Food Court: Clover Club Strives, A Little Too Hard, For Old-School Authenticity

The biggest problem with Clover Club, the new loungey bar on Smith Street in Boerum Hill, is that it gets Brooklyn pretension all wrong.

Everything looks like it came straight from the Jazz Age section of a Restoration Hardware catalog: tin ceiling, dark wood paneling, etched-glass light fixtures, black-and-white photos of indeterminate provenance of mustachioed men at a bar, leather-upholstered benches, and an overly descriptive menu of cocktails like the "Hemingway Cobbler" and the "Highland Smash."

In other words, it’s all just a wee bit too contrived. Other new bars on Smith Street have managed to tread the fine line between overly precious and just precious enough to satisfy the finicky tastes of the intellectual-hipster crowd (see: Brooklyn Social, the JakeWalk, Gowanus Yacht Club). Then there are the originals, like the Brooklyn Inn, that actually have the ring of authenticity that the Clover Club seems to be seeking. But walking into Clover Club is like walking onto a stage set.

The menu—bound in maroon card stock, with the bar’s name in gold on the front, held together by a gold elastic binding—is 16 pages long and divided into different types of drinks, all of which are $10 or $11: Sours & Daisies, Collins & Fizzes, Buck & Mules, Cobblers & Highballs, Juleps & Smashes, Swizzles, Royales, Punches, and, simply, "Cocktails." (There is also beer, wine and Champagne.) Each section has a flowery, educational description: "Cobblers are said to have gotten their name, more than a century ago, from the little ‘cobbles,’ or pebbles, of ice they were made with." And it goes on for an entire paragraph. Um, is this going to be on the test?

There is also a selection of "Savory Bites," or, gussied-up bar food: steak tartare with caper dressing, "pigs undercover" (that is, in a blanket), deviled eggs served four ways, and-perhaps most offensively-"American Caviar Service," which consists of 1 ounce of caviar served with toasted brioche, "eggs mimosa," chopped chives, onions and crème fraiche. ("Please allow 15 minutes for this preparation.")

The evening I went, with two friends, we were seated by the open window, where passersby peered in at us like we were characters on a Disney lot. "It’s kind of like a bar at a bobo theme park-Retroland," one of my friends said. "What is the fantasy they are promoting? That sophistication is exposed brick and jazz wallpaper?"

That being said, the bar is somewhat of a piece with owner Julie Reiner’s other establishment, the retro-ish Flatiron Lounge on West 19th Street in Manhattan, which also has an extensive cocktail menu. But perhaps that’s the problem; Ms. Reiner seemed keen on establishing a beachhead in Brooklyn that would complement Flatiron Lounge, but something got lost crossing the East River.

All would undoubtedly be forgiven if the drinks were superb and the food delicious. But the lamb burger was undercooked and the sliced tomatoes on it looked wan; the side of "Gaufrettes" (um, aren’t those thin French waffle-cookie type things?) turned out to be really, really spicy potato chips. The "pigs undercover" were hot and the pastry crust was buttery and appropriately flaky, but as my friend put it: "Those pigs in blankets were very tasty but rather coy-wieners wrapped in flaky pastry and flakier half-irony." Indeed.

Clover Club, 210 Smith St., Brooklyn. 718-855-7939. Food Court: Clover Club Strives, A Little Too Hard, For Old-School Authenticity