Back in the days when this corner bar at 29th Street and 24th Avenue was Silenus, we never had the nerve to go in, no matter how long the kielbasa line at the Beer Garden across the street would become. But when Silenus was taken over by the owners of the late and lamented Tupelo and converted to Sparrow (the name seems to have been chosen because they could convert the Silenus awning into Sparrow without having to replace it) we had some hope for an alternative.
It seemed inevitable that a bar would thrive in that spot once the Beer Garden started to be overrun by douchey frathouse types, but at first the Sparrow didn't really bother much with food; it was content with the hipster crowd it drew with its divey ad hoc interior and consistently good music (a recent visit we heard Os Mutantes, the Zombies, the Small Faces and the Creation). But they could only let the opportunity their prime location across from Astoria's lone nightlife attraction from non-Queensian provided lay fallow for so long. Out went the ragtag couches, in came some two-tops and a menu heavy with offerings like herb pesto and speck.
The brunch is a welcome change from the standard neighborhood offerings: croissant french toast, juicy "brunch burgers," brioche and egg sandwiches with goat cheese options. Nothing has left us wanting. The staff was kind enough to point out which offerings were too heavy for a sunny Saturday afternoon begging for outdoor activity, and was apologetic on a nighttime visit when they were slammed with an outpouring from the Beer Garden. Those nighttime options are easy on the palate too. We had what was essentially a croque monsieur with cheese and cured ham, and we've also partaken in their simple meat, cheese, and olive plates, which were well priced and with an international selection. The beers and wine are well-chosen, offering no more or less than what you need in a restaurant-bar of this size (Sparrow would comfortably seat about 24) -- no throwaway choices, and nothing ostentatiously esoteric either.
We like it. Really, we do. It's just that in Sparrow, we feel like we're in lower Greenpoint. This isn't a bad thing, but it's not exactly a compliment either. It's designed, priced, and occupied by and for people who aren't entirely dissimilar to us: under-40 imports from other parts of the country who work in semi-creative fields, have cash to blow on brunch every weekend but not enough to nonchalantly assume a Manhattan (or Williamsburg, even) lifestyle, and a certain appreciation of food and music without being too precious about either. We appreciate Sparrow for understanding and catering to our general lifestyle. At the same time, what has made Astoria so dear to us is that it serves as a respite from workaday life replete with, well, under-40 imports from other parts of the country who work in semi-creative fields.
Sparrow has been around long enough, and its owners clearly committed enough to providing well for its clientele, that we're nowhere near eschewing it out of some principle based on "old Astoria" -- we recognize that the neighborhood has shifted over the years, and we're not totally unhappy about that. But the conversation that led us to our first brunch at Sparrow involved the phrase "I'm in the mood for a twee brunch." We know where we'll go -- and be satisfied -- when we're in that mood (we recently did a double-header and had both brunch and dinner there). For other moods, we have a whole neighborhood to choose from. And we often will.
Price: We can't quite remember, so it couldn't have been that expensive.
Will we go again? Our tribe congregates here, and we do have to attend the annual meeting, so yes.