative sushi rolls (pictured: the caterpillar, crazy and happy rolls) and ¡tacos Japoneses!, a crispy play on tacos: house-fried corn tortillas filled with yellowtail and romaine hearts mixed with smoked chipotle mayo. More info: 631-321-8387
Fish tacos are served at Kotobuki in Babylon.
Jack Jack’s Coffee House
Jack Jack’s Coffee House (223 Deer Park Ave.): Coffee is the morning equivalent of an inventive cocktail, and this coffeehouse was designed to lift spirits in so many ways. Along with a sexy espresso machine, baristas here can make a pour over (a single serving of coffee made by pouring hot water over beans), pull cold brew from a nitro tap or make the latest cool coffee concoction, the latte soda (pictured). Espresso is mixed with seltzer water, topped with milk and, if you like, finished with a flavored syrup. Chocolate is good but not necessary. There’s a grilled-cheese bar, and sweets come from nearby C&C Baking Factory. More info: 631-526-9983, jackjackscoffeehouse.com
"Texan" grilled cheese with sharp Cheddar, bacon, tomato and chipotle mayo at Jack Jack’s Coffee House in Babylon.
Molto Vino (45 Deer Park Ave.): The intimately lit wine bar lives up to its name: There is a lot of wine here. Nearly all the bottles on the menu are available for sale at its wine store, Solo Vino, a few doors down. The list leans heavy on wines from California and Italy that arrive in big glasses with large pours. The menu runs from wood-fired pizzas to small plates to meat-and-cheese boards. Grab a seat at the large windows, order a glass of a bold red, and watch the scene unfold outside. More info: 631-983-8915
The cured meat-and-cheese plate includes manchego, goat gouda, capocolla, speck, olives, and fresh fruit at Molto Vino in Babylon.