Brooklyn’s newest rooftop bar is, for once, not in Williamsburg. In fact, it’s not in a trendy neighborhood at all — at least, not yet.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard is slowly being converted from a defunct shipbuilding port into the city’s new commercial food hub with a planned development that will bring in Russ & Daughters, Brooklyn Brewery, Mast Brothers and more. But some pioneers have already begun moving in.
First there was Kings County Distillery, which just debuted an outdoor tasting room for its New York state whiskeys in one of the old gatehouses flanking the Navy Yard’s entrance. And now there’s Rooftop Reds, the Brooklyn Grange-style urban winery that recently opened a wine bar on top of Building 275.
“They were two very strong precedents that gave me a lot of confidence,” says Devin Shomaker, the owner and winemaker of Rooftop Reds — oh, and he’s also the tall one behind the bar. “This is startup land, in the best way possible.”
Shomaker, 32, came to the wine business after a few years working in the world of startups, but he wasn’t happy and went back to school at Finger Lakes Community College’s viticulture and wine technology program. There, he met his business partner, Chris Papalia (he’s the other guy behind the bar), and got the idea for the first-ever urban rooftop winery.
The initial reception was cautiously optimistic — “my professor slooowly warmed to the idea,” Shomaker recalls — but the idea was a hit on Kickstarter, where they successfully raised $16,000 in 2014 and “got our foot in the door” with investors and wineries.
Though the vineyard has been growing since last May, they only opened the wine bar quietly at the start of April — except it coincided with the Fly by Night pigeon art show that Rooftop Reds just happens to have a perfect view of. “You hope to walk before you run, but we had to run before we walked,” Shomaker says. “I’m not complaining at all, it’s a great problem to have, really unbelievable business right as you open, but it definitely points out your problem areas.”
Such as learning that people need a little guidance on how to behave around the grapes — guys, leave your dogs and kids at home, and stop smoking up there.
The charm of Rooftop Reds is not just in the views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan skylines from two sides and the utilitarian elegance of the Navy Yard on the others, but that you can casually stroll among the vines or lounge in one of the many red hammocks and forget you’re in the city at all.
This week, Rooftop Reds is also kicking off biweekly movie nights with “Romeo+Juliet” — a $30 ticket gets you entry, two slices from Il Porto Pizzeria and a glass of one of 14 Finger Lakes varietals, a good portion of them from Shomaker’s investor and wine producer Point of the Bluff Vineyards (bottles will set you back a mere $22-$38). There’s no kitchen in the modest utility room-turned-wine bar, but you can get a Perfect Picnic spread with local cheeses and cured meats, olives, black tea-fig jam, a baguette and an apple.
“[The bar] is interesting on many levels to people,” says Shomaker. “On a sustainable, locally sourced level; wine is very much a part of people’s lifestyle; and then the fact that we promote the Finger Lakes wine region, which is a very underserved wine region that’s producing world-class wines.”
Working on the “continually under development” project that is Rooftop Reds, Shomaker — who also lives in an apartment next door to the Navy Yard visible from the bar — hasn’t had much chance for reflection. But having a hot spot pretty much from opening day has helped in other ways. “I try to realize how special this place is,” he says. “I don’t think I’m fully there — but other people are getting me there.”
Building 275, Brooklyn Navy Yard (follow the directions on their website, not Google Maps)
Wednesday: 4-9 p.m.
Thursday: 4-9 p.m.
Friday: 12-9 p.m.
Saturday: 12-9 p.m.