This is a borough of residents. Even those areas filling up with Manhattan expats invite commingling, and most establishments retain their local character. The Brooklyn Inn (148 Hoyt Street; 718-625-9741), in Boerum Hill, is a Victorian-era space that represents nineties Brooklyn at its best and worst. The soaring corniced ceiling, ornate oversize mirror, and Gothic iron-and-wood exterior lend a respectable patina to a scene often overcrowded with newcomers. Come for the late-afternoon sun streaming through tall, arched windows, but be prepared for the 10:30 rush. Sparky's Ale House (481 Court Street; 718-624-5516), with 30 beers on tap and a mostly European bottled-beer menu topping 100, is a less pretentious alternative in Carroll Gardens. The front room looks like an upscale pizzeria and the game room is a bit seedy, but the blend of young and old, hip and dowdy, rewards the ten-minute walk from the subway. No wine or hard liquor, so drink your girlie Malibus and G&Ts elsewhere.
In Williamsburg, there's again a choice between the frantically jovial and the laid-back. The year-old Brooklyn Ale House is the best of the former (103 Berry Street; 718-302-9811). Flocks of artsy young folk chat noisily to a jukebox soundtrack -- Bowie to Beastie Boys. Oddly shaped wood tables almost accommodate a late-Friday overflow. But novelist and Williamsburg resident Kate Christensen senses a menacing subtext here -- "frat-boy testosterone bubbling under a studiedly 'hip' surface" -- and instead swears by century-old Teddy's (96 Berry Street; 718-384-9787), across the street. It's got the soaring interior and ancient detailing of the Brooklyn Inn without the crowd. "It's one of those rare creatures," Christensen says, "a real neighborhood hangout."
Even domesticated Park Slope has its share of newly hip bars. Punk-folkie Elliott Smith likes to keep a low profile at O'Connor's (39 Fifth Avenue; 718-783-9721), a welcoming Irish dive and former speakeasy. "They've got a great jukebox," he says. "It's also nice and dark." Farther down Fifth, in the Gowanus hinterlands, newcomer Great Lakes (284 Fifth Avenue; 718-499-3710) has earned a loyal Gen-X following. Its dim light, exposed brick, and contrived aura of lofty disrepair match a clientele that flaunts its angst. Bartenders are given too much license with their favorite sounds -- Stereolab is good music unless it's the only music. But Monday through Wednesday, live jazz acts take over, and Thursday is the night of the living indie-rockers. The owners plan to expand the rock lineup to Fridays, with indie hits like Versus and Saturnine. Great Lakes is officially a scene.