After months of hearing urban folktales about the black-owned-and-patronized bar that had somehow infiltrated a popular hipster-soaked strip in Cobble Hill, we set out to check the scene at NY Perks (193 Smith Street). True to hip, the drag was lively, with young revelers pouring in and out of the row of bars that lines the street. It was hard to imagine that anything black existed on this strip—nevertheless, we pressed on.
And there it was: urban-city U.S.A., smack in the heart of hipsterville. We made our way past the door and were greeted by a happy-as-fuck-it’s-Friday crowd holding court at the martini bar and groovin’ to reggae tunes—despite the lack of a dance floor. Men loosened their ties while the ladies unfastened the buttons of their blouses and unleashed after-work cleavage. The crowd of twenty- to fortysomething professionals jam the joint straight after a week’s work at the municipal buildings in nearby downtown Brooklyn. We make our way through the swiveling hips to an elevated platform, where we spot a wine bar way in the back. A guy in a white suit (think Boyz II Men sophisticat, not Big Daddy pimpin’) bops past us, and it’s clear this must be the Chocolate Factory that R. Kelly’s always crooning about, a/k/a/ the grown and sexy.
Owner Elliot Bey and his partner have spared no expense on this ultra-fly spot. We count six plasma screens on our journey to the back. “I have to work harder than everybody else around here,” Bey says. “This is the only black-owned bar in the neighborhood.” But it seems like all play when we finally make it to the 25-foot cherry-rose bar. Bey mingles with his champagne-guzzling patrons and moves frequently between the bar and the backyard—spending just enough time inside to smooch and hug his favorites girls, then back outside to kick it with the boys.
Bey’s hard work pays off, because the crowd is vibrant and happy. The female bartender shaking her mixer like a mad scientist serves me an Apple Martini ($10), which I immediately regret after overhearing two women order the bar’s signature drinks, Wet Kiss and Baby Mama Drama, which turn out to be great conversation starters for a few guys close by. A group of older folks celebrating a birthday in a sunken-living-room-type V.I.P. lounge jump up when Bell Biv DeVoe’s old-school favorite “Poison” comes on. They wave their hands in the air and party like they just don’t care—for a hot minute—then slump back down to catch a breath, drink, and replenish with dishes like the Tuxedo Sesame Chicken, sweet plantains, calamari rings, and plummed fried shrimps until the next “That used to be my jam!” comes on. By 1 a.m., the after-work crowd fades and a younger, “hipper” crew takes over. My companion is getting annoyed with a dude sporting a red-and-white Hawaiian print shirt, who’s dropping pick-up lines like stink bombs. That’s our cue to leave.