We like the way bars are going these days– which is to say backwards. In the past year we’ve been given a slew of cheeky tiki bars– there’s El Cortez, plus Dromedary on the way. But unless you’re willing to risk colada-induced diabetes, or you’ve turned into an actual diamond-encrusted yacht because you’ve been price gouging HIV patients, downing elaborate bourbon-filled ceramic shark heads like the ones at Mother of Pearl on the reg isn’t gonna fly. Instead, pony up to Ridgewood’s newest old man bar, Bonus Room, and order yourself a sensible drink.
The vibe here is something like a Midwest dive bar– complete with pinball machines, velvet paintings, and tchotchkes you might find at a VFW hall. I told Gina Leone and Ben Warren, the proprietors of the Bonus Room, that their bar reminded me of some Detroit watering holes close to my heart. “Nailed it,” they wrote me back in an email. “Ben was born just outside of Detroit and still has family out there, and Gina’s ex is from Detroit.”
Gina and Ben are the same power couple behind The Bodega and Heavy Woods, both neighborhood institutions in Bushwick. But Ben says this is their “first actual bar-bar,” meaning “something a little more jagged and unrefined than our other bars.”
Despite the abundance of trendy vintage items, the place manages to avoid looking like it’s stocked with Urban Outfitters-branded souvenirs from a Wes Anderson movie. Instead, you may feel like you’re in the same bar that Uncle Jim Bob would have to be carried out of every Saturday night, the proprietress trailing him, shaking her head. This might explain why I muttered at a patron craning his neck over an obnoxiously glowing screen, “Gawd, your iPad is ruining this for me.”
The owners jumping-off point was to model their bar after a “game room” (hence “Bonus Room”) and “a dad’s basement bar with a twist.” But they handed over the reigns to head bartender Mandy Jo Reinier, who took design notes from a 1974 album cover: Little Beaver’s Party Down. She stuck to the same olive green and brown hues, adding similar lamps and wood-veneer details like the ones depicted on Beav’s record, and somehow managed to capture the R&B musician’s classic-rock style.
The look and feel closely resemble Birdy’s of Bushwick, with maybe a hint of Williamsburg’s Rocka Rolla, and even a bit of Bootleg Bar. “Some of the design elements definitely pay homage to the many bars we’ve seen in Brooklyn and elsewhere,” Gina said. “We have no shame now. Originality is so overrated– the trick is to steal from decent bars.”
When I stopped by on Tuesday night, a gaggle of friends were gathered around, playing Risk (presumably from the stash of board games here) at one of the dark wood tables. A girl sat alone in the corner, sipping her drink and reading while nestled into the Chartreuse-green tufted lounge seating. The bar is dark enough (with spots of warm light from Schlitz lanterns, Miller neon, and hanging, bulbous lamps) so that after-work drinkers can perch on a stool and collectively sigh over their beers, all at a safe distance from the outside world.
For the less contemplative, Bonus Room has a slew of classic bar distractions: a green-felt pool table, an old-school vinyl jukebox, and two table-top Pac-Man consoles. Pool is $1.50 per game. “We may even go down to $1 if we get, let’s say, 100 petitioners,” Gina said.
This little corner of Ridgewood that Bonus Room has joined (their neighbors include the DIY venue Trans-Pecos and Industry 1332, the area’s first reclaimed-wood, charcuterie banality) is actually closer to the owners’ (new) home. “We moved from the Jefferson stop to an apartment one block away from Bonus Room two years ago,” Ben explained. He found that the mashup of “industrial warehouses, lofts, brownstone- type buildings” felt “a lot like [how] Jefferson felt seven years ago.”
The owners have brought along the same chill prices you’ll find at The Bodega and Heavy Woods. A can of PBR and a shot will cost you the standard $5. During happy hour (Monday through Friday from 2 pm to 8 pm) patrons are treated to $2 off wells (normally $6), draft beer (fancy beers for $7, ‘gansett for $4), tap Prosecco (usually priced at $8 a glass), and the house red and white (norms $7 apiece). When you’re feeling frou-frou, there are $10 classics like the Old Fashioned and Hemingway Daiquiri.
Weekends are an optimal time to check out the bar if you’re into freebies, because BR will be handing out free bagels. On Sunday Bloody Sunday, as head bartender Mandy Jo Reinier is calling it, guests who bring in tampons or pads to donate to a local women’s shelter will get a free tomatillo Bloody Mary. “Mandy really wanted to do something for the community,” Gina explained. “The least-donated product to women’s shelters is feminine hygiene products.”
I asked the owners who they were trying to appeal to with a bar like this one– could it be the same “super young” crowd that the Times found at BC’s kindred soul, Birdy’s? That “friendly mélange of Brooklyn types who could be extras in a ‘Girls’ episode, with a few Marnies from Manhattan thrown in”?
Um, even if such a group exists (though I interpret that vignette to mean, simply “Millennials, ugh”), Ben said they’re limiting themselves to no such sliver of humanity. “We always try to keep our places inclusive and open to everyone– we like going into places where it’s not so super typecast. This could be a place where the neighborhood could really party down.”
Bonus Room is located at 991 Wyckoff Avenue in Ridgewood. The bar is currently in “soft opening phase” until their launch party on Saturday, January 16 starting at 6 pm with drink specials, music (starting at 10 pm) and free nachos, going till late.