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Clock Bar Keeps Growing with Plans for Grocery and More

 The popular Port Morris hub has major expansion plans in the works, including a grocery and beer garden.
The Evolving Clock Bar
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PORT MORRIS — Time flies when you’re the Clock Bar.

Just over a year after the lounge opened and started selling martinis and finger food, the Clock, as it’s called, has evolved into a rollicking neighborhood hub that serves handcrafted cocktails and a full lunch and dinner menu and hosts wedding parties, gay nights and fundraisers for mayoral candidates.

But even as they celebrate the Clock’s one-year anniversary this weekend, the owners are busy enacting ambitious plans that reach beyond the bar’s brick walls: a large expansion, real-estate development and a combined beer garden and boutique grocery.

All reflect their conviction that the bar’s fate is bound to the neighborhood’s.

“We’re not in the restaurant business,” explained general manager Michael Brady, who co-owns the Clock with Charlie Said. “We’re in the community-development business.”

The Clock opened in March 2012 at the base of the Clock Tower, a five-story residential loft building at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard.

The landmarked former piano factory had become a stylish address for adventurous artists and young professionals, but its ground floor, briefly a white-wall gallery, had sat vacant for a year by the time the Clock arrived.

At first, the bar sold mostly martinis and small dishes, such as tapas and hummus. But when Brady, a former teacher and lobbyist, became general manager last June, he brought in experts to overhaul the food and drink menus.

Tiffany Minter, the head chef who came from Manhattan’s popular Spotted Pig gastro-pub, helped design dishes that this spring will include shrimp po’boy and pulled-pork Cuban sandwiches.

Lauren Martin, a mixologist with 25 years of experience, makes from scratch the infusions that go into drinks like the Rosemary Jalapeño Margarita and the Thyme Clock. 

Meanwhile, the bar has become an official community center, a coffee shop-gallery-café-and-clubhouse rolled into one. Residents tap away on laptops, local artists hang their work and perform and politicians hobnob — Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson, Ruben Diaz Jr. and others have all held events there.

“I just feel like the neighborhood’s more alive because of it,” said Vanessa Polanco, co-owner of Verde Flowers, a floral design company across the street.

Today, the bar is in the midst of a major expansion.

The owners have snatched up two 1,000-square-foot apartments in the Clock Tower adjacent to the bar, which they plan to turn into a full-size kitchen and a private dining room.

When the additions open in August, the bar’s seating capacity will balloon from 70 to 160 people, and it will no longer need to close to the public during private events.

The owners have also signed leases for a vacant dock and basement space and plan to rent an attached outdoor area when it becomes available this year — their dream is to control the building’s entire ground floor.

The connected dock-basement-outdoor space is where the owners envision a grocery-beer garden hybrid, where locals could buy gourmet cooking supplies and organic produce, or sit and sip lager in the open air.

In other words, come for the kale — but stay for the ale.

“It’s a genius idea,” said Evelyn Alvarez, a Port Morris resident and Clock Bar regular.

Like many others in the area, she bemoans the fact that the nearest full-size supermarket is about a half-mile to the north. Alvarez often crosses a bridge to Harlem to do her shopping.

“It’s inconvenient,” she said. “There are a lot of restaurants around here — but having a store would be ideal.”

The owners are discussing plans with an architect now — the process is slightly complicated by the building’s landmark status — but hope to begin construction this year, Brady said.

Meanwhile, they are carrying out their larger strategy: to uplift the entire neighborhood as they expand their fledgling empire.

Last year, they formed a merchants’ association with Verde and several other local businesses. The group has installed planters, pruned trees and sought improvement grants.

The Clock owners have also created their own 10-block development plan, bought some nearby properties and partnered with a local production kitchen.

And they have spoken with investors about the possibility of building a mixed-use tower in the neighborhood with apartments and a waterfront restaurant.

For Brady, who lives in the Clock Tower, the challenge is to spur growth while keeping the neighborhood affordable and inclusive — to be “developers who can protect the neighborhood from other developers," as he put it.

“We try very hard to take care of the community we live in,” Brady said.

Michael Moreno, 27, who moved into the Clock Tower just a few weeks ago, is already a regular at the Clock Bar, where people now know his name — “It’s kind of like ‘Cheers,’” he said.

Moreno does work for his marketing job, watches sports and eats most meals at the Clock, he said.

“When I came here, I didn’t want to leave,” he explained. “Once I saw it, I was like, ‘This is home.’”

To celebrate its one-year anniversary, the Clock Bar will host an open bar from 4-5 p.m. on Friday and karaoke at 6 p.m. On Saturday, a community barbecue runs from 1 to 5 p.m. and a Pride Night dance party is planned for the evening.