You’re not subjected to any eye-rolling mixology tropes at this boozy LES dive—no secret entrances; no suspender-strapped, mustachioed tenders; no cocktail with an ingredient list that takes longer to read than drink. Between the crushed PBR cans littering high-tops and the colored Christmas lights strewn about, this brick-laden joint looks more like a college dorm than a cocktail den. But what it lacks in pretension it makes up for in pedigree—Christopher Harrington (Momofuku, Saxon + Parole) mans the bar, pouring out surprisingly sophisticated quaffs.
DRINK THIS: Harrington studied up on old-school soda-jerk staples, rigging a 1960s Coke machine with a CO2 carbonator to fizz his own house-made pop. Do-it-yourself tonics have been percolating up around town (from Red Hook’s café-cum-bar Fort Defiance to seductive East Villager Evelyn Drinkery), but Subject stands apart with shrewd flavor combos: Hibiscus-lavender tonic draws out the bright herbal notes of Brooklyn Gin ($13); pistachio cola adds an offbeat nuttiness to their version of Jack and Coke (here Dickel and Cola, $13); and vanilla-laced orange cream soda syrup adds a smooth sweetness in the Matilda’s Big Brother ($12), mellowing the aggro one-two punch of peppery Old Overholt Rye and herbaceous green chartreuse.
GOOD FOR: A low-key 101 on serious cocktailing. Here, there’s no hipper-than-thou judgment if you don’t know your rum from your rye—especially when your fellow guzzlers are shamelessly throwing back cheap cans at nearby barstools. This is a spot where you can booze like a coed—see the rotating beer-and-shot combos scribbled on the chalkboard—and have a tutoring session on the annals of mixology. Whether you’re exploring the bitters and tinctures stored in medicine bottles behind the bar, or analyzing how root-beer syrup and cinnamon burdock tincture can deftly enhance the molasses finish of Smith & Cross rum ($12), this is one subject you’ll actually want to be schooled in.
THE CLINCHER: The bar’s a curious mix of old and new, and we’re not just talking about the reimagined soda-fountain sippers. On the walls are golden-oldie vinyl records seemingly plucked from your grandma’s dusty attic—Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, the Ink Spots—while License to Ill–era Beastie Boys blares in contrast from the speakers. A shiny flatscreen hangs above the bar, yet a preindustrial pulley system closes the door behind you in the bathroom. Bring Granny—she’ll get a kick out of the vintage Sinatra 45s and the blast-from-the-past soda machine, and you’ll be expertly liquored up enough to handle her lush cooing over Ol’ Blue Eyes. Subject’s bridging generations, one bubbly tipple at a time.—Christina Izzo