Maison Premiere, which opened in 2011, is a wonderful cocktails-and-shellfish bar in Williamsburg, cleverly designed—like so much in the borough—to look a lot older than it really is.
Of course, like so many Williamsburg storefronts, it’s repurposed from earlier, grittier times. You’re never quite sure what was always there, and what was brought in merely to look distressed.
The exterior is barely labeled and unassuming, like a lot cocktail spots these days. Even knowing the address and cross-street, I walked right by it, at first.
Then you walk in and see this gorgeous old-fashioned marble-topped bar with antique taps, backed by ceiling-height shelves stocked with spirits.
The theme is New Orleans, with almost 30 kinds of absinthe and a variety of cocktails featuring it. You don’t like absinthe? There’s an impressive array of bourbons, rums, whiskies, grappa, bitters, fortified wines, juleps, and so forth. Cocktails are skillfully done, running $9–13, generally a few dollars less than comparable fare in Manhattan. There’s a handful of wines, which are beside the point.
The food menu consists almost entirely of chilled shellfish, including 33 species of oysters—the most I recall anywhere in the city. There’s also chilled clams, crabs, lobster, an arctic char ceviche, and two kinds of gumbo. Seafood platters are $35, $80, or $140. We had the smallest of these to go with our cocktails: a half-lobster, shrimp, clams, and two kinds of oysters.
The place is so nice that you wish there were hot entrées to complement all of that shellfish, but in the niche they’ve chosen to occupy, the variety is remarkable. There’s no question it’s a hit with the neighborhood. Even at 5:00pm on a Sunday, it was about half full. I imagine that it gets swamped later on. In addition to the bar, there are tables in the back, and an outdoor garden in good weather.
Maison Premiere might be one of those rare bars that is worth a trip in its own right. It’s certainly worthwhile for a stop before dinner (as it was for us) or to relax after it.
Maison Premiere (298 Bedford Ave. between South First & Grand St., Williamsburg)
Food: Cold shellfish exclusively, but an impressive variety
Spirits: A broad range of domestic absinthes, rums, and whiskies
Service: Courteous, but a bit slow
Ambiance: A page out of old New Orleans
Rating: Critics pick
Why? For the wide variety of oysters and the absinthe-based cocktails