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Hanson Dry: Happy-Go-Lucky Highballs in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn
Hanson Dry is a cozy lounge that opened at the end of 2010 on a busy section of Fulton Street. Owners Anatoly Dubinsky, Matt Roff, and Christopher Buckley have a history of down-to-earth, cool Brooklyn spots (their resumes include Crown Heights' beer garden Franklin Park, Prospect Heights' bar and snack joint Soda Bar, and Park Slope music venue Southpaw).
It's a warm, simply designed space, with soft, dark leather banquettes and a beautiful mirror angled over the bar. One afternoon, the speakers played Nina Simone, while another evening it was Tribe Called Quest and Brazilian pop. Late in the night, when a delivery guy arrived with a snack for the bartender, someone switched the music over to Al Green and a whole bunch of sweet soul tunes.
Candles flicker on the two little wooden tables by the window and in the nook of tables in the back. There's a fenced backyard that will host more tables and chairs in the spring.
Service is laid-back and friendly. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Buckley—who still puts time in at Franklin Park—flipped on the electric kettle to make a hot toddy for a couple coming in from the cold. It wasn't on the menu but they wanted something hot and he was happy to accommodate them.
All the cocktails are priced at $9 (which seems a little steep for the highballs but reasonable for the others), wines are $8, and beers range from $5 to $8. (Note: Hanson is cash only but there's an ATM in the back).
The eponymous Hanson Dry is made with gin, vanilla liqueur, and Angostura bitters, stirred with ice, and poured over a chilled martini glass, prepped with a twist of lemon. The vanilla, despite its perfume and sweetness, wears the pants in this drink. It shouldn't, and I found it too sweet for my taste.
The Kiev Kooler, a sour cherry vodka and soda highball, is refreshing, fruity, and not sweet at all.
The Nautilus is named for Robert Fulton's famous submarine (a dreamy design, commissioned by Napoleon to cream Britain's invincible navy) but nerdy Jules Verne readers, like myself, are sure to think of the vessel from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The drink is tequila-based, splashed with cranberry, and much stronger than its pinky-orange coloring lets on.
The Tux might be the most serious on the menu—a whisky cocktail garnished with a lemon twist that's chipped at the edges like a bright round sun. It's well-balanced and served tremendously cold—a knockout. With a good friend, you could make a night of these, and should. Hanson Dry is a friendly neighborhood bar, meant for lingering and striking up conversations with strangers. It's the kind of place you'll stay longer than you meant to and be glad you did.
While it's a little annoying to not immediately know what's in a drink just by glancing at the list, it's also—if you can just relax about the whole cocktail thing for a minute—kind of wonderful. There's something about a menu without brands or daunting ingredient lists that feels really good.
That said, the spare descriptors aren't always the best word choices. The Hanson Dry, described as "Gin Bitters Vanilla Even" might be better off with "Sweet" tagged on the end. While in listings like the Hayterade, described as "Rum Punchy Sweet," the flavors are even more of a mystery.
But no big deal. If you want to know about a drink, you'll just talk to your bartender, which is fun and soul-mending and something you should get in the habit of doing anyway. He'll tell you what's in the drinks quite simply, without walking through the recipes or fussing over the origin of ingredients. Why? Because remember, friends, this why we go to bars: to talk and to drink, but not necessarily to talk about drinks.
Thanks for the reminder, Hanson Dry, of what a solid neighborhood spot should be like: cozy, unpretentious and close to the subway.