By Nadine Friedman
On any Tuesday evening in Bed-Stuy, if you find yourself drawn in by the glittering kitsch visible from Franklin Avenue‘s stillness, you’ll be greeted at Sweet Revenge, a favorite local dive, by mellow bartender Johnny Lupiani. When you order your drink, he’ll suggest pairing it with a pulled pork sandwich made fresh and delicious by the “The Lady Upstairs“. It’s almost mystical sounding, like you’re being offered entry into a new, secret and alluring food tradition. Say yes.
Sweet Revenge is the kind of place where you’re not embarrassed to bury your head in aluminum foil wrapping, stuffing your face with that mysteriously delicious and unexpected sandwich, hot sauce dripping down your shirt (something mitigated anyway by the added benefit of a prominently, um, red lighting design. It’s like, real red in there).
Johnny, here for 2 years, shrugs off the clichés of gentrification when describing the place. “All anybody wants around here is quality of life. We’re not trying to change people. We try to provide a place where different groups overlap- people make friends here“. It’s not Corcoranized rhetoric. People do make friends here. From the swaying groups at the bar, in the sandy backyard or in the ‘tropical’ alcove, people are unselfconsciously happy here. Nobody looks like each other. DJs are good and frequently surprise you. While there’s a list of specialty cocktails, none sport eye-rolling double digit price tags.
I had my first kiss with my boyfriend there – sexy, easy and yeah, red. I returned this past Tuesday to ask Johnny and crew about the unique collaboration with The Lady Upstairs, and the bar’s ability to unite neighbors.
Co-owners Courtney White and Christine Deegan, disarmingly good looking for people who’ve worked nonstop on the place since signing the lease in 2006, embody the bar‘s sense of inclusion. When they broadened their real estate options to include Bed-Stuy during their search for a spot five years ago, the pair staked out the Classon G station at rush hour to daydream the possible clientele. Like ‘The Sims’ with tattoos and a Metrocard. It didn’t take them long to decide they’d found the right place.
Christine sums up the appeal: “We want everyone who comes in here to feel like they discovered it.” They mean it. At the Franklin Avenue address, the women have created a spot that genuinely values community over commerce. Looking at the crowded calendar of parties and events, Courtney details how the neighborhood itself curates Sweet Revenge’s schedule. “Someone will walk in and suggest a Saturday salsa night. So we’ll put it on the calendar. Christine and I are not picking out ideal events. People come to us.” Essentially, Bed -Stuy’s values (which apparently include mud wrestling) throw the parties.
Johnny and Chef Marsha Crawford (aka The Lady Upstairs, (aka TLU, (although she prefers the inclusion of ‘Sexy”, (so, then, hereafter known as TSLU ) ) ) ), however, cover the menu themselves. A Rochester chef, he’s worked in high-end kitchens as well as “some of the worst diners you’ve ever been to” since he was 16. On summer Sundays in 2010, he brought Rochester’s regional delicacy, the Garbage Plate, to the backyard grill. Of course, this is Brooklyn: His version of the famous pyramid of diner food included pasture-raised Black Angus from a local farm. Now, he and TSLU are rocking the Tuesday night pulled pork.
Marsha, sassily complementing Courtney and Christine’s kooky charisma, has both honed cooking skills and a flexible appreciation for food in humble venues like Morimoto. Living above Sweet Revenge has enabled her to serve straight from her kitchen (a kitchen which prompted her to take the apartment on sight, before seeing the rest of it). And that neighborly convenience is what allows the quaint pulled-pork partnership to flourish.
Marsha operates as a basically an on-call, cool-as-hell lunch lady, starting the pork shoulder on Monday and letting it braise in the hidden upstairs kitchen all through the night. Come Tuesday, minutes after yielding to Johnny’s advice to try one, your sandwich magically appears in front of you, placed there by TSLU herself, who has seemingly spontaneously materialized right out of the dim red light. Somehow, a bottle of hot sauce and a napkin is there too, even though Johnny is halfway down the bar.
The sandwich? Memphis style barbeque: perfectly tender, spicy and juicy, surrounded by a crusty roll. On the night of our visit, to complement that week’s Honky Tonk Hoedown theme, Marsha highlighted the sweet-hot notes and included a simple, crunchy slaw. The prior Tuesday, she’d gone Texas-style, throwing down a more straightforward heat. Hands down, Crawford knows how to give humble bar food some serious personality. The only drawback to the pulled pork accord, Courtney laments, is the lack of a dumbwaiter.
Christine spoke of the value of options, and the neighborhood’s continuous increase in them. Sweet Revenge on a Tuesday is a merry but serious option , reflected by the attitudes of the team. Marsha and Johnny happily tailored their haute backgrounds to hand out paper-bagged pork sandwiches in a dim dive steps from the G train. Courtney and Christine, imagining a never-ending stream neighborhood-inspired events and parties, consider themselves fun neighbors more than bar owners. A trio of Alpha estrogen in snap button flannels with a dash of Johnny in a sidecar, they engage community and elevate sandwiches, making Bed Stuy a better place.
The dumbwaiter? Probably not going to happen.
You can find Sweet Revenge at 348 Franklin Ave, between Greene Ave & Lexington Ave in Bed-Stuy – just off the G.