A chalkboard propped outside a corner building on Wyckoff Avenue, in Bushwick, offered Iced Coffee! and Hot Dogs!, on a hot Sunday afternoon. I was sold. Inside, Nikki Koch, one of three owners, handed me a menu and suggested a hot dog (meat or veggie) with cream cheese, McClure's relish, and jalapeños. “Our liquor license should be here tomorrow,” she told me, and indicated that I should order by using a small pencil to tick off my choices on a paper slip. “Locally sourced comfort foods" also include soft pretzels with Cheez Whiz and vegetarian Frito pie. When Koch told me The Cobra Club is also a yoga studio, I worried I’d been ensnared by a trap set just for me.
"These are all my favorite things," I told her. "I can get everything I like here?"
"Exactly! These are all our favorite things too!"
Koch and her partners Julia Huffman and Dana Bushman are doing both aspects of the bar very well. Cocktails are subtle and fresh, made with top-shelf spirits; those hot dogs are from The Meat Hook; and no detail was overlooked when building the yoga studio. Changing rooms and lockers (a rarity in this area) line a waiting area that acts as extra soundproofing between the yoga and the drinkers. The partners turned to Indie Gogo to raise funds for the studio’s sprung floor. The original flooring was concrete, and the new floor is set in place over foam and wooden blocks for bounce that prevents injury and is usually found in professional dance studios. The goal was exceeded, and all donors were offered 150 percent of the money donated in their choice of bar tabs or yoga classes.
"This business started from the back-forward," said Koch. "The yoga came first, and the social aspect of that is really important to me. After a class, I feel like the best version of myself, and that means I want to be social. Julia and I always go out together after class and drink wine.” I am personally familiar with that technique, and challenge anything on the prescription market to compete with its stress deleting, muscle unspooling power.
When Koch took a break from the bar business for a stint with Skyn Iceland, she learned about the profound effects of stress on the aging process, and, determined to find a relaxed, happy life, she began studying to be a yoga teacher. Huffman was skeptical when Koch asked her to serve as a model student during training. "I'll do it because I love you, but I hate yoga," Huffman said. A few months later, Huffman was so hooked that she decided to train as an instructor herself. They both believe that a healthy life includes vice; self-flagellation and guilt for imperfect choices may be worse than indulging, theorizes Koch.
Last Friday’s grand opening party, billed as a Punk Rock Sock Hop, rocked. “Everyone in this neighborhood gets excited when a new place opens,” said one guest. “Bushwick feels like a small town, so we root for people.” Not such a small town: the owners estimate six hundred people came in total throughout the night.
Koch and Huffman, working the room in rockabilly dresses and ponytails, were happily stunned at the turnout. Earlier that day, they covered the precious studio floor with sheets of plastic and brown paper. When "Should I Stay or Should I Go," played, the crowd started jumping and we felt the sprung wood bounce.
Patrick Allen, an art handler at the nearby Pocahontas and Zarathustra was excited to see the place come alive at night. "I would take the train an hour here every morning, even if I dind't work in Bushwick. I love this place." He comes in every morning for coffee after his commute from Prospect Heights.
Cans of Hell or High Watermelon beer were popular and not as sweet as I expected. The dry hint of melon was perfect for summer. Cobra Club’s signature Hangover Yoga class was scheduled for 1PM the next day, so I prepared by stepping up my order. Cocktails are all named for songs by The Misfits. The We Are 138 is made with Bulleit Bourbon, St. Germain, fresh lemon, and honey simple syrup, and it was perfect.
Hangover Yoga is a low-key, inversion-free weekend class that comes with a Bloody Mary or Mimosa. Koch arrived glowing to teach the class despite her own long night. This wasn’t Bikram; the AC kept us cool. Poses were kept close to the mats. There wasn’t any chanting or sanskrit, and yoga at Cobra is not meant as a means to an end but as a moment to enjoy. "Think of your back as pancake batter, spreading out in a skillet,” Koch instructed. And I did, while enjoying a class playlist: “Sweet Jane” by Cowboy Junkies, an acoustic, lullaby rendition of “I Want To Be Sedated,” Johnny Cash’s cover of U2’s “One Love,” and “M'Bifé”by Amadou and Miriam. But in a room of likely hungover people, this suggestion near the end seemed ominous: "Let go of the idea of controlling any part of your body, in any way at all."
After class, the bartender made one of the best Bloody Marys I’ve ever had, offering a choice of regular, spicy, or blue cheese olives. I started to ask about the recipe, but she distracted me with a tasting of Root, an old-fashioned, hard root beer by Art in the Age. It's botanical-laden ingredient list—birch bark, smoked black tea, cinnamon, clove, anise—seemed as medicinal as the post yoga beverages offered elsewhere.
The Cobra Club’s mission—to be a community center where people get to know neighbors and make friends after class over drinks—is already falling into place. Hours after class ended, students from the hangover class, including two Manhattan yoga teachers, were still at the bar, eating and talking.
Brooklyn yogis are at least as opinionated as they are devoted. When news of Cobra Club hit the yoga blogs, some commenters were aghast. The owners expected this, but were particularly stung by one comment suggesting they might as well add a methadone clinic. But other commenters pointed out Yoga Sutra 4.1, "Psychic and spiritual powers may be inborn, or they may be gained by the use of drugs, or by incantations, or by fervour(sic), or by Meditation."
I'll leave yoga's history and rules to the purists. It's hot as hell out there and I could use a Last Caress. That's Lillet Rosé, fresh grapefruit juice, and soda.
Photograph by 3 PHOTOGRAPHERS.