Since at least the late 1940s, the building at the corner of what's now Malcolm X Boulevard and MacDonough Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant has been occupied by a bar bearing the name Casablanca in some form or another. Around 1948 there was "The Casablanca," followed by the Casablanca Tavern and finally The New Casablanca, which was reopened by a woman named Esther Williams around 1970. Williams passed away and the bar shuttered a few years back, but two new owners are hoping to breathe life back into the storied space, bringing back the Casablanca name with a new neighborhood bar.
Jon Carlson—who designed nearby Bed-Vyne Brews—and business partner Charles von Herrlich—who owns longtime NoHo wine bar Von—have given the space a much-needed makeover from its '70s stylings. They've stripped away the crumbling ceiling, revealing the old pressed-tin version that dates back to the bar's original incarnation, as well as wall paintings Carlson thinks were styled like the Art Deco period. They've made a new floor from barn siding sourced near Carlson's father's birthplace in Wisconsin, and pulled material for the walls from the floor of an old mansion on Bushwick Avenue. The sign over the bar was rescued before they began renovations.
Despite the new look and funky furniture sourced from all over the country—mostly the Midwest, from where Carlson hails—the duo want the new Casablanca incarnation to feel like "an extension of the home," where locals can come and drink $7 shots and beers or $8 glass of wine. "We want to bring people from different walks of life together," says Carlson, explaining that the neighborhood will determine the concept of the bar as it grows. That doesn't mean they haven't spent time meaningfully designing the menu, which also includes "back to basics" cocktails designed by a Milk & Honey vet.
The spot will be a "saloon that serves food" eventually (the kitchen will open in the future) but Carlson is quick to emphasize that it's a "bar first." During the soft open, Carlson could be found going through stacks of old vinyl to find records that didn't skip. There's a projection television that may get used to play the odd sporting event but for the most part it's just about drinking and talking at the local watering hole.
300 Malcolm X Boulevard, Bed-Stuy; cash only