Finally, I have a new favorite restaurant: Bar Tano on Third Avenue and 9th Street in Gowanus, a pioneering location hard by an auto body shop, with plenty of free parking under the El.
Bar Tano almost replaces the late Uncle Pho on Smith Street in my personal mythology. Alan Harding’s French-Vietnamese place was my go-to for watermelon martinis and spring rolls, until it unceremoniously closed and was replaced by a generic Indian restaurant. This was quite a few years ago, but to me, the demise of Uncle Pho was the beginning of the end of Smith Street (which is now practically over, with the coming of Atomic Wings to the Boerum Hill Food Company’s former space).
The other night, my friend Nancy and I sat at the bar at Bar Tano, where I admired, as always, the phenomenal job they did re-creating old-fashioned ambience — a job so good that even I, veteran old-house person, was initially fooled. “Everything you see in there is brand new,” said the owner, Peter Sclafani, “believe it or not.” (Sclafani also owns 7-year-old Bar Toto in Park Slope and the forthcoming Bar Tini, opening in mid-April at 8th Avenue and 13th Street in the South Slope.)
Sclafani masterminded the elaborate, many-patterned, perfectly matched tin ceiling (it runs up the walls too), chose the unusual ceiling fans (limited-edition Hunter fans, aged with paints and pigments) and the beautiful amphora-shaped light fixtures, and supervised the 11-month renovation.
“You can do it Disney or you can do it right,” Sclafani said, adding that he spent ‘countless hours’ on the internet sourcing the necessary materials, including sheet tin from a place in the Midwest, some of which was custom-pressed for him from patterns in old catalogues.
Bar Tini, formerly Pumpkins health-food store, already has a tin ceiling in place, and there will be a two-inch-thick marble bar, said Sclafani, who came to the U.S. from Sicily at age 6 and lives in Park Slope. His previous restaurant ventures include 26 Ludo and Lady Astor’s in Manhattan.
What I also love about Bar Tano are their incredibly delicious hamburgers, served on grilled bread with melted fontina, and their selection of all-Italian wines. I’m sure the rest of the menu is good, too, but I keep on ordering the burger.
Another thing about Bar Tano: you meet nice people there, like Nick Niles, a singer/songwriter who’s performing at Roots Cafe on 5th Avenue and 18th Street in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, on March 13.
On top of all that, it’s open for lunch.
Photos from Nourishment for the Senses