Do you remember what you were doing during the deepest depths of lockdown? Brad Wilson remembers: He scoured eBay for cassette tapes. Drove to Washington Heights for an old basketball hoop. Fell down a rabbit hole of '70s and '80s memorabilia, such as Malm fireplaces and reel-to-reel players.
It was not where he had expected to land after closing the 10-year-old Patchogue restaurant he co-owned with Frank Bragaglia, Public House 49, for a face-lift. "We had planned on doing a four-month renovation to revamp the place, but we got caught in the middle of COVID halfway through," said Wilson, who also co-owns The Brixton in Babylon, also with Bragaglia. Contractors could no longer work, restaurants were closed to dine-in for a time and nothing could move forward. "It was dicey for the industry, and we had all of this time, so we said 'let's just change the name and concept and do something entirely different.'"
That entirely different place eventually became Standard Rec, which soft opened in mid-May with so many vintage details it's hard to know where to look first. The place resembles a theater set, with moody 1970s hues running throughout two soaring rooms, one lined by a long bar whose puzzle of cubbyholes hold memorabilia such as decades-old roller skates and Wilson's dad's old fire-department helmet, plus a few board games. The beer list is quasi-hidden in an oversized Scrabble board and the main dining room has retro mustard-yellow chairs and Baroque wallpaper, plus a bank of lockers and other quirks. Out of sight, in the back, is a room full of arcade games such as Skee-Ball and Off Road (with a few other video arcade games scattered around, too).
"We were able to take our time in a bad year, but open in a good way," said Wilson, who was chasing the vibe akin to "an upscale version of a crappy basement bar from the '70s," with a laser-attention to detail, including the food. He and Bragaglia handed that baton to chef Micheal Meehan, who exudes an unusual mellowness but has cooked at a high level on Long Island for decades, from Tupelo Honey in Sea Cliff, in the '90s, to Clearwater in Massapequa, River Road in Oyster Bay and, most recently, Vauxhall, Radio Radio and New Wave Burrito Bar in Huntington.
Meehan said he was "ready for a new challenge," and with Standard Rec, took his starting point as street food, food trucks and a "southern California '80s vibe." Striking among the starters are arepas ($13), long a staple of Venezuelan and Colombian cuisine which are having a moment on Long Island. "When my daughter was young, she loved arepas, so we started making them," said Meehan, who tops the white-corn cakes with chicken thighs braised with tomatillos, then shredded, plus Jack cheese and black-bean corn salsa.
This is also the year of birria, and Meehan braises short ribs for his version, served both as tacos ($14) but also in a birria ramen bowl ($25) with hunks of short rib, pickled jalapeños and onions, corn and a gooey soy egg. A few other bowls include a citrusy tuna poke over soba noodles ($26) and shredded verde chicken with quinoa, wheat berries and veggies in a citrus mojo dressing, for $22. "People seem to like to graze, and I liked the idea of bowls and went with it," Meehan said. There are also a few bar standards on the menu, such as cavatelli mac-and-cheese with shards of smoked ham and pimento cheese sauce ($12), wings (10) and a smash burger who grind is laced with pork belly ($14). Lovers of both Cubano sandwiches and hot dogs will find comrade in the Cubano dog, best eaten rather than described.
As proprietors of The Brixton, widely known for its cocktails, Bragaglia and Wilson had at their disposal the skills of the bartenders there, and used that bar as a testing ground for Standard Rec's cocktail list, such as the tangy, gin-laced Peaches & Herb, which incorporates peach shrub ($12), or Enter The Dragon, which brings together mezcal, tequila, pineapple, lime, grenadine and Angostura bitters, also $12. Several local beers are among the 14 taps, as are two batched house cocktails, including old-fashioneds; there is also prosecco on tap.
Wilson — who was busy readying the opening of another bar and restaurant, Dive, in Kismet on Fire Island — seemed relieved to have Standard Rec finally up and running, and to put behind him the hours he spent gluing cassette tapes to the walls of Standard Rec's bathrooms. "It took me two months. I would do 20 minutes a day before I'd lose my patience," he said. Marcie Gorsline, a designer in North Babylon, helped steward his increasingly involved visions and keep things on track, he said. "I had these crazy ideas, and she helped turn them into reality."
Standard Rec is open for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday, with brunch and an expanded menu to come. It's at 49 E. Main St., Patchogue. 631-730-8100.