Last Friday night, new restaurant 1 Knickerbocker celebrated its official opening night with a party. The 100+ person restaurant boasted a colorful crowd, faces young and old, Bushwick locals and Manhattanites, all basking in its art deco style. The classy atmosphere of the restaurant pays tribute to the speakeasy it once housed, and includes incredible decor, a plethora of high-end items on their menu (from seared duck breast to Japan’s most expensive single malt whiskey), live music, and a welcoming waitstaff, drawing a crowd that’s both sophisticated and daring in their dining choices. Jesse Levitt, with his partner Aimee Arciuolo, describes the restaurant as a place that serves “adventurous, speakeasy-inspired food and drink using high quality ingredients,” and we’d have to agree.
The evening’s tables booked up ahead of time, and even with full two rooms of seating, which make 1 Knickerbocker easily the largest restaurant in the area, turned away many patrons at the door. Their location, slightly off the beaten track, is where Knickerbocker Avenue begins, branching off of Johnson Ave, with only one neighbor- Living Bread Deli, a bodega and also a defunct music venue (where Bushwick Daily once hosted a showcase). But in actuality, it’s just a five minute walk from the Morgan L stop, and we’re not worried they’ll have poor foot traffic. The venue is tucked away on a dark and unassuming on a corner spot, filling a space that once belonged to a real cabaret and speakeasy. According to Levitt, the speakeasy went by the names Arctic Saloon or Arctic Bar and Grill, and in the space musical revues were held at least into the late 1930’s–AND, there is some evidence that it was used a brothel during part of this time as well. It was later repurposed as a factory producing textiles among other industrial uses. Thinking of all the scandalous moments that went down within these walls is a thrill aside your mock turtle soup!
Appetizers were stunning, including fried pig ears and a charcuterie board…
Inside, it’s cozy and full of warm lights, booths and romantic tables filling the spacious back room, a large bar stretching across the right wall with excellent wines, spirits, and cocktails. Their menu features bold and the artful food pairings in the spirit of early turn-of-the-century cuisine. Though items on the menu seem rare to our palettes, they were once staples in upper-class dining traditions. We tried a chef’s tasting menu featuring the restaurant’s best offerings, including some menu items they’re already becoming well-known for. Many of these treats appear in the starters column, meat-centric dishes like the “Pig Neuton”– like a fig neuton, but with smoky bacon flavorings and a sprinkle of salt. Also noteworthy were the fried pig ears, which were crunchy and wonderfully coated, and though not our favorite, definitely worth trying. Their charcuterie board is a dream, featuring fresh, unique cheeses, duck spreads, pates, hard boiled eggs, pickled vegetables and even sweetbreads (bull testicles). The restaurant sources locally whenever possible, and all of their pork comes from Oink and Gobble farm in Interloken, NY.
Dinner features many choices, our favorite being the crispy pork cheek!
The main courses are meat heavy, though there are many options for vegetarians in the hearty salads, sides, and veggie platters (chickpea and brussel sprouts salad, red cabbage spaetzle, roast celery hearts) and for pescetarians in the plentiful seafood menu (oysters, sablefish). We stuck to the meat and were not disappointed– in fact, the pork cheek may be one of the most luscious dishes in Bushwick. Breaded in salted and spices, the deep-colored pork cheek was tender to the point of falling apart, and truly delicious. Atop a platter of rye berries (think risotto but with a more satisfying bite), pickled bitter greens, and a succulent brown butter carrot puree, it balanced textures magnificently. Also well worth your time are the oyster mushrooms, blossoming into meaty bites in a marrow sauce. Dessert featured a fantastic stout and butternut squash fritter, literally fried battered squash with ice cream and praline.
To say we are smitten with 1 Knickerbocker is an understatement– everyone in the joint was pleased to welcome the romantic and historic restaurant, full of great food and entertainment, to the hood. Join 1 Knickerbocker for a special occasion, like their Valentine’s pre-fixe next Friday, for live music on weekends (starting soon!) and brunch starting next weekend. Like them on Facebook for more information about special events.