After Life, a new cocktail bar in Bushwick, opened with very little fanfare in early April. By that point, Andrew Porteus hadn’t even set up an instagram account for his new bar – but curious locals have been trickling nonetheless through the doors at 983 Flushing Avenue. Anyone who is serious about the Bushwick brunch scene will recognize the address as the former home of 983 Bushwick Living Room, noted home of good vibes and stellar huevos rancheros to soak up last night’s hangover.
983 closed at the start of the pandemic and this was widely lamented. A rare breed of a neighborhood spot, you could always expect two things: the wait on weekends was probably going to be an hour and the tater tots were worth it. Despite its location on one of Bushwick’s busiest industrial thoroughfares, 983 was distinctly inviting, managing to evade the pretension that often accompanies the longer brunch lines of Brooklyn.
For Porteus, the newly renovated address feels like home. When he was 19, he spent a summer in college delivering food for Life Cafe, which occupied the very same address before 983 Bushwick did. An outpost of the “Rent”-famous East Village eatery, Life Cafe opened its Brooklyn location in 2001 and was part of the first in a wave of restaurants on Flushing Avenue that sought to cater to the burgeoning artist community that was putting roots down in industrial Bushwick. In 2012, Life Cafe shuttered its doors and 983 Bushwick took its place.
After graduating from Arizona State, Porteus moved back to New York and to 983 Flushing Avenue. He returned to Life Cafe briefly before they closed and was offered a server position at the new 983 Bushwick. From there he worked his way up the ladder, eventually managing the establishment, before leaving to hone his craft at cocktail bars across the city, including nearby standbys like The Narrows and Forrest Point, as well as Hotel Delmano in Williamsburg. But Bushwick kept calling and Porteus returned to the neighborhood as beverage director at Otis.
When the pandemic hit and the restaurant industry shuttered, Porteus moved to Rockaway to learn to surf and 983 closed indefinitely. Rather than treading water with takeout and to-go cocktails, owner Darin Rubell wanted to do something new with the space. He approached Porteus about working to keep the storied location alive with his partner James Frankhouse. Porteus was in, but with one condition: the bar had to be called After Life, a cheeky nod to both Porteus’ beginnings at Life Cafe and to an address that, like so many in New York, keeps being reborn.
Porteus hopes After Life will grow naturally into a neighborhood wateringhole that echoes the soul of its predecessors. After Life, like Porteus, has grown up a bit since his days at 983 Bushwick. “I wanted to start creating something, and have it be mine,” he says. The space is carefully designed to foster an open social space that invites chatting with strangers. A row of supple leather banquettes have replaced the wooden tables, while the bar top has been refinished and decor touches are noticeably more sophisticated. After Life coyly asks: “Meet me for a martini after work?,” rather than “Should we get another mimosa?”
Porteus gets most animated when talking about the details in his cocktails. The menu is just six drinks, favoring consistency and craftsmanship. Many of them are twists on classics, with subtle tropical notes and a delicately mature mix of flavors that only come together after you’ve been around the block a few times. Each drink feels like an alchemical signature — Porteus’ “Bar Cart” is a tropical twist on a negroni with dry-vermouth, saline, and nutmeg, while his “Mema’s Dirty Martini” features a house made brine that could convince even the most die-hard martini skeptic.
But will there be brunch? It’s the question Porteus says he fields most often, the result of 983 Bushwick’s looming legacy. “I promise, brunch is coming back,” he says. He’s not sure, just yet, what brunch will look like at After Life.
But locals shouldn’t fret – 983’s chef, Baudel Tadeo is still making magic happen in the kitchen. For now, After Life is serving up a spread of bar plates that are plenty satisfying. Like any self-respecting cocktail lounge, the fries are elegantly thin, crispy, and seasoned perfectly. Other highlights include a flat bread with truffled celeriac and the ‘spreads’ plate that comes with hummus, maple butter, and labne.
The surreality of being back where he started is not lost on Porteus.
“I almost thought it was gonna be a little embarrassing,” he admits “but it’s a good story about finding success in an industry that isn’t always the easiest.” Flashbacks are not uncommon. While training new staff at After Life, he would vividly recall his early days at 983 Bushwick.
“‘How to hold more than one plate, more than one glass,’ you know?” He says this with a soft smile, tenderly tapping the freshly refinished bartop. “I learned it here.”
After Life is located at 983 Flushing Avenue. Follow their Instagram page to keep up with their hours.
Top image taken on Megan Paetzhold.
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