Last Friday, Juno — John Barclay’s stylish new restaurant, bar, and coffee spot just down the way from his raucous Bushwick dance club, Bossa Nova Civic Club — “quietly opened” its doors. When I stopped by yesterday, just a few people were sitting pretty, peering around the place (and allegedly dining too), inspecting it like a brand new spaceship had just landed off the Central Avenue stop. There was no pounding music to be heard, nor a fog machine in sight.
“We do have a DJ booth here, but it’s still quiet enough where you can have conversation,” Barclay explained. “We’ll be playing more mature stuff than my other place, for sure. Stuff that pairs well with dinner— funk, R&B, world music. It’s supposed to feel a little more romantic in here, a little more adult.”
Indeed, the music was turned down to a talkable level, and there was un-ironic candle light in lieu of shooting dance lights. “Our main idea is we want something that functions with diner hours, bistro-style, that’s open all day and all night,” Barclay explained. Juno is no doubt upscale, but it maintains a laid-back sensibility that aims to “feel like a community,” per Barclay. “We’re looking to cultivate a social environment like we did at Bossa, but not necessarily be dependent on alcohol or dance music.”
So what, you might ask, convinced Barclay to open an upscale diner just a beer bottle’s throw from Bossa?
“Ahhh hmm, I mean I live right here and I guess it just sort of felt like a date spot was missing on this particular stretch of Myrtle Avenue,” he said. Barclay, known more for his DIY doings, says he has “managed a couple of restaurants, neither of which are notable,” but he didn’t necessarily enjoy his time at them. Still, when the “small group of investors” behind Bossa Nova told him they wanted to do something fresh on the ground floor of a newly purchased building, he pitched the idea of “a nice restaurant with diner hours, because there’s sort of a lot of things right around here that are missing,” he explained. “Being right at the train stop, I know when I get on the train in the morning, I sure would like to grab a coffee right before I get on. The spot already had a liquor license, so it was like might as well do alcohol, and what doesn’t exist right around here is a really good cocktail program.”
To that end, he recruited Jordan Schwartz, who brought some inspiration from the “mad scientist of the cocktail world” Dave Arnold. You can see Arnold’s influence in the Budgie Smuggler; “acid-adjusting OJ” eliminates the need for loading the cocktail, already made sweet by the fruit sugars, with another sugar, like simple syrup, to cut the acidity. Schwartz said that “basically everything” is house made — from the syrups to the mint cremes.
To make sure he had “a good team,” Barclay put the coffee program in the hands of Nic Fera, who has over 15 years of experience in the coffee industry, splitting his time between big-time roasters like Blue Bottle and small coffee shops like Propellor in Greenpoint. Fera’s using beans from Panther, an “underrepresented and delicious” roaster based out of Miami. “This is a pretty quickly developing area,” Fera said, “but it’s still a little off the beaten path, so having a coffee like Panther, gives it a bit more a destination-vibe than a local-coffee-shop kind of vibe.”
Barclay also sourced his team from his network of DIY friends. “I know Nic because we met through the warehouse party scene,” Barclay said. (Nic added that he’s “spent a lot of time at Bossa Nova.”) Salvatore Crisanti, the executive chef, is a Bushwick native who’s steeped in the area, with a resume counting nearby heavyweights like Five Leaves, Traif, and Northeast Kingdom. Barclay has “a friend through the dance community scene,” Mantra Mundana, in the kitchen too.
In case you’re wondering, drink prices ($12 for all the original cocktails) are reasonable for what you’re getting and pretty much on par with places like The Narrows. “If you look at the numbers, we could charge higher prices, but we don’t because people around here aren’t used to paying that,” said Schwartz, referring to the prices of booze. Draft beer ranges from $5 (for a Narragansett) to between $7 and $8 for selections like Lagunitas Pilsner, Greenpoint Harbor Porter, and Shacksbury Farmhouse Cider. And a glass from a selection of ten wines will cost you $11.
In a rare arrangement, the head bartender and the barista boss have made nice nice. Schwartz has tapped three different mediums of coffee (espresso, cold brew, and one that stretches the imagination a little bit more — drip coffee) and spun them into a variety of creative drinks including the Juno Irish Coffee (Irish whiskey, Fernet Branca, coffee, and mint creme), and Cut to Black (gin, orange liquer, Amaro di Angostura, and cold brew).
The food floats a similar line between fancy, inventive, and approachable. The General Tsal’s Eggplant (a “play on words with Chef Sal and General Tsao,” Nic told us) is a fancier, vegetarian take on a Chinese takeout classic, and $17 for a monstrous plate of food. The misleadingly simple-sounding dish simply known as “Chicken” ($18), is a beautiful piece of “whatever cut we have that day,” Barclay explained (yesterday is was a big ol’ thigh) with cumin and roasted jalapeño aioli, sprawled out on a bed of red quinoa. Much of the menu is similarly rotating: the “Fish” ($23) which comes with pumpkin crepe, apple, and fennel for example, is whatever catch is appropriate for that day. Last night it was delicately sliced monkfish.
The food menu will be adjusted a little bit from where it’s currently at (so we can’t share pics, sorry). Barclay said they’re currently working to perfect a burger and fries combo, which will be priced around $16. “We’re going to expand the menu to cheaper meals like breakfast, lunch, and late-night — because not everyone wants to be this fancy all the time,” Barclay admitted. He mentioned “disco fries, or something like that” as a possibility for late-night offerings — “stuff for drunk people.” Pierogies are also on the way.
In the meantime, the fancy food matches the environs. Barclay described the design as a “joint effort,” and for the overall vision, he drew inspiration from some of his favorite spots around town including Hotel Delmano, Marlow & Sons, Café Select, Five Leaves. “I’m sure everybody here has their own reference points as well,” he said. (Nic, who designed the espresso area which includes a take-out window, said he was inspired by “old soda fountains.”)
The place has an old-school, Greek diner (or where I’m from, Coney Island) aesthetic, crossed with an elegant lounge with 52 seats. There are three separate levels of seating — a downstairs area with a few tables, an upstairs loft with half-booths lining the walls, and a white marble bar complete with rotating white-leather bar stools. Palm trees flank the corners, and white subway tiles and a mosaic-tiled floor bring it all together.
“Hopefully it feels vibey in here,” Barclay said.
Click below for more pics, including dinner and brunch drink menus.
From left: shrimp n grits, coffee, brunch drinks, dinner drinks
Correction: a previous version of this article stated that bar manager Jordan Schwartz worked with Dave Arnold at Milk & Honey, which was inaccurate. Schwartz has not worked with Arnold, nor has Arnold worked at Milk & Honey.