Grit Meets Glam: the Water Tower Bar Is Peak BrooklynA Williamsburg nightspot pays homage to the past and takes industrial chic to new heights—and prices
While Brooklyn has upscaled radically over the years, its rugged water towers have stuck around, still capably performing their original function and now serving as a reminder of the borough’s industrial past. The beloved icon adorns T-shirts, tote bags and touristy souvenirs.
Now the water-tower motif has been cast in another role: as a nightlife peak experience. Opening last night, The Water Tower bar atop the Williamsburg Hotel is a glam, boozy, high-end moneymaker. The hotel’s third onsite watering hole is exactly what it sounds like: a speakeasy-style boîte housed high above the hotel, in a circular structure with a pointy top, shaped like an urban water tank.
Inside, instead of tens of thousands of gallons of potable water from a reservoir upstate, there’s a tall, cavernous 45-seat lounge with dangling bubble-esque lighting. It feels a little like stepping into a giant glass of chilled champagne—for a price.
The Water Tower bar’s cocktails are $22 and higher, dreamed up by mixologist Rael Petit (formerly of The Standard), including the strong-as-medicine, CBD-oil infused Purple Rain, served in a gilded, filigreed coupe; the lighter yuzu-imbued Les Gnomes, housed in a copper gnome-shaped vessel and tasting like a huge bite of an aromatic herb garden, but in the best way possible; and the $150 Heart of Gold, a play on the Negroni, made with white truffle-infused Aperol and a truffle shaving.
All of these concoctions are made behind a teensy, triangular white-marble bar and delivered by genial servers dressed in black turtlenecks, black skinny jeans, and stacked-heel boots. Bottle service starts at $500, and executive chef Nic Caicedo’s menu of small plates includes a $525 caviar tasting, white-truffle grilled cheese nestled in a rough-hewn wooden bowl, and a fanciful seasonal seafood tower—ahem, “Seafood Plateau.”
Right in step with the upscale selling points, the glowing industrial structure, with its floor-to-ceiling glass windows and glittery Manhattan skyline views, makes the city’s utilitarian, untreated-wood and stainless-steel water towers look downright provincial. As for how bar-goers get up there, climbing rickety exterior stairs isn’t a concern. Visitors glide up to the bar in a “VIP elevator,” bypassing the hotel-room floors, as with the nearby Westlight bar at the William Vale.
But if you fancy a breath of fresh air, a better view of the Empire State Building, or a smoke, a concrete walkway surrounds the cylindrical building, with a railing designed with safety in mind. “The exterior steel and wood structure of The Water Tower stands on top of the hotel’s brick building as a reminder of the industrial past of New York City,” according to a statement from the hotel.
Inside, velvet couches in royal blue, lime green, and tan line the perimeter of the brass-and-walnut interior space, furnished with coffee tables and plush armchairs to create the cozy vibe envisioned by London-based design firm Michaelis Boyd Studio. However, the panoramic views have some odd visual competition: Giant murals on the walls bear kitschy, refrigerator-magnet-style pop images of retro housewives—and, incongruously, Wonder Woman—alongside phrases like “Dear Brain … Please Shut Up!” and “If it’s the thought that counts, I should probably be in jail.”
Hotel management says the signs are “a nod to the hand-painted ads that dot the streets of the neighborhood.” In reality, they’re six-foot-tall versions of sardonic quotes that your frenemies from high school post on Facebook—plus a quip from Jay McInerney way up in the right-hand corner for literary types—but the wall is indisputably a magnet for social-media addicts. Yesterday, guests were panning the space with their smartphones, ideal video fodder for Instagram Stories.
International DJs figure prominently into the concept, which will veer closer to a high-key nightclub in the wee hours. Late last night, nostalgia-fueled mashups from artists like Aretha Franklin, Big Hooch, and Stevie Wonder pumped through the space (there are speakers on the outside platform, too, so the party doesn’t stop), courtesy of DJ: Leo Tebele’s team. The bar is open from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
To ensure you’ll get a seat, you’ll need to make a reservation, which are currently free (a/k/a no bottle-service purchase necessary), by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Walk-ins are welcome, but considering the bar’s limited capacity, would-be revelers could be waiting in the lobby for a while.
The opening of The Water Tower is a crowning touch for the hotel, which opened to guests in January 2017 and debuted its rooftop pool this summer. “We started thinking about The Water Tower when we broke ground for The Williamsburg Hotel a few years back,” hotel management stated. “The full project came to fruition in 2018, but it was always a part of the plan for the hotel.” The Williamsburg has joined a wave of swanky new hotels across a northern arc of the borough, many combining industrial elements with an urbane vibe, as well as a stylish new breed of cocktail bars.
It would be easy to frame the theme-drenched Water Tower bar as a parody of Brooklyn’s recent makeover, yet another example of what gentrification has wrought. That’s an understandable take. But it might also be a cheap shot.
“When I heard about it and saw it from afar, I thought it was another great tribute to the water-tank industry and to New York, like the stained-glass tank off the BQE,” says Andrew Rosenwach, of the Rosenwach Group, formerly known as the Rosenwach Tank Co., a fourth-generation outfit that has built and maintained New York City water towers since the late 1890s. “You know what our motto is: Tanks make people happy, and this new restaurant looks like a fun spark that does give applause to the water tanks.”
In fact, Rosenwach liked the idea of The Water Tower bar so much that the company tried to book its annual Christmas party there, but the tank wasn’t big enough to accommodate its 150 employees.
Coincidentally, the Rosenwach Tank Co. used to reside catty-corner from the Williamsburg Hotel, on North 9th Street—that is, until around the time a group of “hipsters” reportedly set it ablaze while shooting off illegal roman candles in 2009. The site is now occupied by The Hoxton hotel, which opened in September; Rosenwach’s newest fabrication facility is located in Somerset, N.J.
“But we’re always, in our hearts, Brooklyn,” Rosenwach says. “In fact, with the new location, we call it the Brooklyn shop.”