The Carreau Club’s co-owners Dana Bunker and Aaron Weeks know how tough bars have had it the past five months since New York City banned indoor gatherings. But while their plans to open a sprawling bar within Industry City this month are on hold, there’s still a bright spot: they used an outdoor space to open the city’s first pétanque bar.
The airy courtyards in the former warehouse space, which is located on the waterfront in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, is now home to a kiosk selling beer, wine and bottled cocktails with sandwiches from M. Wells. They’re open during the week from 3-9pm and weekends noon-10pm. There are four courts where you can hold a drink in one hand while tossing a stainless steel ball in the other.
But what exactly is pétanque (it’s pronounced pay-TONK)? The current version of this lawn game has ties to France, even though it may look like bocce (which started in Italy). You can play one-one-one or teams with two of three players. The goal is to toss the steel balls, which are about the size of a baseball, as close as possible to a smaller ball known as the cochonnet (which translates to piglet). A “carreau” is when you knock your opponent’s ball closest to the cochonnet and take its place. The team that finishes closest to the cochonnet wins.
“People are sick of Zoom. They want to get out, and they don’t just want to go to a park,” says Bunker. “You can learn how to play this game in minutes and play it while having a beverage.”
In New York City, people have gathered to play pétanque in places like Bryant Park and Propsect Park. Weeks says there’s a league in the five boroughs with about 100-150 members and nearly 3,000 total in the United States.
While it’s more common to find bars in Europe where the game is more prominent, he and Bunker started planning The Carreau Club nearly two years ago.
“We wanted it to be a convivial environment, even before COVID,” says Bunker. “We had this idea that people needed to get off their phones and get outside. Something low stress.”
Bunker and Weeks bring years of experience in the hospitality industry to this venture. More than a decade ago, Bunker says she ran the catering department at Roberta’s in Bushwick and after moving to the Bay Area, she and her husband opened the pizza-focused restaurant Oak & Rye. They moved back to New York in 2017.
Weeks had worked at M. Wells, the Canadian chef Hugue Dufour’s Montreal-inspired steakhouse in Long Island City. It’s also the place where he learned to play pétanque.
When the restaurant started hosting pétanque tournaments on Sundays, it attracted a brunch crowd drinking rosé and pastis as they played the game like people would while on vacation in the South of France. Eventually, Weeks says, the competitive players across the city caught wind of the tournaments (and the steak dinner prizes) and started showing up. For him, it was “kind of my meditation” and a stress reliever when he was working 60 to 70 hours a week at the restaurant.
“Anyone can play it,” says Weeks. “The game is as old as time. There’s this level of skill and strategy as you learn to play the game, but it’s basically throwing balls at balls.”
When The Carreau Club builds its interior space, there are plans to have nine courts, a full bar and a fast casual food concept from the M. Wells team. According to Bunker, foot traffic keeps increasing in Industry City, but it’s still unclear how the current crisis will unfold and what the future of indoor dining looks like in the five boroughs.
For now, they feel grateful they’ve been able to open The Carreau Club and introduce more New Yorkers to the game. Their kiosk is within steps of the sake distillery Brooklyn Kura and the popular Hometown Bar-B-Que.
“I'm not the most athletic person, especially with the pandemic,” says Weeks. “But we wanted to give people a chance to connect with other people in the outside world.”
The Carreau Club is located at 68 34th Street, Courtyard 5-6 at Industry City, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, 11232.
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