When I happened by the drinks menu in a window of the Commodore, the new canteen from Pies 'n' Thighs and Egg alum Stephen Tanner, I thought, a bit panicked, Oh, kitsch. I'm not one for simulacra, and themes make me run the other way. But the food menu looked reassuringly locavore and Southern—asparagus and ramps! Biscuits!—and I figured I'd just order an old-fashioned or Manhattan to go along with my meal. A frozen piña colada served in a svelte palm-emblazoned glass with a pineapple garnish was most definitely not part of the vision.
Neither was a decor that evoked Jack and Larry's favorite bar—or my late uncle's basement man cave. I never noticed the design at Black Betty, the space's former occupant, possibly because there was none, but at the Commodore, the late '70s/early '80s details are impossible to miss: the white bar stools, the porntastic blinds in the windows, the Schlitz and Miller Lite signs—and the porpoise corpse—on the walls. The aesthetic isn't overwhelmingly period, though; it still feels contemporary, thanks in large part to the wide, dark beams that set off the white ceiling. (The effect is to die for.) Altogether, the elements both create and defeat any sense of replica. I felt out of sorts and thoroughly on, which is how, later, I came to imbibe that tall drink of cold-whipped amaretto-infused confection.
The food is exactly what you'd expect from Tanner, and it's divine: fried catfish, pulled pork, an "adult" grilled cheese with hot sauce, all served on—amazingly—white bread; mini-biscuits and perfect fries; a burger adorned with a cocktail umbrella; those asparagus and ramps, grilled and plated with a halved soft-boiled egg. (Quirkily, you have to order both food and drink at the bar and either pay cash upfront or fork over a card to be held; then you get a small faux-wood-paneled placard with a number, and your order is brought to you.)
The Banker and I wolfed everything down amid swigs of sloe gin fizz (him—it tasted like pink lemonade) and old-fashioned (me—the cherry was cloyingly maraschino and thus lovely), then watched images of a young David Hasselfhoff on the small TV in the corner of the bar. (It didn't look like Night Rider, so who knows what it was.) It was time to order new drinks, and I was riding high from the food, already subsumed by this thing that was greater than me, and I thought, the Commodore. It's the namesake drink. I should have it. (And note that seafaring name, fitting for a spot up the block from Saltie, where Tanner could recently be found slicing focaccia, presumably while waiting for a liquor license.)
The Banker went with a frozen drink too, a mojito, and his arrived post-haste. My piña colada, however, took about 15 minutes to materialize—I kept hearing a blender whirr—but it was well worth the wait. Somehow I've gone my whole life without imbibing a strained pineapple, so I've nothing to compare the Commodore to, but nevertheless I'm convinced what I had was perfection. And it made me feel so good, like the way a great cappuccino makes me feel, only instead of the caffeinated energy, I was woozy, mellow. There weren't any records in the jukebox, but if there were, I might've put on some James Taylor.
In a way, the Commodore is a perfect match for the prevailing gastronomic Zeitgeist, at least as practiced in Williamsburg today. Go to Saltie enough and you realize how often Lynyrd Skynyrd's on the stereo; Hotel Delmano is perhaps the most faithful manifestation of a 1920s American speakeasy/Left Bank vibe in town. Some establishment was bound to join these twin ideals of twisty authenticity, and I guess the Commodore is it. Besides, there's vintage video games to play—and cartoony King Kong-and-Jane cut-outs you can stick your face in and pretend.