Monday, May 15, 2006

The Alligator Lounge and The Crocodile Lounge - Free Pizza is Totally Awesome.

When I used to live in Austin, going out was never a spontaneous adventure into the vibrant nightlife, but a routine journey to a handful of selected bars. Monday was dollar beers at Hole In The Wall, Tuesday was two dollar tall boys at Beerland, Wednesday was four dollar shots at Red Fez and so on. These watering holes were selected by a heard mentality, solely based on drink specials and never on a criteria of hip crowds, resident Djs or decent bar staff. The overall result was a group of no frill bars that did little more than offer an inexpensive way to get enjoyably blotto and expect the crowd to show up.

As one can imagine, the New York bar scene is a bit more competitive. For the most part, bars seem to offer the same happy hour, the same drinks and the same prices. What it comes down to is a personal preference (obviously) of décor, bartenders and crowd. There is, however, another element that can affect one’s choice of patronage and that is the offer of free food. More and more bars these days are luring patrons with free meals that are definitely a step above “pub grub”. Usually made fresh to order, saloons across the city (and boroughs) are offering up everything from burgers to po-boys to BBQ and beyond. And while these gastronomic offering are enticing, the real haute gourmet of bar food is the personal pizza.

My first encounter with free pizza occurred at the Alligator Lounge in Brooklyn over a year ago. I had just moved back to the city, and being low on funds, was searching for a cheap way to both get full and inebriated. A friend of mine had asked me if I had ever heard of a pizza bar, where the ordering of one drink entitled you to a free, freshly cooked pizza. At first I was wary. I imagined the pizza to be nothing more than a microwaved slice of Ellios, an ironic twist on bar food. Boy was I wrong. For the cost of a pint of Yuengling ($4) and tip ($1 for the bartender and $1 for your pizza guy) one could enjoy a delicious, frosty lager, matched perfectly with a freshly made, wood oven cooked pizza.

A little over a month ago the Alligator Lounge’s sister bar, the Crocodile Lounge, opened up in the East Village. With The Cuz living just around the corner, we stopped by opening weekend, both clutching half-priced drink tickets we had received earlier that week. The first difference we noticed between the two bars was the décor. The Alligator Lounge looks like it was designed during a Jaws inspired acid trip (think blue ceilings and bloody mannequin parts), while the Crocodile Lounge has a more refined, college bar feel (think stainless steel and a skee ball machine). The other major difference was they oven. Instead of a romantic, wood-burning oven that one can find at the original lounge, the new lounge offers an industrial, gas-burning oven, something that adds nothing to the atmosphere or the taste of the pizza.

Taking full advantage of my drink ticket, I ordered the home made Bloody Mary ($7 without coupon) and sat down to wait the twenty minutes or so it would take to make and cook my pizza. When the pizza finally arrived I was famished, and could barely contain myself. Each pizza is complimented with a fully decked out spice rack filled with salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese. The pizza itself looked perfect: an eight inch pie of golden brown, thin crust, well spread sauce, fully melted cheese and spiced to perfection. The pie is sliced into eight pieces, and while small in individual portions, let’s not forget your have an entire pie to yourself. Not to sound over zealous, but the pizza was nothing short of fantastic. The pie was a nice nod to New York pizza, with the only complaints I had being that there was too much crust and the lacking smoky aftertaste one gets from a pizza cooked in a wood burning oven.

Now while there is no limit to how many pizzas one can order, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would need more than one or two. Even The Cuz, whose appetite I am constantly impressed by, can usually only get through about one and a half pies (two on a good day) before he throws in the napkin. The greatest thing is that there’s no catch here, just a laid back crowd with nice bartenders, reasonably priced beer and, of course, delicious, free pizza.

The Alligator Lounge is located at 600 Metropolitan Ave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The Crocodile Lounge is located at 325 East 14th St in New York City.

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