CAL ELLIOTT, the chef and owner of Rye, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said he always knew he wanted to set up a bar in the restaurant’s basement; he just wasn’t sure what form it would take.
He was partly inspired by his parents’ taste — “they kind of have an affinity for antiques” — and then there was his own decade of working on fishing boats in Alaska.
“Those are really close and cramped and with low ceilings,” he said in an interview. “Some of the cabins are really cool, and I think that probably had an effect on me.”
A “cool cabin” is an apt description of Mr. Elliott’s Bar Below Rye, almost all of which he built himself. The walls and ceiling are made of tongue-and-groove oak from an old general store in Virginia. The lighting is soft. Seats at the zinc bar (which he did not build) and tables along the wall are pleasant perches from which to enjoy first-rate cocktails ($11) and a smart selection of beers and wines, fore and aft.
It’s no surprise that Bar Below Rye, which opened last year on a quiet, mostly residential block between Havemeyer and Roebling Streets, has a facility for drinks featuring the spirit of the title: a rock-solid Old-Fashioned (one large, square ice cube provides a steady chill); the Rye Stirred (Rittenhouse overproof rye, Cocchi Americano Rosa and wormwood and Peychaud’s bitters); and the Havemeyer Cocktail, described by the bartender Casey Van Heel as the bar’s variation on a Perfect Manhattan (Rittenhouse, Carpano Antica vermouth, fino sherry, Angostura bitters, cherries brandied in-house). A shot of Russell’s Reserve — Mr. Van Heel’s considered suggestion — is a proper rye nightcap. (Mr. Van Heel is also the writer of the comic-book series The Civil Four, in which Lincoln survives the Booth assassination attempt and then battles supernatural forces of evil. It also includes a sequence in which Ulysses S. Grant becomes quite drunk. As Mr. Van Heel put it, “Having worked in bars for about 10 years definitely leaves you with a very, very deep well to draw from.”)
There are other well-made drinks here: the refreshing, rose-colored Busman’s Holiday, with Gordon’s gin, Combier triple sec, Aperol, grapefruit and lemon juice; a lush Manhattan with unblended Michter’s bourbon. Geary’s London Porter and Southern Tier I.P.A. are among the beers on tap (each $6), and the wine list includes the 2012 Castro Ventosa Mencia red ($9), a nice accompaniment to the delicious smoked pork belly ($8) and meatloaf sandwiches ($16) on Mr. Elliott’s Bar Below Rye food menu. (Happy hour runs from 7 to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 6 until 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with beer, wine and well drinks offered two for one.)
The bartenders set the tone here, and it’s relaxed. It was their idea to put candles on the outside steps, Mr. Elliott said (the intention was to signal to passers-by that the bar was open; the romantic effect of the gesture was a bonus). And they are usually responsible for the soundtrack (“Being Williamsburg, the bartenders are all musicians, so they know a lot more about music than I do,” he said). On one recent night, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album was played from start to finish (“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al” will improve just about any mood); another evening, the mix included the Beau Brummels’ 1965 hit “Laugh Laugh,” the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” all played at a level conducive to talking.
Mr. Elliott said a conversation-friendly hideaway was what he had in mind when he designed Bar Below Rye.
“We tried to create kind of a comfortable nook down there,” he said. “The whole idea is that you kind of get lost in it — you’re there, and you don’t even realize two hours went by.”
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