By A.P. Smith
Zablozki’s has been a neighborhood fixture since 2004, before the Williamsburg gold rush, back when its neighbor, Sweetwater Restaurant, was the punk dive Sweetwater Tavern.
Before the flood, Williamsburg had a small town feel, and only a few bars provided for the locals: Sweetwater, Rosemary’s, Union Pool, Teddy’s, Brooklyn Ale House, Red and Black… just a smattering of watering holes compared to the swampland we know today.
Back then, before Zablozki’s moved in, 107 North 6th Street housed a Croatian discotheque called Level X. “It was all concrete and it was pretty horrible,” says Ari Zablozki, 42.
“The guys who went to the old Sweetwater Tavern used to call Level X ‘the penalty box,’ and when people were bad, they sent them over there.”
For some newer Williamsburg residents, it may be difficult to imagine Sweetwater as a dive bar, or North 6th Street without American Apparel or Academy Records, and with a concrete Croatian discotheque.
When Ari and his wife, Ali Zablozki, 34, first started building out Zablozki’s, they used Level X as a template. “I did everything the exact opposite,” says Ari.
Zablozki’s is a large bar, with dark wood walls and half sconce lights that create a cozy atmosphere, despite the size of the space. Bench tables line the sides, with darts and a pool table in the back near a wall resembling the exterior of a mountain cabin. And the bar itself is a weighty antique from Chicago, circa 1930, that Ari picked up from, “this guy who had it in his garage upstate. He had, like, 60 feet of bar, a full horseshoe bar, so I went up in a U-Haul and brought it down here.”
“It was a process of love,” Ali says of building the bar.
“When we came to the neighborhood, the people were amazing.”
“We met carpenters here as we were building,” adds Ari.
“And then we built the bar together.”
With an interior almost entirely of wood, Zablozki’s feels like a den or like your favorite uncle’s converted basement.
And after meeting Ari and Ali, it seems all the homier.
“This is an extension of our living room,” Ali says. “It’s important for us that we want to hang out here.”
After the couple met at Ali’s second cousin’s wedding, they began dating, soon moved in together, and married two years later. They own the two-story building and live upstairs with their two-and-half-year-old son and a boxer dog named Miley.
“We came from different backgrounds. I’m from Rockland County and Ari is from Brooklyn,” Ali says. “My mom is a teacher, my dad worked for ibm for 30 years. I went to college and was going to have a job and stay in it for 30 years. Ari took me out of my nine-to-five misery.” She smiles. “Now I run the bar.”
With Ali managing the bar, Ari has time to oversee his other businesses, Marina 59, a five-acre property nestled in Somerville Basin, in the heart of the Rockaway Peninsula.
After inheriting the marina over ten years ago, he’s been actively managing it for the last two years, wholeheartedly welcoming and embracing last summer’s emigration of Williamsburg artists and artisans, including the highly publicized Boggsville Boatel, a floating hotel and theater, housed at Marina 59.
“It’s crazy,” Ari says, excitedly. “Far Rockaway is like the wild west.”
Last summer several Williamsburg businesses set up concessions on the boardwalk at Far Rockaway, including Blue Bottle Coffee, Caracas, and a joint project of Robertta’s and The Meat Hook called Rippers, which is part snack shack and part juice bar. Many of Williamsburg’s younger residents forego the traditional Hamptons excursions in favor of the more artistic, free-spirited vibe of the Rockaways.
“I went to Midwood High School back when the drinking age was 18,” Ari explains. “When I was 15 and 16, I could go into Brooklyn bars, specifically around Midwood, around ‘The Junction’. I have fond memories of those bars.” He smiles, looking around at his bar. “And I tried to build this place based on that.”
“We want it to be around for 100 years, something we hope to pass down to our son,” adds Ali.
Most of the bartenders and staff have worked at the bar for years, keeping with the friendly, neighborly atmosphere.
And with a 2pm–8pm happy hour Monday through Friday, featuring $2 pbrs and $3 well drinks, you can’t find a better deal in Williamsburg.
Zablozki’s is open 365 days a year, and never closes early, a point of pride for both Ari and Ali. And having been here for as long as they have, watching the neighborhood grow and change, how do they feel about the recent developments?
“I have mixed feelings about it,” Ali answers. “I feel like I was living in a neighborhood where you knew everyone. As for living here, just being residents in the neighborhood, I preferred it when it felt like a small town and it really was a small town. As far as business is concerned, obviously, with more people, you serve more drinks.”
“Are we serving more drinks?” asks Ari.
“Yes, I believe we are,” says Ali.
And with all the new bars and cocktail lounges opening in the neighborhood, would the Zablozkis have any advice for someone considering opening their own bar?
They look at each other for a moment, each waiting to hear the other one answer. Ari takes the lead: “They should open a place they would want to hang out in, that attracts the kind of people they would want to hang out with. Try not to hype in and hype out. Try to build something substantial, something with soul.”
After all, establishments like Zablozki’s, places with that substance, that soul, as Ari puts it, are what initially served the small town of Williamsburg and provided a draw for the recent influx of people and developments.
And as the neighborhood continues to change, develop, and attract more residents and businesses, one hopes that Zablozki’s—such an authentic, unpretentious pocket of a bar—can survive, nay, thrive, for years. Maybe even, Mrs. Zablozki, it will be here for generations to come.