This week's column marks an anniversary, though it's also a miracle and, on those pained-brain mornings, a curse: 'Tis this column's second birthday, a date that's equally dubious and delightful. After all, how does one celebrate 104 weeks of drinking on the job? Rehab? A master-cleanse fast? Besting Dylan Thomas' deadly whiskey record? An all-expense paid trip to the Betty Ford Clinic?
It's a work-related Catch-22 I once experienced as a pornographer: After writing penetration scenes all day, flirting and fondling took a back seat to?boozing. So perhaps I should observe this anniversary with a blowjob, the yin to my employment yang. Or not. After all, sex is well covered in the Press. Instead let's venture to uncharted alcohol territory.
These past couple years, I've sipped mai tais in Staten Island tiki bars, chugged Pabst on an ersatz Queens beach and slammed Jäger in a phone booth. I've bent elbows in Greenpoint dives, acted prim in cocktail emporiums and downed Bud pitchers in a deli, where I watched a man shove steam-table spare ribs into his pocket. But this town's rollicking drink roller coaster always offers novel twists to quash sobriety. Like drinking out-of-context Japanese beer.
To accomplish this feat, please visit a Williamsburg anomaly. Though Thai and Japanese restaurants are chockablock in the 'Burg, Korean eateries are sparse, save for the latest addition to Grand Street's increasingly polyglot scene: Dokebi. This Seoul-food eatery is a departure from its Little Korea brethren: chaotic, messy rooms with noise levels approaching a Korn concert. Dokebi's dining room is a clean, serene escape. For one, the cook-it-yourself barbeque grills are equipped with ventilation fans, preventing clothes from smelling like sizzling pork. This is swell, but let's skip the sustenance and head to a hidden surprise.
After entering Dokebi, ignore the hostess and stride through the dining room and down a narrow hallway, where you'll pop out into a separate lounge. (There's also a bar entrance on barren North 1st, signified by a glowing, gas-station-like sign.) The room is a small square of mismatched style. Brick walls and street-facing windows are complemented by wooden benches, naked light bulbs, dorm-quality red lounge chairs and-get this-totem poles. Have you ever seen a Korean totem pole? Methinks Dokebi's owners proposed 23 decorating schemes and said, "Screw it, baby, let's make it all magical."
This culture-mashing schizophrenia also extends to the crowd and drink selection. By day, freelancers hit Dokebi to cadge WiFi and sip cappuccino. During weekends, locals infuse the bar with a low-key, illegal speakeasy vibe (in ways only you can discover). In the intermediary, caffeine relents to a fine happy-hour special: Until 7:30 p.m., Yuengling mugs are merely $2.50 and pitchers cost just $10.
During several visits, I watch curious bargoers consider ordering sake ($8 a glass), vodka-like soju ($10 for a buzz-worthy carafe) and, oddly, Colt 45 40-ouncers ($6). It's an impressive, yet overwhelming menu that makes you yearn for McSorley's simplicity: two beers, dark or light. Luckily, there's another delicious happy-hour offer. "You can also," the bartender will say, gesturing to the taps filled with five-dollar pints of Blue Point Lager, Stella and Kirin, "order a pitcher of Sapporo for $10."
It's rare to find Sapporo on tap, even rarer for such a palatable price tag. Hence, his words light up customers' eyes like pinball machines.
"Wow, I'll take that as a challenge," a guy says, as he and his girlfriend sit at the bar. The challenge is formidable: These pitchers are not mini-carafes unable to intoxicate a 13-year-old girl. Dokebi's glass pitchers are large and man-killing. They're filled with enough suds to make you forget to ask why a Korean bar sells Japanese beer. The more I ponder this enigma, the more I'm puzzled: Why offer malt liquor but neglect South Korean Hite lager? Is Williamsburg's ironic force field that powerful?
Eh, such contradictions are par for Dokebi. The restaurant is such a model of urban cool, while the bar is a slipper-wearing Bellevue escapee who can name-check members of the Postal Service. Some may see a failure of mission; I find it endearing. I see grandiose plans, each separately splendid, that equal zero sense. Why, for instance, is the concrete floor covered with spray-painted leaves? It's yet another conundrum to mull while drinking cool, cheap Sapporo-poured by a non-Korean bartender, naturally.
Dokebi Bar and Grill
199 Grand St. (betw. Bedford & Driggs Aves.)
W'burg, Brooklyn 718-782-1424.