When Bar Blondeau opens on July 30th on the sixth floor of the Wythe Hotel, at 80 Wythe Avenue, in Williamsburg, a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows will frame sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and East River. The room is lined with terrazzo floors, oak paneling, sea green marble tables, and copper lighting. Customers can order from a French-leaning menu filled with seafood and vegetable dishes complemented by natural wines.
In other words, it could just as easily be mistaken for another well designed downtown Manhattan restaurant. After all, the main drag of nearby Bedford Avenue includes Whole Foods, Starbucks, Apple, and Sephora. The somewhat romanticized version of a past Williamsburg with artist-filled lofts mixing with local immigrant families hasn’t existed for years.
But chefs and partners Aidan O’Neal and Jake Leiber, who opened the hit Le Crocodile downstairs and another neighborhood favorite with Chez Ma Tante in Greenpoint, saw an opportunity for Bar Blondeau. They seem to be saying: Why can’t Brooklyn have nice things, too?
The duo said they have noticed Williamsburg becoming more international over the years, and they wanted to appeal to that broad audience, including tourists staying at the boutique hotel. Enter a tried-and-true strategy: Bar Blondeau nods to the popular Parisian neo-bistros where wine is central to the menu. The design and architectural studio Bonetti/Kozerski created a space that looks like it could be featured in a glossy magazine spread but the experience is meant to be more casual than a fussy Michelin-starred restaurant. Throw in a menu with Gallic roots and perhaps people will want to hang out even longer, Leiber and O’Neal say.
“It feels a bit more aspirational and more indulgent,” says O’Neal. “It’s about being a little more adult by providing a bar or lounge space where you can come in for one drink and a snack and you feel great, or you can spend all night here.”
Only the popular leeks vinaigrette ($13) from the Le Crocodile menu makes an appearance at Bar Blondeau. Small plates range from mussel toast ($13) to a summer cucumber-and-melon salad ($15) and larger dishes like saffron rice with duck and escargot ($31). Other cold seafood items, which the chefs expect to be popular in the warmer months, include oysters ($24), salmon rillettes ($18), and tuna tartare ($26). The menu also features five desserts, including a chocolate babka ($12) and verjus sorbet with poached peaches ($12).
“It’s a bit silly and offers a bit of spontaneity,” says O’Neal. “We really want it to be a place where the food is playful and a little bit frilly. It’s mostly geared toward having fun.”
Besides an extensive list of natural wines — many from younger winemakers — the drinks side of the menu includes classic cocktails where it’s “nothing fussy, a Negroni will taste like a Negroni,” says beverage director Rafa García Febles. But there will be more offbeat options like the frozen L’Orange ($17) made with orange wine, Lillet blanc, Swedish-style aquavit, and absinthe. Or the Sunbird ($17), a play on the paloma with tequila blanco, yuzu, pink grapefruit soda, suze, cayenne, and chili salt.
There’s one term the Bar Blondeau team is purposefully avoiding in describing the space: Rooftop bar. There are about 70 seats indoors and nearly the same amount outdoors. Inside, the room is designed so that nearly every seat has a view.
In 2019, O’Neal and Leiber took over the sixth floor of the Wythe Hotel and ran Lemon’s. It was one of the neighborhood’s popular seasonal rooftop bars with a tropical feel — think deco furniture and a jungle of plants that was meant to convey, as a publicist of the bar described at the time to Eater, an “alfresco cocktail party on the Italian Coast.” Although the chefs say they always had plans to open a spot like Bar Blondeau, they focused on Le Crocodile’s opening, and at times, the space was also used for private events. They said the pandemic gave them more time to fine tune their plans for the new bar.
“The space was suffering from an identity crisis,” says Leiber. “Was it an event space? A bar? For the next iteration, we wanted something with a strong identity and personality.”