Before descending downstairs into the basement space that is Bar Below, you must first enter the tasty pan-Asian restaurant Faan and get through a bouncer who is strict about the "no athletic gear" policy. From the looks of the futuristic, funky and even foreign-looking layout (the bathroom doors are marked with a "W.C."), you wouldn't imagine there's been a past problem with brawls. It's working out nicely—there's a mixed crowd of hip-hoppers, B & T'ers (before they go out clubbing), and even some local young professional types sprinkled in. The long paisley-shaped peninsula of a bar divides the space into two different zones—in the front, a dual-leveled, white-tiled curvy seating area looks like a sauna, in the back it's dark and loungy with people relaxing to the music. Once the DJ takes to the turntables, though, the "no dancing" sign, which already hangs upside down, seems even more futile. Attentive bartenders serve up the Kool Aid (vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice and amaretto, $6) and the dessert-like Snickers Martini ($7), which indeed satisfies (although it tastes more like a Milky Way).
209 Smith St., at Baltic St.; 718-694-2277; Fri-Sat, 7 p.m.-4 a.m.
Locals immediately took to the converted Sicilian men-only club that retains the look and feel of an old-time hangout (although they've relaxed the gender requirement). The word got out, and now Brooklyn Social draws previously skeptical but now curious Manhattanites who are finally ready to see what the fuss across the East River is all about. With good reason, too: The attention paid to the $7 cocktails, such as the real ginger used in Matt's Ginger Old Fashioned, and the fresh rosemary and tangerine slices in the vodka-based Riposto, isn't lost on the discerning drinker. The old-time Brooklyn photos hanging on the walls and a beat up pool table in the back room help give off the old school Kings County feel. Add their hot pressed sandwiches ($6), made from ingredients bought from the neighborhood's Italian food stores, and the ghosts of Paulie, Tony and Vincente come alive. But they didn't listen to the Fela, Clash and reggae tunes found on the jukebox.
335 Smith St., between President and Carroll Sts.; 718-858-7758; Mon-Thu, 6 p.m.-2 a.m.; Fri-Sat, 6 p.m.-4 a.m.; Sun, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
With no sign in front, Boat is sometimes referred to as "the red bar" or "the phone bar" because of the pay phone right outside. Once inside, the award-winning jukebox cranks out a steady stream of indie rock, and the red walls and light provide a divey feel although it's not quite dirty enough to fully earn that distinction (if the bathrooms get any worse, though, it will). A stack of board games, including Battleship and Yahtzee, get much play, impromptu tournaments take place on the puck-sliding bowling game and although the antique pinball machine doesn't always work, it looks cool. The lively beer and whiskey crowd appreciates the cheap beverages, especially during happy hour (5 p.m.-8 p.m. daily), when drafts, bottles and rail drinks are three dollars, making it easy to become a regular here. Irish Car Bombs (mostly filled pints of Guinness with a shot glass filled with Jameson and Baileys dropped in, $8) are popular, but are as dangerous as the name suggests, so occasionally the bartenders have to put a ban on them. Because as the night progresses, Boat can really start rocking.
175 Smith St., between Warren and Wyckoff Sts.; 718-254-0607; Daily, 5 p.m.-4 a.m.
Brooklyn's most notorious tiki bar is small, but Zombie's drinks are tall and will get you wasted in a hurry. After a couple of $8 Gilligans (vodka, three types of rum and OJ) you'll feel like you've been washed up on a deserted island. The walls are covered in bamboo and adorned with Polynesian masks and trinkets, giving off a true hut-like feeling. Music ranges from Eminem to Simon and Garfunkel, but always manages to sound good, even if it's Journey that's on. People can often be found making out on the couches in the back after meeting at the thriving single scene up at the bar. The social $20 four-person Frozen Foursome margarita can be fun, along with the other sickly-sweet, oddly-colored drinks served with kitschy plastic stirrers. But if island cocktails aren't your thing, PBRs are always available for $2 along with other reasonably priced beers.
261 Smith St., between Douglass and Degraw Sts.; 718-875-3433; Sun-Thu, 5:30 p.m.-4 a.m.; Fri-Sat, 5p.m.-4 a.m.
This place has a little bit of an identity crisis—it looks posh and exclusive but feels local. Mobster wannabes, gays, Smith Street newbies and the real locals—the Italian-Americans who grew up in the neighborhood—all convene to have comfortable conversations and relax in a friendly, no-attitude atmosphere. The selection of beers on tap is unimaginative but is offset by the variety of bottled beers available, along with $8 cocktails such as the "Bada Bing" Banana Split complete with whipped cream and cherry on top, and the Goddess, made with Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur and mysterious "special goddess dust." Although it may not look it, Quench brings in a crowd that pre-dates the boom probably more than any other bar on the Smith Street strip.
282 Smith St., at Sackett St.; 718-875-1500; Daily, 5 p.m.-4 a.m.