Staten Island’s 120 Bay Cafe keeps some precious cargo
120 Bay Cafe, 120 Bay St., St. George; 718-273-7770; website under construction
Menu: Pub grub and eclectic bites that spin off the old Cargo menu and fuse some flavors of DaNoi
Atmosphere: Seriously casual with a partially open kitchen, a main dining room with a bar and long, comfortable table in the middle of the room to eat/drink/hang out over. Back room is for dining and entertainment which includes theme nights around board games, etc.
Hours: Kitchen open Sunday-Wednesday, noon to closing around midnight; Thursday-Saturday, noon to 2 a.m. Bar may be open until 4 a.m.
Prices: Lunch (burgers, wraps and salads), $6.95 and up. Dinner (salads/appetizers/finger foods/sandwiches), $8.95 to $12.95.
Drinks: Full bar with eight revolving beers on tap. Bottled brews include mainstream standards and craft selections. House wines are available by the glass and the restaurant is working on a wine list.
Specs: Metered parking during the day; 24-hour municipal lot around the corner. It’s not just that it’s spring time: Cargo Cafe in St. George really is fresh and new. The popular bar and restaurant — shuttered by the NYC Department of Health one year ago this month following an inspection that netted 85 sanitary violation points, a record high for Island eateries — reopened last week as the 120 Bay Cafe under new ownership. Some things will smack as familiar to regulars who haunted the proudly eclectic joint for Sunday brunch, weekend “Trivia Nights” or the convivial bar scene with pub grub that satisfies most anyone in a late-night over-beveraged state. Booth seating and paper-roll table covers remain the same, as does the pool table and overall downtown hipster vibe. The back room still has that hung-over kind of feel to it — a plywood wall as the backdrop to a floor mic, mix-’n’-match tabletops, a painted concrete floor and two mirrors that bleed cold candle wax. The new “decorations” include lawn gnomes — with their eyes blacked out — trapped in bird cages suspended from the ceiling. Back in the day, Cargo was a place that you’d shut one eye on the grit and funk just because the place was what it was. “God created Cargo for a reason,” I remember one Bay St. Landing resident saying years ago. And that reason is that it sparks life into the area for a good part of the day. At night, it still stands as a destination for a broad cross-section of Islanders, predominately North Shore types. But Cargo is funkier now (in a positive way) and presents itself without the often whiffable grunge. Also gone: The disinterested demeanors of yesteryear’s servers, replaced by a thoughtful albeit novice staff. Restaurateur Ed Gomez — of Da Noi, Bin 5 and Il Divo — is the new owner. He retained the “old” chef, Farington Coohgnhe, who has been with the establishment 21 years. The 120 Bay Cafe vibe, Gomez explains, has a “lotta peace, lotta love, lotta interesting things.” “Interesting,” for better or worse depending on your design tastes, includes artwork by Scott Lobaido. In true Cargo tradition, Lobaido painted green serpentine swirls outside the building. The interior includes a splashy, vibrantly colored winged creature that blows out from over the bar. An L.E.D. counter above the sculpture ticks down the seconds to Dec. 21, 2012, the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar. (Pencil it in and keep your fingers crossed for a party to celebrate the event on that date.) PRECIOUS MOMENTS: Have a favorite memory from the heydey (and, depending on your entry point, this could span multiple decades) of Cargo Cafe? From open-air S.I. T.R.A.S.H. performance art to the trivial pursuits of mustachioed host Kevin Devlin, send your reminiscences to AWE@siadvance.com or post them in the comments section for this story at SILive.com/AWE. The best of the bunch will be featured in an upcoming issue.Lobaido also fashioned aluminum foil into Ken doll-sized figurines and hung them from the rafters and light fixtures in the main dining room — juvenile but likely topics of conversation after scrutinizing some of the poses. Worn-looking fuschia-hued upholstery on many chairs throughout the resident artist’s “gallery” make for an appropriately shabby chic set of furniture for the place. Those chairs, by the way, hail from a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan that Gomez took over — at 49th St. and Third Avenues (across the street from Smith and Wollensky) — which will be another DaNoi in five weeks. That will make six eateries in Gomez’ repertoire.