“Full-circle” doesn’t quite do justice to the neat biographical symmetry achieved this summer by Ricardo Velez, owner of the brand new Halsey Ale House, that opened August 22. A second generation Dominican (his mother arrived in the U.S. in the early ‘80s and navigated a very different Brooklyn, knitting sweaters in Williamsburg), not only has he opened the place just two blocks from his childhood home, but previously worked sweeping floors and washing windows in the space’s previous incarnation, a pawn shop.
“I saw everything,” Ricardo laughed. “There were lines of people waiting to pawn their stuff at 8 in the morning; if we got there late, they’d get very angry.”
Sitting kitty-corner from modest Irving Square Park, where Halsey and Wilson streets intersect, Velez’ new ale house sits in a largely residential area of Bushwick.
It is a relatively tranquil state-of-affairs that seems to suit Velez just fine. Since conceiving of the project two years ago, the longtime hotel professional envisioned Halsey Ale House as a place that wouldn’t piss off the residents, but instead provide them with gab, grub and grog. The first free, the latter two priced neighborhood-appropriate. But it took some work convincing the local community board of his good intentions.
“A guy from the board, Ezekiel, came here and we worked together to make sure the space benefited the community. I don’t want it to be a loud obnoxious place. Bushwick is about that chill vibe. We can leave all that noise to the city,” said Velez. “[The community board] was worried, because a lot of people opening these types of places aren’t all that straightforward.”
A similarly down-to-earth point of view is expressed on the establishment’s single page menu, clearly designed with accessibility in mind. Corn on the cob and bacon-wrapped dates (both $5) make up the menu’s appetizer portion, while a sausage platter with sauerkraut ($9), the house cheeseburger ($8), the Ale House Burger ($10 and includes “spicy honey stout bacon” and “IPA beer cheese dip”), and a chicken sandwich ($8), provide more filling options.
This being primarily a drinking establishment—one located in a part of Brooklyn which sees the co-existence of varying income levels and cultural backgrounds—Velez has stocked his bar with something to please a wide range of tastes.
There’s the standard “beer and a shot” deal, and on the higher end there are prestige products, like Lagavulin 16 Scotch. But the majority of Halsey’s options sit roughly in the middle. Their cocktail program consists of populist delights such as a bloody mary, a cucumber gin mojito, and a jalapeno margarita.
If all Velez offered was food and drink, Halsey Ale House would be a perfectly fine addition to Bushwick’s ever-metastasizing restaurant and bar scene. The bar, however, stands out in its sense of pride, both in a bygone Bushwick and the zone’s present iteration.
The interior offers several Bushwick-relevant cultural signifiers, like the large, multi-colored mural by noted street artist Jason Naylor. In addition, the small stairway leading to the basement is fashioned to look like a subway entrance, complete with a perfect replica of the Halsey L station sign.
“This building is over 120 years old,” said Velez, a sweep of his arm taking in the interior’s impressive expanse of exposed brick. “I actually have a picture of the place back when it was a fruit stand. There was an outside cafe, as well. People walked by with top hats, or rode horse drawn carriages, and the L train ran right down Wilson Street here.”
Velez took pains during the two-year transition from pawn shop to restaurant in preserving the building’s charm. But he’s also interested in highlighting a bit of the buildings more recent past, one that must provoke a twinge of nostalgia.
Bushwick’s racial demographics have undergone a massive shift since Velez’ days as a kid playing in the summer spray of a fire hydrant. But this dyed-in-the-wool Bushwick man has not only remained here, but also added a piece of himself to the neighborhood.
Hours: Monday – Thursday 4 p.m. to 3 a.m., Friday – Saturday 12 p.m. to 4 a.m., Sunday 12 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
For more updates, follow Halsey Ale House on Instagram.
All images courtesy of Halsey Ale House.
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