You don't see many themed restaurants opening in New York City these days. Not outside of Times Square, anyway, and especially not in far-flung residential neighborhoods like Ridgewood, Queens. But that only encouraged Tracy Bradbury and Chad Johnson — longtime residents of the neighborhood, ardent rock-n-rollers, and unapologetic horror enthusiasts — to go all in on the vibe of their new Flying Fox Tavern on Woodward Avenue.
"There used to be all these cool restaurants to go to and it's kind of died out," Johnson told Gothamist this week. And when you do find someplace unique and creative like that, "it's only a bar," said Bradbury. "So if you're underage, or you have a family, or you just don't want to drink, there aren't places you can go with good music and that whole subculture environment."
To the latter point, the pair are committed to making Flying Fox as much a restaurant as a bar--a true local tavern, in other words, and a welcoming place for everyone in their community. "We want families to come in," said Bradbury. "Kids are always welcome. We have booster seats! We want people to feel at home here."
That said, they definitely didn't skimp on the gruesome decor, though it's all from the classic, rather than the "slasher," wing of the genre, and much of it is borderline kitschy. A body emerges from a coffin, severed heads are scattered about, Dracula and Frankenstein's monster are well represented, demons loom, atrocities are committed, but it's all in good fun.
And, of course, there are bats. Lots and lots of bats. Which may have earned Flying Fox Tavern its earliest fan, a nine-year-old girl who wandered in with her mom on one of the restaurant's first nights and, as Bradbury tells it, "lit up with the widest eyes I've ever seen." Turns out she had done multiple school projects on bats, just flat-out adored the creatures, and was given all sorts of Flying Fox swag to bring home. Just the other night she returned to celebrate her birthday here with a bunch of friends.
Flying Fox opened in early January without a liquor license, which they finally received a week or so ago. "It was tough financially," said Johnson, "but it did let us establish ourselves as a restaurant, with people coming here just for the food." It also allowed them to perfect their mocktails, like The Count (they're all named after vampires) — made with bright purple butterfly pea tea into which you dump a shot of lemon juice, to dramatic effect.
Bradbury and Johnson created the food menu together, but Johnson (who moonlights as the frontman for a punk band called Recreational Outrage) is the chef here, having spent most of his adult life cooking professionally, first in the Navy, and then for some 20 years prior to this venture in kitchens all over town. Those included Aquagrill, Calexico, and Williamsburg's beloved vegan junk food spot Food Swings, which closed in 2014.
There are plenty of tavern classics here, from a lamb-based Shepherd's Pie to a gooey French Onion Soup, and a couple of slightly bizarre but welcome vegan-ized updates, like the Flying Fox Haggis, which Johnson makes from lentils, oats, mushrooms, and chestnuts. It's a hefty creation, served on a bed of mashed potatoes and accompanied by a "wee dram" of Scotch to pour over everything.
The Fried Artichokes make for a satisfying snack or starter, and the Linden Hill Burger, a juicy patty topped with Colorado green chili and goat cheese and served with fresh-fried potato chips, is terrific, as is the bounteous Grilled Market Salad. Both desserts are vegan, including Johnson's black forest cake in the shape of a skull, which is served Se7en style, in a box addressed to Det. Mills.
"We're just here to have fun," said Johnson. "It's kind of a lifelong dream, just doing what we like to do."
Bradbury agrees: "Opening a restaurant is a lifestyle choice for us. We're not trying to make millions on this. We've got a nice long lease, and we plan to be here, working, every day. We care deeply about the neighborhood."
The Flying Fox Tavern is located at 678 Woodward Avenue, between Gates Avenue and Palmetto Street, and is currently open on Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. (@flyingfoxtavern)