By Damian Harris-Hernandez and Stephen Witt
Coney Island, with its topsy-turvy amusements, sports bars and sideshow freaks, tends to grab the spotlight for nightlife in southern Brooklyn. But its neighbor to the east — Brighton Beach — is a sea of debauchery in its own right.
Long known as “Little Odessa” for its influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, the neighborhood sports several excellent nightclubs and restaurants that — with a little help from the ever-flowing vodka — will make you feel more like you’re at a Black Sea hot spot than a few blocks from Coney Island. And it’s livelier than ever, thanks to the long summer nights attracting revelers to the Boardwalk and weekly entertainment.
“We are always trying something new, whether it’s a new dish or a new dance number,” said Sofia Vinokurov, owner of National Restaurant and Nightclub owner, one of the neighborhood’s premier spots, known for its Vegas-style floorshows. “That’s what keeps people coming back.”
With Asser Levy Seaside Park just a stone’s throw away, throwing free concerts all summer long on Thursdays, you can also make a night of it with dinner and some music.
Here are a few key places to start:
National Restaurant and Nightclub
The swinging doors open into a two-tiered banquet hall with lavish carpet, gilded ornaments and giant chandeliers at the National. Roses and a bottle of vodka (of course) bedeck every table.
The Brighton Avenue institution treats club goers, from multi-generational Russian families to New Jersey party girls, to smoked fish, beef tongue and scrumptious creamy crawfish salad while singers perform American and Russian hits.
Then it’s time for the main event. The 30-year-old family-run nightclub provides Brighton Beach’s answer to an Atlantic Ci
ty floorshow, as six skillful dancers in Marie Antoinette-era masquerade costumes perform professionally choreographed numbers. To call it over-the-top is an understatement.
National Restaurant and Nightclub [273 Brighton Beach Ave. between Brighton Second and Brighton Third streets, (718) 646-1225]. Call ahead for show schedule and to make a reservation.
As one of Brighton Beach’s original nightclubs, Primorski prides itself on offering live music seven nights a week. The large dance floor accommodates an all-ages crowd of Russians, Georgians and Americans.
As for food, diners can order from either the Russian menu or the “Caucasian” menu, which features Georgian specialties. Both menus boast a smorgasbord of cold and hot appetizers including Russian crepes, fried Georgian cheese, and khinkali, a Georgian dumpling.
Primorski Restaurant [282 Brighton Beach Ave. between Brighton Second and Brighton Third streets, (718) 891-3111].
Café Arbat has been a popular restaurant for over 20 years, and it has the pictures to prove it. Autographed photos of famous Russians and even Liza Minnelli taken at the restaurant adorn the wallpapered dining room.
The small, down-home restaurant caters to an older crowd that isn’t afraid to get out on the dance floor and shake a leg when t
he club brings out the accordion player on the weekends.
Besides live music and dancing every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it’s the menu that draws people far and wide. Waiter Alex K. touts the Chicken Kiev ($12.90), a breaded chicken breast stuffed with garlic butter and herbs. The kitchen also does a mean shrimp scampi.
Cafe Arbat [30
6 Brighton Beach Ave. between Brighton Third and Brighton Fourth streets, (718) 332-5050].
Pastorale is known for its French and Russian food. Owner Sofia Erenburg, a Belarus native, claims she even introduced Ukrainian borsht to Brooklyn.
Whether that’s true or not, she is most proud of her special Salad Pastorale, the ingredients of which she refuses to relinquish for fear that everybody will steal her mad culinary skills.
The 10-year-old restaurant brings in new customers and regulars alike who enjoy the pan-Soviet cuisine.
“We have a lot of old patrons that love the kitchen so they always come back,” said restaurant manager Ivan Moroz.
Pastorale opens up the dance floor on weekends with live music and, if you’re lucky, belly dancers.
Pastorale Restaurant [410 Brighton Beach Ave. between Brighton Fourth and Brighton Fifth streets (718) 648-5484].
Le Soleil Draft Barn
Operated by the New Winter Garden, Le Soleil brightens up the Boardwalk with outdoor ocean-view seating. Beer lovers can choose from over 120 beers, 10 of which are on draft, including Krusovice and Gruut, a Belgian wheat. But after a hot day on the beach, nothing goes down better than a cold, refreshing Czechvar.
The beer barn also rustles up hearty Balkan soakage. How about some hog knuckle ($15) or, for the beach bum, a gypsy steak ($15)? For the vegetarian, there’s lecho ($12), a multi-colored dish made of sautéed bell peppers.
Beach revelers come from far and wide to drink, eat and, on the weekends, dance to live music.
“A lot of tourists from France and England come in here as well as Russians,” said Marina, one of many friendly bar staff on hand.
Le Soleil Draft Barn [3152 Brighton Sixth St. at the Boardwalk, (718) 934-6666].
a Restaurant and Nightclub
Plurality is the name of the game at Tatiana, a restaurant that shares the Boardwalk with Le Soleil.
“We serve continental food,” said manager Igor Kvetnoy. “Italian, French, German, Ukrainian — you name it.”
On weekends, an 11-piece band performs the hits from a multitude of countries ranging from Russia to Mexico as part of a Vegas-style floorshow.
For those who just want to dance while saving a few bucks on food and drink, Tatiana’s Bar and Grill located a few doors down the Boardwalk stays open late. Goldfish even swim beneath the glass dance floor!
Tatiana [3152 Brighton Sixth St. at the Boardwalk, (718) 891-5151].
Mad Max is the man behind the grill at Kebeer, an airy German beer hall serving Central Asian fare. He’s got the only “lamburghini” in town. “It’s a burger made of lamb,” says proud owner Max Arron. “What else could I call it?”
The name, a zany contraction of kebab and beer, aptly describes the bar. Kabeer flaunts 12 beers on tap and over 70 in the bottle. The impressive food menu offers a large selection of kebabs as well as other Uzbek and Tajik
specialties including plov, lamb served over rice, onion and garbanzos.
Kebeer presents the Big Boy Challenge, a tempting dare that awards anyone who drinks four liters of beer in one sitting with yet another liter on the house. If the thirsty lush finishes the fifth, then he can drink a free half liter with every meal forever.
Kebeer [1003 Brighton Beach Ave. at Coney Island Avenue, (718) 934-9005].
Club Oceana Hall
From artist performances to DJ dance parties, there’s always something going on at this old theater-turned-events venue.
“The entertainment changes every night,” said Jamie Czerniawski, who books shows at Oceana Hall. “We could have a comedian one night, live bands the next.”
While the club occasionally hosts private parties, most events are open to the public. With a full bar on hand, the party warms up around 10 pm and carries on until four in the morning. There’s typically a $20 cover at the door.
Club Oceana Hall [1029 Brighton Beach Ave. between Brighton 11th and Brighton 12th streets, (718) 513–6616].