For those who crave not just great drinks, but also the culture of drinking well, there’s a certain thrill that comes with encountering a new bar that you want to get to know beyond the first date. The gorgeous Donna, a breezy, rum-soaked drinkery secreted away near the Williamsburg waterfront, is long-term relationship material: mysterious and sexy enough to seduce on sight, yet substantive enough to keep you coming back to dig deeper. The cocktails alone could coax aficionados from their habitual perches, but it’s the transporting staging that seals the deal—a fever-dream vision of Central America that owner Leif Young Huckman says takes its inspiration from Spanish-colonial cathedrals, Art Nouveau parlor rooms and the sailor’s flophouse that existed on this site in the 1800s. It all adds up to something charming, refined and a little subversive—an enchanting nook that feels worlds away from the industrial streets outside.
DRINK THIS: Rum anchors the cocktail list from bar manager Jeremy Oertel (Dram, Mayahuel), who expresses the colonial theme with drinks that match tropical ingredients (pisco, Mexican Coke) with old-world amari and liqueurs (Ramazzotti, yellow Chartreuse). The OJ-splashed Brancolada elevates that tiki warhorse, the piña colada, with herbal and minty Branca Menta—the result is at once sophisticated and dangerously easygoing, like a Ph.D. student gone wild on spring break. If you’re in the mood for something stirred and on the rocks instead, the Haunted House (Appleton rum, rye, Swedish punsch, ginger syrup, bitters; $10) is a finely tuned mash-up of a rum-based treacle and an old-fashioned, with the ginger and rye delivering a spicy kick that lingers from sip to sip.
GOOD FOR: Summertime escapism. While there’s no outdoor space, Donna has plenty of warm-weather appeal with its oversize windows cracked and the front door flung wide open. The white walls and bright plants make for a welcome respite from the ’hood’s preferred cabin-in-the-woods aesthetic.
THE CLINCHER: If you’re making an evening of it, you can keep yourself moored with tapas-style snacks from Jessica Wilson (Prune, A Voce). The menu is aggravatingly cryptic, more akin to an Illuminati recruitment pamphlet than a descriptive bill of fare. But while some of the more ambitious items fall flat (chewy beef-heart carpaccio, a bland stew of chicken and chickpeas), the more straightforward stuff hits the spot: whole grilled sardines sprinkled with seasoned bread crumbs, and a patatas bravas–style dish of chili-dusted baby potatoes, smashed on the plancha and paired with a smoky ancho-chili relish.
By Chris Schonberger