At Gair in DUMBO, the focus is on the locals — not tourists

Gair paid 57 months of rent before opening during pandemic

April 4, 2023 Andrew Cotto
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It’s hard to imagine an elevated cocktail bar perched above the most Instagrammable intersection in all of New York being inspired by the inventor of something as banal as the cardboard box, but Gair (named after the printing and packaging magnate, Robert Gair) at 41 Washington St. is an ode to its namesake and the community he pioneered over a century ago in what is now known as DUMBO.

Kevin Cimini came to the area in 2006 to live and operate his design firm March.

“We chose DUMBO for all of the things that made the neighborhood special — the waterfront, the historic buildings, the level of beauty and great community,” Cimini said. “While the neighborhood has changed a lot since then, there’s never really been a food and beverage culture dedicated to the community.”

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Cocktails and conversation at Gair. Photo: Andrew Cotto.

In 2018, Cimini decided to address the missing food and beverage culture. He acquired the lofted corner space where Washington and Water streets meet, where legions of tourists pose between the picturesque buildings with a splash of the Manhattan Bridge spanning the East River as a backdrop.

What Cimini pictured, though, was the type of place neighborhood residents could gather to enjoy cocktails, local beers and a gourmet bar menu in an inclusive environment.

What he got instead, before opening, was a pandemic.

The elevated bar menu includes a double smash burger. Photo: Andrew Cotto.

A tribute to Cimini’s dedication is evident in the 57 months of paid rent before selling a single drink. That first drink was sold late last month when the doors of Gair officially opened to Cimini’s design of a spacious, industrial yet comfortable room of high ceilings, blasted cement walls, plaster pillars, blackened steel and brass, warm tones, soft curves, and picturesque windows overlooking the famous intersection.

There are no reservations but plenty of seating around the U-shaped bar of Brazilian basalt, backed by white oak, that centers the room. It’s flanked by a banquette along the windows — for possibly New York’s best people watching — tables near the entrance and a chef’s corner by the kitchen.

The horseshoe-shaped bar centers the room. Photo: Andrew Cotto.

From that kitchen comes a menu that reflects the elevated yet accessible vibe. Think of it as bar food that knew somebody, and that somebody is Michelin-starred Chef Gabe McMackin (formerly of The Finch). He has created a playful, inventive menu, in three cheeky parts: gateway; mostly plants; mostly not-plants. The bar food staples include popcorn, nuts; roasted vegetables; fish, poultry, steak. It’s then ratcheted up through advanced cooking techniques, choice ingredients and creative interpretations like popcorn with coconut oil and magic dust, candied walnuts with silk chili; roasted Brussels sprouts with black garlic vinaigrette, fish sauce, onions and cultured burrata; grilled Spanish mackerel with yogurt and bay oil; smoked duck breast with persimmon and roasted treviso; Koji-cured Flatiron steak with Kombu, sea lettuce and oyster mayonnaise. Even the requisite burger comes as a double Smash burger.

The Chef’s Corner with its view of the kitchen. Photo: Andrew Cotto.

The seasonal, rotating menu can be paired with New York beers and wines from around the world, with a preference on the latter for women-owned or small, family-owned wineries. The cocktails are as whimsical as they are ingenious, with lots of clever nods to the local milieu: Resting Spritz Face (Gin, Suze, Italicus, Grapefruit, Saline, Pink Peppercorn); Under the Influencer (Mezcal, Passion Fruit, Cayenne, Lager); Uneeda Drink (Rye, Rum, Maraschino, Mole). There are low-abv and non-alcoholic options as well, such as the acclaimed Phoney Negroni from Brooklyn’s own St. Agrestis.

“We’re trying to curate a different experience,” Cimini said. “We want a place where our community feels welcome, where they can try something unexpected and find reasons to come back.”

And there’s no doubt we’ll be back.

Andrew Cotto has been eating his way through Brooklyn for 25 years. As an author, the food of our borough has been featured extensively in his novels and journalism. In his new column for the Daily Eagle, Andrew will tell the tales of Brooklyn eateries, from the people behind the food to the communities which they nourish.

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