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Let’s Punch Up the Natural Wine and Erotica Bar in Brooklyn

Right now, Boerum Hill's Anaïs is not that erotic, not really a bar.

(Hell Gate)

To lay my cards on the table, when I read in Grub Street a couple weeks ago that there was a "new Boerum Hill bar for skin-contact chardonnay and vintage erotica," my reaction was derisive, and I wasn't the only one. "This sounds like a Portlandia sketch," read one Instagram comment on a post co-published by the news outlet and its subject, echoed by a meme tweeted by comedian George Civeris. The Grub Street piece introduces the bar by saying its owner, the restaurateur Henry Rich, "wanted to make it feel like a home." "We thought about what was missing from this area," Rich is quoted as saying of the neighborhood. (Looking at a Google Maps search reveals what I would probably say is a sufficient number of natural wine bars within walking distance, but that's a matter of perspective.)

But after visiting it on Monday night, I must ambivalently report that Anaïs is neither the nadir of cringe twee aesthetics nor "a small journey through 20th-century literature and through Anaïs Nin’s life and influences," as advertised. It's an eye-rollingly normal 2023 Brooklyn natural wine spot. There's a line of tables for two, a bar, and a couple free-floating tables beside a pair of ceiling-high bookcases half-filled with wine bottles. The "bar" is named for Anaïs Nin, the French author and diarist who, later in life, became known for short stories that contain glimpses into relationships between their characters, often sexual, sometimes strained or unseemly, but the erotica is barely accessible. Still, I see potential here–Anaïs Nin is a weird and vivacious literary figure, and the idea of a bar that's themed for her is intriguing, and probably why the bar's write-up in Grub Street made a little splash. So let's punch it up. I have a few suggestions:

Have erotica

So, right off the bat, this is not a themed bar. 

If you want to read any Anaïs Nin books, you have to stride confidently across the whole damn bar in front of all the other patrons and peruse the book cases, standing between two busy tables. With three drinks in us, my date and I finally decided to do just that, and to our horror found that we couldn't even find any erotica on the bookshelf, just a bunch of normal ass books. 

Don't fuck with me: These are normal books. (Hell Gate)

Be a bar

If you have to be waited on, that's not a bar. At a bar, you order at the bar, and I won't argue about that. So, scatter some Anaïs Nin ephemera around and let people float through the space, and you solve both the problem of the non-integration of the theme and the stultifying lack of atmosphere. Print a cute excerpt from "Little Birds" on the back of the menu, maybe avoiding the prepubescent incest and stuff.

Serve better and more reasonably priced snacks

The fare was typically expensive, but mostly good: The "Boulevardier" is really a Manhattan, pleasantly balanced with Carpano Antica and rye and without Campari, the Vilet pilsner from nearby Threes Brewing was refreshing, as to be expected, the glass of Les Tetes rosé was juicy. I had a sip of my date's daiquiri, which was also good. 

But the $20 cheese plate is where Anaïs really lost me. Some slices of mahón and comté, a twig of supermarket grapes and five slices of stale baguette. A total of two beers, two cocktails, a glass of wine and a cheese plate came out to $120 after tip. My date dropped a $2 grape on the ground. 

Go to bars before you write about them

This advice is less for Anaïs and more for food writers who have a tendency to lean on credulous and uncritical interviews with owners for coverage: Go the bars you write about. Try some of the drinks and food you're using your publication's ink to sell to your readers, see if you'd judge the descriptions the owner uses to be true. Talk to the employees, even. That way, you'll get a sense of whether the places you're directing your readers to even live up to the premises of your articles.

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