By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Some bars are just so damn hot that we feel obliged to keep spreading their word, especially when a spot has defied ongoing neighborhood upheaval and partied on to prosperity. That's the case with Soda Bar (629 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn). Over the last five years, this Prospect Heights joint has evolved from an unknown neighborhood dive to a hip regulars' spot. Now we're going on record as crowning this minimelting pot the U.N. of beautiful people. There's no party like a racially blended party, and Soda fits the bill.
It's not hard to be drawn to this '90s-cool establishment. A noticeably mixed (and extremely attractive) crowd lingered outside busying themselves with chit-chat while smoking stogies and taking a break from the steamy scene inside.
After about 20 minutes of people gazing, we ducked inside. The place was packed but not saturated, as patrons occupied the wooden tables that lined the exposed-brick wall and chomped on bar treats like BLTs, veggie burgers, and even frankfurters with all the garnishesthough the Buffalo wings rule. Most of the grub ranges from $3.50 to $10.
Our first stop was the cherry-oak, fountain-styled barmixed drinks go from $7 to $10, and there's also a selection of 15 tap beers at $3 to $5 a popwith its energetic and beautiful bartenders. My companion and I were speechless as we waited for our drinks; neither one of us had ever seen so many gorgeous people in one sitting.
The tall, "Stone Cold" Steve Austinesque bouncer (who moonlights as an opera musician) was clearly aware of his valuable merchandise and hovered over the ladies with a stern, do-not-disturb-the-sexy kind of protectiveness. When a chick at the bar complained that a dude grabbed her ass, the Terminator quickly showed the equally buff offender the door. "But I didn't touch her," cried the young man on his way out. And herein lies the magic of Soda: The alleged booty-grabber went outside and waited for the rest of his group and pleaded with them to get the bouncer so he could clear himself and return to the party. "Somebody go get himI don't want to leave, this party is hot," he begged. It took 30 minutes for the self-pitying group to wallow away, knowing that Soda would be poppin' without them.
The bar's evolution wasn't an accident: A few years ago, owner Galina got rid of the pool table and opened up a lounge (a/k/a the Soda Lounge) and furnished it with plush couches, dresser drawers, and antique candle holders that lend a house-party appeal. She also added a DJ booth and hooked up the adjoining backyard patio. Those changes, she says, invited positive vibes: "The crowd has definitely gotten bigger and more diverse." Diverse is an understatementit's jungle fever in effect. Color lines were blurred as various shades of people were bumpin' and grindin' to back-in-the-day tracks from the likes of Arrested Development, De la Soul, and Big Daddy Kane. When the DJ threw on MC Lyte's "Lite as a Rock," the crowd went wild. It was one nation under a groove as women hoisted their long skirts into short minis and minis were hiked into micro-minis, while the guys just held on tight for the ride. It was time to take dirty dancing to the next level, and we did just that.