When the beloved Victory Cafe shuttered in the Boerum Hill area of Brooklyn a few years ago, the neighborhood’s social scene was left with a void. Enter Grand Army Bar, a bright, airy cocktail and oyster spot helmed by a star-studded cast of players, including Noah Bernamoff of Mile End, Julian Brizzi of Rucola, photographer Daniel Krieger and Damon Boelte, former head bartender at Prime Meats.
The team set out to open an easy-going neighborhood joint that was first and foremost inviting and comfortable. “There are plenty of dark, brooding cocktail bars in the world, and we decided to go for openness and warmth,” Boelte says. Lots of windows, bright artwork, whitewashed brick walls and rustic wood floors set a tone that feels just the right amount of fancy.
“It’s a great place to meet up with a buddy for an amazing beer at a great price, but it’s also a very nice date spot, especially this time of year with the fireplace and soft ambiance.”
Drinks-wise, the cocktail menu is respectful of classics, with a few curveballs thrown in for good measure. The Alabaster Caverns, for instance, is a Pina Colada-inspired concoction that swaps rum out for scotch and works in a medley of spices and sorrel as a nod to the state parks of Boelte’s native Oklahoma. “I definitely try to be more playful with the cocktails here than I have in the past, and having themed seasonal menus really helps with that,” Boelte says. Garnishes are often elaborate, and a collection of unique glassware dresses up the drinks even more.
The food side is devised by wd~50 alum Jon Bignelli, who stocks the menu with dishes like a simple tomato salad with lemongrass, ginger and puffed rice. Decadence is on tap for brunch, thanks to the impressive “Bloody Mary platter” featuring two house Bloody Marys served with seasonal veggies, along with sidekicks of pilsner and a dozen oysters, plus an assortment of clams, shrimp cocktail & crab legs.
“A lot of cocktail/oyster bars tend to focus on very strict classics and service. We have the same goal, but we tend to lean toward new-school practices—keeping it serious, but casual and lighthearted,” Boelte says. “We’ve gone through the last decade proving that we are serious about our craft, and now that we’ve gotten the message across, we can show that we also take having fun seriously.”