The Culture Spot: Sweet Afton, a break from the norm
by Danielle McClure
Sep 23, 2009 | 21467 views | 0 0 comments | 579 579 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Sweet Afton isn’t a typical Irish pub.

You won’t find gimmicky shamrocks in the windows, antique shillelaghs on the walls, or obtrusive TV screens showing the big game.

It’s a cozy, sophisticated gastro-pub and lounge that offers a welcome twist on a tired neighborhood standby. For all this and more, Sweet Afton is quickly becoming a favorite new watering hole among thirsty locals since doors opened at the end of August.

“It’s just a great place for beer and somewhere you can go and make friends. That’s it,” said the owner-manager Ruairi Curtin, who moved to Astoria from Ireland 10 years ago. After opening Manhattan hotspots, Wilfie & Nell and Bua, Curtin set his sights on his own neighborhood.

“I always felt there was room for a really great bar here,” he said. “I love it here. I really believe in Astoria, but I never really felt like I had a nice bar where I could roll up and hang my hat and know the bartender and get a good drink and a nice burger.”

One year after Curtin stumbled upon a vacant former tobacco shop on 34th Street just off 30th Avenue, Sweet Afton was born. The bar is named after an old brand of Irish tobacco, Curtin said, as well as a Robert Burns poem.

With its exposed brick walls, low lighting, rustic décor, and intimate patio, Sweet Afton is homey and inviting, lending itself (and its friendly, attentive staff) to a laid-back, unpretentious vibe.

Most of the interior décor is composed of reclaimed materials. The bar was made from shipping crates, with the original shipping stamps still intact.The large wooden beams that cover the ceiling are pieces from an old barge and olive barrels. (“When they were cutting the barrels,” Curtin said, “you could still smell the olives”).

Other items are fashioned from one-time German hops poles, and the tables and chairs were scavenged from a defunct upstate diner.

In addition to carrying ten craft beers - such as Captain Lawrence and Ommegang - on tap, Sweet Afton offers a rotating beer of the month and is also the first bar in Queens to feature cask ale, a naturally-carbonated, unfiltered, hand-pumped beer that’s typically served warm.

“It’s a new thing,” Curtin noted. “We’re trying to get the temperatures just right.”

Curtin’s place also has a well-edited selection of classic cocktails, such as the Rye Old Fashioned and Calvados Sidecar (both $8) served up by knowledgeable mixologists. House specialties are created with fresh fruit and infused liquors that are made in-house. The Spicy Cherry Margarita ($9) gives a delightful kick with habanero-infused tequila, and McClure’s Pickles from Brooklyn are the star ingredient of the popular Dirty Pickle Martini ($9).

The no-frills menu from chef P.J. Calapa features affordable, typical Irish-inspired pub fare made with produce from local vendors, including meat from Butcher’s Block in Sunnyside and fresh bread from Maspeth’s Rollo Mio.

Try the hearty Sweet Afton burger with Irish cheese ($8), hand cut, malt vinegar-infused fries ($4), Irish sausage rolls ($7), or delicious beer-battered fried pickles with “smokey sauce” ($4).

Curtin plans to start a brunch menu in October, which he hopes will include a new spin on Irish Breakfast: “Irish sausage, fried egg, blood pudding and Irish bacon— in a roll. It’s not the healthiest thing in the world,” Curtin said, “but it’ll taste good!”

Sweet Afton | 30-09 34th Street (@ 30th Avenue) | (718) 777-2570
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