There’s something about walking into a
bar and feeling like you own it.
Not in that "Cheers" kind of way where everyone yells, "Norm!" (which would more likely cause me to look over my shoulder as nobody has ever called me that). No, it’s a vibe you get from the surroundings, the music and most importantly the bartenders. In a bar you "own" they seem genuinely happy to see you - not just your cash.
You feel as comfortable as if you were home. So does the guy sitting next to you. He owns the place, too.
That’s the vibe at Magnetic Field, a bar on Atlantic Avenue between Henry and Hicks streets in Brooklyn Heights, which opened last winter.
The relatively small space packs a lot of punch. The dark-wood bar can seat about a dozen people, and then against the opposite wall, in a slightly elevated section are vintage red-vinyl booths. There are 12 beers on tap and the lines are cleaned regularly so the beer always tastes incredibly fresh.
The bar also features a couple of specialty drinks, like the locally inspired Promenade: Van Gogh pineapple vodka, cranberry juice and a splash of soda.
In the back is a pool table - a rarity these days - and despite what you may have read elsewhere, the red felt was not on it when original Magnetic Field partners Stephen Freeman and William and Cena Crane took over the joint.
For years, the spot, on the north side of Atlantic Avenue, was the gay bar Friends Tavern. The pool table from Friends is still there, but despite what one reviewer recently wrote, Freeman installed the red felt on the table himself. (He also kept - but moved - the glittery disco ball hanging over the pool table.)
And he wants you to know that.
That’s because Freeman and the Cranes took a very hands-on approach in creating their bar, which they call "Brooklyn’s own rock ’n’ roll cocktail lounge," but are just as likely to label the Heights’ great neighborhood bar. (The name comes from one of the Cranes’ favorite bands, The Magnetic Fields.)
It’s both, thanks in large part to their fourth partner, Lee Greenfeld, who came aboard about six months after the bar opened and handles all the bookings.
Yes, bookings! The bar hosts indie bands just about every Saturday (the pool table area becomes the stage) and DJs Thursday through Saturday. And that’s what Freeman, the Cranes and Greenfeld hope will make Magnetic Field, which already draws great crowds on Friday and Saturday nights, a top venue.
Greenfeld, a graphic designer, has worked for a couple of indie record labels and also publishes Sound Views, and indie music and culture magazine. Through his work with the magazine and Go Cart Records, he began booking bands.
"We book everything from alt-country to punk to new wave and even hip-hop," Greenfeld said, admitting that the bar does lean toward punk and garage-style bands.
The jukebox, which bares a sign reading, "Free for now" (it has been since Magnetic Field opened), reflects that ’60s-garage-punk sensibility with everyone from the Dead Kennedys to the Kinks to The The to Elvis Presley. And they keep it fresh, willfully accepting records from patrons and mixing in from the owners’ and staff’s own collections.
Besides the live acts, Greenfeld also books the DJs. Most of them appear once a month, except for DJ Blackulove, who "spins you the sexy" every other Friday night. Blackulove also hosts the Monday night "open turntables night." Anyone with the desire can just show up at 9 pm with their LPs or CDs and DJ Blackulove will give them 30 minutes to show their stuff.
The DJs run the gamut from ’60s soul and garage to hip-hop to Brazilian.
[Check GO’s Brooklyn Nightlife listings for weekly DJ and band updates.]
But even if Magnetic Field becomes the venue in Brooklyn on Friday and Saturday nights, Sundays will always be my favorite. "Made in Brooklyn Sundays" feature $2 Brooklyn Lager drafts until 8 pm (after which they’re just $3 ’til closing) and Cyclones games on the two TVs. And Freeman, who usually man’s the bar until about 8 pm on Sundays, agrees.
"I can slow down," he says. "If someone’s here on a Sunday afternoon and wants to learn how to pour a draft, I can get him behind the bar and let him learn, pour a pint of Guinness." He also makes a mean Bloody Mary.
A sales rep for a software company, Freeman was supposed to meet a friend and business associate for a meeting on the 82nd floor of one of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Too much drinking the night before saved his life as he had a hangover that morning and never made it to the meeting. His friend never made it out.
The impact of that day, combined with his bosses pushing him to exploit the event to increase sales made Freeman rethink his career choice. His birthday was Sept. 12. He quit on the 13th.
Freeman knew Will and Cena Crane from when they all worked for the same dot-com, which like most, went belly-up. They decided to find a venue in Brooklyn - the four partners live in Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope and Carroll Gardens - to open a bar and nightspot.
"It took like two weeks to find the place," said Freeman. "I wanted a neighborhood bar and Will, who’s a musician, wanted a music place."
Kate, who bartends Sunday nights, just left for a three-week vacation. When she returns, ask her to make you one of her margaritas.
She makes a great one, but more important, she’ll make you feel like you own the joint.
Magnetic Field, 97 Atlantic Ave. at Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights, is open seven days a week, Monday-Wednesday, 5 pm-4 am, and Thursday through Sunday, 3 pm-4 am. The average non-well drink is $5.50; tap beer is $4. American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted. (718) 854-0069.