Squeezing in a bite at the bar
Head bartender Ian Douglas Hardie holds his post in a white oxford cloth shirt, a dark vest, and slim jeans, an old-timey uniform that fits in with Huckleberry Bar’s large wooden bar, low-hanging stained glass lamps and antiqued mirrors. He has a sandy-colored beard and wears wire-rimmed eyeglasses he uses to inspect glassware for spots in the dim light. As customers settle onto cushioned black barstools to savor cocktails that go by cheeky names like “Drinking At The Gym” and “I Think I Love You,” he pours glasses of house wine, a Monday night special. His rolled-up sleeves reveal a black line tattoo of a curvaceous women dancing on his forearm.
Huckleberry Bar sits between a Dominican barbershop and a real estate office on a block of Vietnamese, Mexican and Indian restaurants punctuated by new dive bars. It’s the only craft cocktail lounge on Grand Street, the main drag through East Williamsburg. In the midst of all these take-out options, Hardie has no time to indulge. Work’s so busy, he hasn’t eaten since 10 a.m.
About a decade ago, Hardie began bartending at a white-tablecloth restaurant in Seattle when a regular staffer called in sick. His manager moved him up from clearing tables to shaking martinis. “I had no idea what I was doing,” said the 28-year-old drummer of his first shift behind the bar.
But the work schedule fit with his musician lifestyle and he made good money in tips. He moved to Bushwick in 2007 and had enough experience that the owners of Huckleberry invited him to be a part-owner and manager. Now he’s making bartending into a career.
“I have less time for the band now that I’m focusing on being a bar manager,” Hardie says. His bandmates in Baby Brother, a classic rock group, also work as bartenders at restaurants across the city.
Hardie handcrafts some drinks that come with slow-melting ice cubes the size of a tumbler glass, sprinkles of Pechaud’s Aromatic Cocktail Bitters, and zest of lemon rubbed around the rim. A few customers swirl their cocktails under their noses, close their eyes to take the first sip, let their eyebrows perk up as they smack their lips and smile. Others order a Lone Star bottled beer or a house wine before the Monday night screening of an Indiana Jones installment.
“It’s a neighborhood place,” says Hardie, “We haven’t been able to break in as a destination spot.”
The Sunday “Mad Men” viewing parties and Monday movie nights bring in a crowd of regulars who nosh on the limited menu items: grilled ham and cheese sandwiches or pigs in a blanket.
“We keep things simple,” says Hardie, who grew up eating similar American fare at his home in Spokane, Washington. His parents both worked at the Spokane Community Theater, his father as a lighting designer and his mother as a director and choreographer for local musicals. Between their schedules, both parents shared the responsibilities in the kitchen. Some nights the Hardies cooked pork chops and potatoes. Other nights, it was a one-dish meal, like pasta.
“We didn’t have a conventional family dinner,” he says. “No prayers before we ate. We didn’t even have a kitchen table. It was more like ‘Soup’s on! Come and get it’ and we’d all go sit wherever we could find a place.”
Hardie grew up as an only child. Now, he shares a Bushwick walk-up apartment with two roommates.
Thanks to his late-night schedule, the only meal he cooks is breakfast: eggs, scrambled, with a side of crispy bacon, though he says sunny side up is a nice change. Occasionally, it’s his only meal until a late dinner break. He figures that he works about 30 hours a week managing, and 25 to 30 hours bartending, depending on how busy business gets.
Throughout the night, Hardie serves lightly buttered popcorn alongside French 75s, a frothy blend of gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar served in a shallow champagne coupe. Customers pour in 2-for-1 house wines and the showing of “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark” on a wall-sized projection screen. The bar is so slammed with 20-somethings that Hardie doesn’t get to eat until 10:30 p.m. He orders a complimentary shift meal from the bar: white cheddar baked macaroni and cheese and Italian-sausage-in-a-blanket, served with a light mayo and grain mustard sauce.
Hardie sits down at a round cocktail table decorated with one flickering tea light, which is something of a luxury. On busy Saturdays, he often dashes to the back hallway and eats standing at the shelving unit, shoveling in food as fast as he can so he can get back out on the floor. Tonight, he sets out his white paper napkin, fork and glass of water.
“I’m usually just thirsty on the job,” says Hardie. He waits to have a cocktail until after work, usually something simple like whiskey on the rocks or a shot and a beer. “The funny thing about being a bartender is, you just don’t want to make a fuss.”
Hardie waits for his baked macaroni and cheese to cool so he can eat as fast as possible.
“I have to check my work email.” As he pulls his phone out of his pocket, a bottle opener falls to the floor and he plops it on the table next to his fork. “Comes with the job. It’s the first chance I’ve gotten to look at my phone since we opened at 5 p.m.”
He scrolls through his email. Finally, he takes a bite of cheddar shells, and then pops an egg-washed sausage-in-a-blanket into his mouth.
He keeps an eye on the bar as he notices customers shuffling around in their seats. The bar-back, Hardie’s assistant who stocks the spirits and ice, serves drinks while Hardie eats his dinner, which takes all of 10 minutes.
“But I’ve never timed myself,” he says.Tags: bartender, Brooklyn, comfort food