Ridgewood’s The Seneca may expect an uptick in customers next week, as scorning ex-lovers bring photographs of their soon-to-be forgotten to shred in exchange for free drinks, part of a self-care-culture-meets-Marie-Kondo-style activity, which will be taking place there on Valentine’s Day.
These hordes of anti-romantics and freeloaders alike may be excited to learn, also, that this Ridgewood bar is also a restaurant, with eats at reasonable rates. It is the latest adventure of Kaelin Ballinger, who used to run marketing for the currently hibernating music venue Webster Hall before it went corporate and later tried at length to get a bar started called the Mul-Bay Cocktail Lounge, on Mulberry Street in Chinatown. It is perhaps the sensibility of the latter extinguished dream that Ballinger brings to The Seneca, which is both on Seneca Avenue and mere blocks away from the Seneca M station.
The full service kitchen that accompanies The Seneca’s two-page beer list (Cigar City Maduro Ale, Gun Hill Void Of Light, Two Roads Passionfruit Gose, etc.) is remarkably industrious: burgers, skewers, grain bowls and so on.
The simpler things are better. The burger, for instance, is an achievement in barfare: larger than a slider but small enough to hold in your hand without making a mess. It tastes good, with a slightly chargrilled aftertaste. The fries are even better. They come in bundles of short shoestring shoots, taste like slightly burnt butter, and are worth ordering on their own.
The more ambitious dishes invite greater risks. The most appetizing vegetarian option is the grain bowl, which comes in the form of a kale salad anchored by a base of farro. The less veggie-inclined can add chicken or steak to this.
The chicken club sandwich was surprisingly cumbersome and requested some disassembly. More rewarding are the breakfast tacos, which are available during brunch hours. A single strip of honey-sweetened bacon is lined along the soft shell of one of these and that’s heaven.
The club sandwiches, wrapped in the casually remembered experience of catered toothpicks and platters, speak deepest to the vibe of this place.
The Seneca is a small fortress of pastel-colored chic guarded by seaworthy bartenders in late-career Wes Anderson-attire. The most impressive attribute of this small castle is its sheer size: somewhere far to the back is a pool table, and even a pile of board games bought at charity stores next to a shelf of unused cookbooks. The booth tables, of which there are plenty, can seat large groups.
Before the Seneca arrived here early last year, the bar that preceded it was a Ridgewood early hype-era bar called Bierleichen, which Gothamist had bequeathed the neighborhood’s “First Brooklyn Bar,” a reading that suggests it was the beginning of something, maybe Williamsburg. Fortunately, many of the “99-cent shops, bodegas, liquor stores” nearby remain, largely undisturbed by their mobile new neighbors. If the Seneca is anything, it’s the neighborhood’s first post-Brooklyn bar, a sign-post that knows its place and sits in it.
Cover photo courtesy of author.