Freehold Mixes Business and Pleasure in a Co-Worker’s Playground

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The café at Freehold is designed for working. Photo: Elaheh Nozari

When you walk into Freehold, a coffeeshop, bar and all-around venue that opened on Williamsburg’s south side last month, the first thing you see on the menu board, below the wifi password, is an unattributed quote: “If you always do what you love, at least one person is pleased.” (A Google search identifies Katharine Hepburn as its speaker.)

It neatly sums up the vibe of the place–this is where you come to work on your passion project, and if you’re one of the lucky, entrepreneurial few whose passion project is also their career, then you’re Freehold’s target demographic.

The day-to-night hang spot on S. 3rd and Wythe is a hybrid between a members-only club like SoHo House and the lobby of a boutique hotel, like the Ace, but it lacks the exclusivity (or membership fee) of the former and the tourists of the latter. It’s egalitarian and welcoming, if very cool feeling. A sense of belonging comes not from an actual membership, but from the comfort of being able to spend an extended stretch of time working there without worrying whether you’ve ordered enough lattes and croissants, which is what I did for a few days to see if this was the freelance workspace of my dreams.

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Get a tan while you work. Photo: Elaheh Nozari

There are two entrances to Freehold, one that leads directly to the coffee shop, and one that mimics the entrance of a hotel, complete with a concierge desk. Aside from the coffee shop, the venue is split between a hotel lobby-like space with couches, booths and a long bar, a game room, and an outdoor area with astroturf and a ping pong table. By day, the entire place is filled with patrons working on MacBooks or having one-on-one meetings. By night it becomes a typical trendy bar with DJ sets and drink specials (Wednesday is all-night happy hour).

I split my time between a window seat in the coffee shop and a corner at the bar; I would’ve ventured to a more comfortable option had my computer battery not been so needy. This is one of the drawbacks compared to an actual co-working space–Freehold is not specifically designed to accommodate dozens of laptops, so finding a spot to plug in can be a challenge. It is, however, a good place to have meetings. There are couches and a few booths with big, conference-room like tables and table service from the waitstaff, but no pressure to order.

I was able to get more work done here than in the cramped coffeeshops that I’m used to, but the too-good-to-miss people-watching was often a distraction. On my first visit, the booths were filled with people who looked like they could be famous but were really just tan Europeans (if you’ve set foot in Williamsburg lately, you know the type). On my second visit, I spotted a pair of regulars who are part of a Swedish graphic design team. A casting agent for models and her assistant conducting “go-sees” were also camped out one afternoon.

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Belly up to the bar, day or night. Photo: Elaheh Nozari

Though there’s a full menu, you don’t come to Freehold for the food, as well-presented as it is. The kitchen serves a clubhouse cuisine with a soul food twist–mac n’ cheese, burgers, po’ boy sandwiches and the like. There’s breakfast every day and brunch on the weekend, but as your entry ticket to lounge, drinks are what’s important. There’s everything from Stumptown coffee and kombucha on tap to whiskey cocktails and local beer. As a Diet Coke addict, I was pleasantly surprised to find $1.50 cans of my daily fix in the refrigerator (I was expecting $4 glass bottles).

There are also daily specials, including $8 and $12 pitchers of beer on Mondays, $1 oysters and $5 glasses of wine on Tuesdays and half-price at the bar on Wednesdays.

To really experience Freehold is to come in the morning (perhaps on Sunday for morning yoga), do some work on your laptop during the day, then meet for a drink at the bar. The “lobby” is filled with brunchers on the weekend, but the café is still a good place to work. Overall, this is not the place to go if you need a silent, distraction-free environment. But if you need to alternate between meetings and working, Freehold is a perfect for freelancers who want a break from their neighborhood coffeeshop, or who aren’t sold on co-working.

If I had to pinpoint exactly why I liked working here, it’d be because I never felt like I was overstaying my welcome, even when I started to hear songs from the day’s playlist repeat. I would’ve happily stayed later into the night, if not for the logistics of bar hopping with a backpack and a laptop.

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