IN his hilarious 1987 bar guide, “The View From Nowhere,” Jim Atkinson writes about the pleasures of what he calls bar bars, defined as “real bars, bars and nothing else, institutions that exist as a sanctuary for those of us who just didn’t want to be anyplace in particular at the moment.”
The book came to mind the other night at Clandestino, a small bar on the Lower East Side. It didn’t follow all of Mr. Atkinson’s 77 “rules of the bar bar” but observed enough of them that it could potentially make the cut in a 2014 edition. Mr. Atkinson posits, for example, that “a bar is at acceptable Bar Bar darkness if the dilation-adjustment process takes one full drink.” That was pretty much the case at a table in a back corner of Clandestino on a couple of recent winter evenings.
Also going for Clandestino: pleasant bartenders serving well-chosen tap beers (Lagunitas and Guinness among them), appealing wines (almost all of them French) and solid cocktails, including a drink called the D’Amiti (Matusalem Classico rum, muddled lime, triple sec and Angostura bitters) and a version of the venerable Whiskey Mac (with Dewar’s White Label, Stone’s ginger wine and fresh ginger).
The D’Amiti and the Whiskey Mac are on a list of “drink specials,” but, as a bartender said after producing a menu, “We’re a bar — we’ll make what you want,” and that can mean a good Negroni or an Americano.
Laure Travers, the owner, opened Clandestino eight years ago because she thought the neighborhood needed the kind of bar that she would like to frequent. “I like hosting parties,” she said. “I like introducing people.”
Ms. Travers, who grew up in the suburbs of Paris, selects the wines, the playlist (“I care about music, so we do spend time making sure the music is good,” she said) and the bartenders, including Jeffrey Simon, who is a brewmaster at the Alphabet City Brewing Company and whose Easy Blonde and Dizzy Brewnette beers are on tap here.
Prices are friendly. The Alphabet City beers are $6; wines range from $8 to $10 a glass; and cocktails are $10.
Ms. Travers said she intends Clandestino to be “a well-run neighborhood bar.”
“I don’t want to make a big statement,” she said.
To that end, the exterior is so low-profile that it is easy to zip right by the place, and the interior can best be described as comfortably basic: a tin ceiling hung with fans, candles on the bar and on the mismatched tables.
One reason Ms. Travers chose the name was that “ ‘Clandestino’ makes you think of a place where people gather and talk.”
And at Clandestino, everybody’s talking, including a woman the other night who entertained a couple of friends with her suspicion that her dog walker was drinking the Amaretto she had in her apartment.
The conversation is supplemented and enlivened by a nice selection of music (Johnny Cash, Diane Birch, Lenny Kravitz and, for kicks, K. C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes”) at low to moderate volume.
Distractions are minimal.
There are some photographs on the walls, most of them black and white, and displayed behind the bar are a poster reading “Failure Is an Option” (a promotional item for a memoir by the novelist Gary Shteyngart, who has been known to have a drink here) and a commemorative bottle of wine from the 2013 baseball All-Star Game.
“It was one of my customers who brought it in, and for no particularly good reason, we put it on the shelf,” Ms. Travers said with a laugh. “I really should remove it.”
The advice here would be to leave it be.
Clandestino may or may not be a bar bar, but it’s absolutely fine the way it is.
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