Un Thai-d! Whiskey Soda Lounge shuts, celeb chef to open Southern eatery in its place

Un Thai-d! Whiskey Soda Lounge shuts, celeb chef to open Southern eatery in its place
Jason Decrow / Invision / Associated Press

It is out with the cold Singha beer and in with “The Chew.”

The owner of trendy Columbia Street Thai eatery Pok Pok closed the restaurant’s adjacent bar Whiskey Soda Lounge on Friday, and is signing the venue over to celebrity chef Carla Hall, a co-host of the popular network television talk-show, who will turn it into a comfort-food restaurant.

Hall, who also competed on two seasons of reality television show “Top Chef,” appears to be opening a joint called Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen in the cosy space at the corner of Columbia and Kane streets.

“We’re heading to Brooklyn baby!” Hall wrote on Friday on her Kickstarter page, where she raised $264,703 for the prospective eatery late last year. “More specifically Cobble Hook, between Red Hook and Cobble Hill.”

Cobble Hook is not an actual place, but Whiskey Soda Lounge owner Andy Ricker confirms he recently handed the corner space in the Columbia Waterfront District over to Hall. Food blog Eater first reported the news.

Ricker said the erstwhile Thai tavern, which was best-known for serving beer slushies and Pok Pok’s signature fish-sauce chicken wings, simply wasn’t making enough money to stay open in the space. He created the watering-hole-in-the-wall two years ago to accommodate the hordes of foodies lining up for a coveted seat in his much-hyped restaurant. But he said business dwindled during the recent brutal winter, and when Pok Pok started taking reservations earlier this year, the bar didn’t have enough customers of its own to stay profitable.

Wing man: Andy Ricker says he closed has reluctantly closed Whiskey Soda Lounge on Columbia Street. But he still owns two Thai eateries on the strip.
Courtesy of Andy Ricker

“No one’s happy to see it go, but what can you do? The public has spoken and that’s the deal,” said Ricker, who also owns a second store on the strip, noodle shop Pok Pok Phat Thai — which he relocated from Manhattan to Columbia Street last year — as well as a swathe of Pok Pok spin-offs in Portland, Ore. and one in Los Angeles.

Hall will also try to make her fortune slinging poultry at the site — her eatery will specialize in Nashville hot chicken, a style of spicy fried fowl served with white bread and pickles, according to the website.

Ricker said he welcomes the clucky competitor to the block, and hopes Hall’s new outfit will bring more attention and hungry visitors to the sleepy nabe, which has no subway stop and is serviced only by the notoriously flaky B61 bus.

“Having another option down there will drive more traffic to the area,” he said. “The more interesting things you have the more the neighborhood becomes vital.”

The 12-block Columbia Waterfront District, which is flanked by Red Hook and Brooklyn Heights and cut off from Cobble Hill by the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, may be quiet but it punches well above its weight as a dining destination. The area is also home to rooftop Mexican restaurant Alma, eco-conscious cafe Orchard, artisanal coffee roaster Kings Coffee Roaster, and new craft beer bar the Hop Shop, among many others.

Brooklyn is also a popular destination for former “Top Chef” contestants opening restaurants. Season four’s Mark Simmons runs New Zealand-themed restaurant Kiwiana in Park Slope. Andrew D’Ambrosi, also from season four, cooks at Carroll Gardens cocktails and seafood joint Bergen Hill. And Dale Talde, who competed on both seasons four and eight, serves upscale pub-grub at Thistle Hill Tavern, various pig parts at Pork Slope, and Asian fusion dishes at Talde, all in Park Slope.

Winging it: Pok Pok’s famous sticky fish-sauch wings, as served at now-closed bar Whiskey Soda Lounge.
Community News Group / Bill Roundy

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz.