In New York City, there is a county known as Kings. Also called Brooklyn, it is arranged into sundry smaller sections with famed names like Williamsburg, Park Slope and Greenpoint. Although these areas make up but a fraction of the borough’s total expanse, they are dominant on screens large and small, all over the world.
Dumbo is among them, sort of. Many visitors may know it from internet search terms like “NYC’s best Instagram spots,” or various hashtags. (As a macabre aside, Green-Wood Cemetery also pops up in similar web quests, and I humbly ask that future readers be respectful when taking their holograms there one day, when I’m cold underground. J/K, that ghastly micro neigh-boo-rhood is too expensive for me, evennn in lifeee *ghost sounds*).
A charming acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, which a bit of it is, Dumbo is beautiful. Parts have sensational waterfront, Manhattan skyline and cobblestone street snapshots. The one to beat them all, or at least the one that’ll keep you apace with your pals visiting from Manhattan or Monaco, is at the intersection of Washington and Water Streets, where that titular structure, the Empire State Building, and you gorgeously align for one perfect image. And darned if some genius didn’t go ahead and build a pretty good bar right there, called Gair.
Gair is a big, bright, box of a spot on the corner. Just out of frame, it’s a shining solution to that common after-tourist-attraction quagmire: what’s the closest possible place to post those pics with a few refreshments? It’s the photo-op spot’s answer to the Starbucks at the Louvre; to the cocktails on the Empire State Building’s observation deck.
Up half a staircase, Gair has high ceilings and tall windows, two walls of which look over all the memory-making action on the street outside. On a recent visit, however, pre the formal post-work hour, I was stopped at the host stand then sat, back to the view, at the handsome, substantially sized, and mostly empty marble-topped bar. This is not the standard practice to sit at a bar, where one typically just . . . sits. There’s plenty of room to cross your legs beneath, at least, and the space is attractive, with a recessed ceiling that creates a cozy feeling even amid the relative sprawl, further populated by tables and chairs and appointed in mostly pale shades.
Dubbed as either a “new neighborhood bar” or, more precisely, a cocktail one, in press materials, Gair does have the latter, but qualities often found at the former can only be imbued by locals over time. A few new openings managed to capture that inimitable proclivity right away—Velma, Etrusca and Gus’s Chop House are recent examples—but it’s an infrequent achievement. “Neighborhood” isn’t a hospitality category, like, say, speakeasy, pub or seafood shack, but an earned designation like dive.
At the moment, and since its February opening, Gair still serves a fine purpose as a convenient and actually decent option in a highly-trafficked area that makes a nice showing of what NYC can offer.
Some of the cocktails (all $19) have punny names. The “Under the Influencer” is not unpleasant, and seems more like something you’d sip hotel poolside than near the banks of the East River. It’s viscous like a cold-pressed juice, made with passionfruit, celery, lager, mezcal whose smokiness redeems the whole combination, and lovely cayenne pepper applied generously enough to actually pop and dive the drink a little more dimension. It’s kind of fruity without any radioactive colors or artificial sweetener, served in a tall glass without a straw.
“The Old Man and the Sea” is more dynamic, telling a short story as its flavors gently roll in like the tide. Straight in a rocks glass, it mixes Japanese whisky, soy and what’s detailed only as umami on the menu and turns out to be derived from fish oil bitters. It’s garnished with a curl of nori, and its deep perfume of the sea blooms first like a mist of ocean air, followed by a lightly arriving sweetness and smooth saline. Its finish is more complex and satisfying than many drinks with far more ingredients or steps.
Low and no-ABV options are also available for $2 and $5 less. Beer starts at $6 for a can of North Fork Brewing Company’s Hold Me Closer Tiny Lager, wine pours open at $14, and the most expensive bottle is a $120 Champagne. The food menu is snack-centric, with charcuterie ($18), burrata ($24) and a solid house-made chicken liver mousse ($22). A cheeseburger ($24) is among a few larger plates.
The Vibe: Open, airy and sightseer-friendly, if a bit rigid at odd times with assigned bar seating.
The Drinks: Cocktails like the dynamic Old Man and the Sea with notes of the ocean, plus low and no-ABV options, wine and beer.
The Food: Snacks like charcuterie and chicken liver mousse, plus a couple of larger plates including a cheeseburger.
Gair is located at 41 Washington Street. It is open Tuesday-Wednesday from 4pm-12am, Thursday from 4pm-2am, Friday-Saturday from 2pm-2am and Sunday from 2pm-10pm.