Meet Bushwick’s Tradesman Bar, Where the Focus Is on Cultivating Community

Some bars are a cure for city-induced loneliness. Photos by the author.

It took Larissa Varges and Marek Gregorski two years to find the perfect home for Tradesman Bar. Originally scoping out spaces in Bushwick, the partners eventually snatched up an old, collapsing garage storefront in a sliver of the neighborhood also called East Williamsburg. The spacious interior and 2,500-square-foot backyard had sold them.

However, as Varges and her husband, Juan Martin Widger, a carpenter by trade and paternity, threw their backs into the renovations and interior decor of a building that had been vacant for seven years, they found themselves navigating through a menagerie of nightmares, from termites to feral cats. In retrospect, Varges asks herself, “What the hell was I thinking?” She can’t believe any of them thought it was a good idea.

Well, the neighborhood is forever thankful that they did.

Before Tradesman opened in March 2012, the area around the Montrose L sat, as it had for years, like a lady in waiting. Neighborhood staples like CUP, Dun-Well Doughnuts, and DuckDuck Bar were already installed along Montrose Avenue, but if you wanted a solid brunch or a drink outside the dive atmosphere, you had to make a pilgrimage one stop over to Morgan Avenue or up to Grand Street. When Tradesman arrived, the locals flocked. Five years in, Varges estimates that about “90 percent of the clientele are locals” who live within ten blocks of the bar.

Being a neighborhood local myself, it’s hard to imagine home without Tradesman just around the corner. For many in the community, it’s a weekly brunch spot, the last (or first) stop on a night out and recently became a daytime alternative to oversaturated coffee shops. While over half of the people who walk through the doors are known on a first-name basis, it remains beautifully inclusive to all (including dogs). There’s no pretense, just great people, great music, a killer happy hour until 9 p.m. and delicious drinks. If you come alone and sit at the bar, expect to make new friends.

Expect to make new friends.

Initially drawn inside by the uncomplicated, industrial decor of antique tools and wooden workbench tables, its casual vibe and outdoor patio, the excellent six-dollar Bloody Marys and well-priced brunch menu are what first brought my boyfriend and me back week after week.

The tiny kitchen, consisting of just a half-size convection oven, three small induction burners and a lot of patience, may not bode well for personalized orders, but its limitations help to inspire a delicious simplicity on the menu. It also churns out one hell of a breakfast burger and a damn tasty vegan kale Caesar salad.

While the weekly curated weekend brunch menu focuses on local and seasonal ingredients (think: top-notch Pat LaFrieda meats, Ithaca Milk, Finger Lake Farms eggs, and a mixture of CSA produce and Restaurant Depot greens), Tradesman frequently opens its weeknight kitchen to help incubate emerging pop-ups. Kreung, Bunna Café and a fantastic Nigerian pop-up have all had residencies. Other community-focused events have included a drink and draw night, live music performances and local Brooklyn art displays on the walls. I even hosted a Christmas dinner here—all you have to do is ask.

Even with a population of over 8.5 million, New York City can easily feel like a lonely place. With most apartments the size of peapods, many folks seek solace and socialization in restaurants and bars. That’s why, when we find our favorites, we carve invisible channels back and forth between them, and, sometimes, when we are lucky, they end up feeling as comfortable as home.