At B Bar, A Garden Paradise

Gas CafeJoel RaskinB Bar and Grill, 40 East Fourth Street.

When I sat down the other day to have lunch in the garden courtyard of B Bar and Grill, at 40 East Fourth Street, I did the natural thing. I took a seat facing out towards the Bowery. But then I thought: Why am I looking at traffic when I could be looking at the garden? And so I turned my back on the street.

Here is what I saw: A light breeze stirred the branches of the six great, spreading locust trees which grow inside the courtyard. Straw baskets, some as big and broad as beehives and others the size and shape of Chinese lanterns, hang from the branches, and the breeze had set them in gentle, bobbing motion. It was a warm day, but the broad leaves filtered out the sunlight and cast dappled shapes on the brick floor. The garden is enormous — a 3,000-square-foot space where a gas station once stood — and the sounds of talk and clattering silverware drifted up towards the sky. The East Village is not a serene place; but B Bar is.

There is a very complex, and very charming, interplay between “indoors” and “outdoors” at B Bar. Only one half of the roof is open to the sky; the other half is covered by a bamboo trellis, which leaves stripes rather than blotches of sunlight on the brick tile of the ground — that is, floor; no, ground. The surrounding wall is pierced by wide openings which offer prospects of Fourth Street and the Bowery. At B Bar you are embowered, but your beloved street-world is very much with you. Step through the wall, and you’re there.

B Bar 2Khristopher J. Brooks “This is quite different from the ordinary al fresco dining experience, where you pass through a cavelike interior into a little patch of nature at the back.”

This is quite different from the ordinary al fresco dining experience, where you pass through a cavelike interior into a little patch of nature at the back. It differs, too, from what I consider the closest rival in charm, the Cloister Café, a magical little enclosure, as the name implies, with flowers, fountains, statuary — a true garden hidden behind a wall, where all signs of urban life recede (which may explain why the place doubles as a hookah bar). I loved the Cloister Café (at 238 East Ninth Street) before I discovered B Bar, but recent fruitless visits lead me to believe that it is closed for lunch on weekdays (although its Web site suggests otherwise).

You do not hold paradise (a Persian word for “enclosed garden,” I have been told) to exacting culinary standards. B Bar is one of those places where serious food would be inappropriate, and all you seek is a cuisine exactly equal to the chef’s ambitions. In this regard, it succeeds. The first thing I ever ate there was a turkey club, a sandwich I take very seriously, and though I consider avocado slightly heterodox for a dish canonically limited to turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo, I was very pleased with the result. Ditto the grilled tuna sandwich, the fish and chicken tortillas and the hamburger. It would not occur to me to order something more elaborate.

At night B Bar turns into, of course, a bar, and the narrow space in the back near the bar is jammed with young people quite happy to shout over the hubbub. I prefer it in the dappled sunshine. The place opened (in 1993) as Bowery Bar, and is still co-owned, by Eric Goode, who must be an exceptionally cool guy, since he also owns part of the terribly chic Bowery and Maritime hotels, and established the 1980’s rock club Area.

Eric’s sister Jennifer, who came over to my table to offer horticultural guidance — the hedge in the middle of the courtyard is, indeed, boxwood — said that his great passion is saving endangered turtles, and that at that very moment he was heading to Madagascar, where he would meet up with a writer from The New Yorker who would be profiling him. He is thinking globally and serving locally.

B Bar and Grill, 40 East Fourth Street, 212-475-2220.