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Entries in Bars (165)

Wednesday
Feb232011

Harry Boland's Seized by Taxman


Harry Boland's, the straight-ahead Irish pub on Ninth Street just west of Fifth, has been seized due to nonpayment of taxes. The infamous orange sign is affixed to the window, and the doors are locked. 

The quiet pub, known for its warm, relaxed atmosphere and loyal crowd of regulars, is one of the more under-the radar pubs in the Slope. Knocks on the door and calls to the establishment went unanswered, so there's no word yet on how long it'll take to get their situation sorted out. Let's keep our fingers crossed that this classic pub isn't done for good.

Tuesday
Feb222011

Big Changes In Store For O'Connor's


When Mike Maher bought O'Connor's Bar, on Fifth Avenue between Bergen and Dean, three years ago from the O'Connor family, the nearly 80-year old room was in need of urgent repair. Aesthetics aside, the ceiling leaked, A/C and heating were shot, and electrical issues prevented even a microwave from being turned on without shorting out the circuit.

All that's changing now, and a lot more. For the past year construction has been quietly underway, expanding the bar to at least three times' its original size with the addition of a huge back room, a kitchen, and a second floor with an outdoor beer garden. Yesterday city workers were in the process of installing a new electrical system (above), and I had a chance to chat with Maher about the changes in store. 

"We're modernizing the room, but a priority is to keep the old look," he said. "We'll be saving the bar and the booths and as much of the room as we can, but the seats will be replaced, because they're falling apart. If we want to serve food, we have to bring it up to code."

That food will be served out of a large kitchen in the new back room, and will consist of your usual Irish bar food: burgers, fish and chips, shepherd's pie, and the like. A stage is also being built back there, and they'll feature live music as often as possible. Another modernization in store: draught beer.

When construction is complete (they're aiming for this summer), patrons will once again be able to have a drink in the (no longer rat infested) back yard, and the new upstairs room will also feature a large outdoor seating area. "We want to keep the new areas classic-looking, but still be very modern," said Maher. "It should be a great place to have a party."

"When I was a candidate to purchase this bar from the O'Connor family, I was the only one who promised to keep the name, and the brand," said Maher. "Everybody else wanted to change the name. People connected to the Atlantic Yards offered them more money, but they sold it to me because I promised to keep it O'Connor's, and to not build condos on the roof. I think the O'Connor family would be happy with what we're doing here. They never considered the bar a 'dive,' and if you take a look around, we've always kept it spotless in here." 

Maher claims that the rising Barclays Center didn't affect his decision to expand, but with construction well-underway just up the street, it's clear that there will be a huge demand for bars like the new O'Connor's as soon as the arena opens. It remains to be seen whether the old bar will remain the classic, regular hangout it's been for decades, or if the new additions will alter the bar's character irreparably.

"That O'Connor's brand, the O'Connor's feeling, that's not going anywhere," says Maher.


O'Connor's Bar, 39 Fifth Avenue Brooklyn NY 11217. 718-783-9721.

Wednesday
Feb162011

Know Your Bartender: Betty Collins, Timboo's


When it comes to South Slope bars, there are two categories: those that draw a younger crowd and those that cater to a slightly older demographic. For the former category, Ellis Bar and Black Horse Tavern come to mind. Bars in the latter category also share the trait of having been in the neighborhood the longest, though, and they include Smith's, Jackie's Fifth Amendment, and Timboo's. These old-school bars open earlier, stay open later, draw a fiercely loyal clientele, and are throwbacks to an earlier Brooklyn.


The Timboo's space, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 11th Street, had been home to Loftus's Bar for over forty years by the time Timmy Hodgens and Bobby Booras decided to quit their day job at the telephone company and buy the bar in 1969. They changed the name to a combination of both of their first names (get it?), added wood paneling to the walls along with some posters and photos of then-current sports stars, and called it a day. It hasn't changed since (aside from the installation of some flatscreen TVs), and Timmy and Bobby are still the owners. They own the building, too, so this classic dive won't be going anywhere for a while.

Make sure you spend some time checking out the wall decorations. In the front room there's a framed Frontier Carbine rifle ("The Gun That Won The West," a plaque under it reads) right above the poster of Joe Namath, and in the back room (home to a pool table and a massive Beatles collage), the walls are clad in Empire Diner wallpaper. Name one other place in the world that's clad in Empire Diner wallpaper. 

Amazing.
South Slope native Betty Collins can be found behind the bar chatting with the regulars Tuesdays through Saturdays from about 9 AM to 6 PM.

HPS: How long have you been a bartender here?

Betty: About nine years.

HPS: What's your favorite thing about this bar?

Betty: It's a real neighborhood place. The characters that come in are anywhere from twenty-one years old to ninety-nine. Families have grown up here. Men that grew up in this bar, now their children are drinking in this bar, so it's kind of passed on. A lot of the local eccentrics come in. It's just a nice local bar.

HPS: Can you talk a little about the Happy Hour?

Betty: The Happy Hour is from nine in the morning, or when I open up, until six at night. Well drinks are two-for-one, all the pints are a dollar off, and then at night they have their own specials. If there's a game on or something the bartenders will come up with specials of their own. There's no set schedule at night. 
 
HPS: What's the strangest drink order you've ever gotten?

Betty: I've had a few beer mixture orders that were pretty strange. One guy asked for a pint of Sam Adams with grapefruit juice. Which is kind of odd. I've been doing this for a long time, and that was a new one for me! In here it's usually shots and beer. It's not too difficult. I don't get any tiki drinks, and we don't own a blender so you ain't getting a frozen margarita.

HPS: If you could serve a drink to one person from history, who would it be?

Betty: Oh wow. I don't know! I'd have to think about that one. Billy the Kid, maybe. 

HPS: Are there any cocktails you make that you pride yourself on?

Betty: My Bloody Marys are good, I have to admit that. I don't blow my own horn, but I can make a good Bloody Mary. I learned from a guy thirty years ago, and everybody likes it. The secret is making a batch of it the night before so all the flavors have time to mix together. 

HPS: Which bottles are poured from the most frequently?

Betty: Jameson, Jack Daniels, and Jagermeister are very big here.

HPS: Which bottles are poured from the least frequently?

Betty: Ones like the creme de coco, the sloe gin. We don't get too many calls for those anymore. But again, I do have an older clientele, so once in a while I do get the sloe gin fizz, but not too often. 

HPS: If you weren't tending bar, are there any other professions that you'd give thought to?

Betty: I've been doing this for so long, I don't know. Maybe not working with people [laughs]. Maybe working with animals. People can be a little, you know. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love my job, and I love people, but some days are harder than others. Give me a job with a bunch of cats and dogs and I'll be very happy.


Timboo's, 477 5th Avenue Brooklyn NY 11215. 718-788-9782.

Wednesday
Feb092011

Know Your Bartender: Donald O'Finn, Freddy's


As Freddy's Bar slogged through the wretched, seven-year battle against the city that culminated last year in its seizure by eminent domain--and subsequent demolition--in order to construct developer Bruce Ratner's Barclays Center, longtime bar manager and artist Donald O'Finn rose to the top of the fray, taking the fight to the streets, television, and anyone who would listen. The fight brought Freddy's into the national conversation about abuse of power and the forcible seizure of land, and by installing chains to the bar and organizing protests, he brought a human element to the legal wrangling. By the time of the bar's demolition (along with the surrounding buildings), it seemed that the only two people that weren't on O'Finn's team were the only ones who really mattered, sadly: Mike Bloomberg and Bruce Ratner. 

The re-opening last Friday night of the new Freddy's, about a mile and a half away on Fifth Avenue between 17th and 18th, was a big deal, for obvious reasons. Just about all of the things that made Freddy's unique made the journey, including the bar, the tables, the chains, the art, and O'Finn, who is now co-owner along with former bartenders Matt Kuhn and Matt Kimmett. It's a larger space, with a vaguely nautical/steampunk theme, and it's warm and welcoming.


Freddy's Bar began its life during Prohibition on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Dean Street, as a secret watering hole for employees at the Spalding factory, which was located right next door. After prohibition ended it became a local hangout for off-duty cops from the precinct across the street, and one of them, Freddy Chadderton, bought the bar in the early 1970s after retiring. The bar languished during this time as a fading, run-down cop bar, and struggled to stay alive.

The first Freddy's (Photo by Norman Oder, Atlantic Yards Report)
In 1994 the failing bar was purchased by Frank Yost, who turned to another nearby bar, O'Connor's, for new clientele; the owner of O'Connor's was having a falling out with his patrons due to false accusations of drug use, and many defected to Freddy's. O'Finn, a San Francisco native, left his gig bartending at O'Connor's and brought some fresh ideas to Freddy's, including converting the back dining room into a space for artists and musicians, decorating the walls, and installing screens to display his psychedelic video art, mashups of old B-movies, commercials, and found footage.

The revamping of Freddy's couldn't have come at a better time, and a young crowd began pouring into what some had begun referring to as "the CBGB of Brooklyn." "Brooklyn was hungry for a real scene," says O'Finn. Everybody thinks they can do a bar, but I don't think many people can, because I go to everybody's bars and I'm usually a little bit disappointed." 

Freddy's had firmly cemented its reputation as one of Brooklyn's top bars (and a great place to see live music), but Bruce Ratner wasn't far behind with his scheme for an arena for the "blighted" neighborhood. After seven years of hassling and haggling, Yost finally accepted a lucrative deal last spring, fired his employees, closed up shop, and after promising to help find a new location, left everyone in the lurch. That's when O'Finn, Kuhn, and Kimmett stepped in, found the new space, and now, as they put it, "the inmates are running the asylum."

New owners Matt Kuhn, Donald O'Finn, and Matt Kimmett, via Daily News.
HPS: What do you miss most about the old Freddy's?

Donald: It's hard to say; this is all so new. We really haven't established patterns, I don't really even know what we have on tap yet. All the best stuff made the move. The only thing I can say that I miss is Lee Houston, who was a regular who passed away. We have his picture here on the wall, but he'll never walk in the door again, I don't think.

HPS: Is there anything you don't particularly miss about the old Freddy's?

Donald: Yeah, there's a lot of things that I don't miss. The smell. There was something really wonderful about a building that hadn't been cleaned in a hundred years, but there were a lot of bad things about a building that hadn't been cleaned in a hundred years. I don't miss the previous owner of Freddy's at all. I feel like we all got a little shafted there. 

It came out great in the end. Everyone, including Bruce Ratner, got what they wanted in this deal. It's a really rare thing; I was just thinking about this the other night. The owner of Freddy's got a bunch of cash and got to walk away after never really doing anything, Ratner got his stupid goddamn arena and address, and we got a fresh start. 

HPS: What are you most proud of about the new bar?

Donald: There's so much. I'm very proud of the look of it. I mean, I really designed this whole frickin' place. I'm proud of the sculptures, the paintings, the videos. This place was built on the backs of ten or eleven people, that small community of regulars. I saw in that bad movie Reds, there's a line, "A small group of people can do anything." And I thought, "Well put!" I'm really, really proud of the people that stepped up.

HPS: If you had thirty seconds to talk to Mayor Bloomberg or Bruce Ratner, what would you say to them?

Donald: I would say, "As a businessman, I know how important financing is, but as an artist and as a community person, you've got to step back and realize that the best neighborhoods are the ones that generate income and generate business. And those neighborhoods are not made by corporations, they're made by small-time entrepreneurs. Ma and pa shops. Those are the people that need funding. Not these goddamn corporations, they don't need more money. Who needs the money is the guy trying to put together a little shoe store around the corner, and he'll work every day of his life for the rest of his goddamn life to do that. They're the ones that need help."

It makes me so mad. And it's us who give the place character, who make us want to live there. That's why Park Slope is so great. It's not full of the corporations. It's the little stores, the little places. That's what makes it great.

HPS: If you could have a drink with one person from history, who would it be?

Donald: There was this Celtic queen, Boudica, she almost defeated Rome with a small band of warriors. The Roman battle strategies beat her, but everything else, she would have sacked Rome! That's a broad that I'd love to sit down and have a drink with. 

HPS: How did you get involved in the artistic community?

Donald: I grew up in the cultural vacuum of the artists in the 70s. Nobody ever said,"Hey, you draw really well, you could be an artist." So I never knew that was even a choice until I was about 22, after I'd exhausted about all the drugs on the planet. That's when I bumped into it as a concept, and began to follow it, and got a scholarship to the Art Institute of San Francisco for my painting.

I don't really like "art." I don't like the idea of it, the way it exists in this culture. Arthur Danto said that we're at this strange point in time where we're stuck in this transitional period, and if we were less intelligent, we wouldn't be able to make art, and if we were more intelligent we wouldn't need to make art. Eventually, it's not that we won't need art, but that art will be everything. Which is what I think it should be. To me, this bar is the way every building should be that you walk into. It should be hand-crafted, everything should be aesthetically considered. Art should be a part of life. Like with my videos, that's what TV should be.

HPS: What first brought you to New York City?

Donald: I had finished grad school on the West Coast, and I had galleries lined up there, I thought I was a real big shot. I was in the Bay Area School of Figurative Painters. I came here almost as a postgraduate school, to continue my education. I got some solo shows and stuff, but it didn't go anywhere. 

I'd go to my own opening and I'd hate it so much that I'd leave after 15 or 20 minutes. My friends would come and couldn't find me. I'd tell them to just walk out the door and take a left, and I'd be in the first bar they came to. Half the time they wouldn't even see the show; they'd just go to the first bar on the left!

I wanted to talk to artists, but to artists who could hang at the bar; those are the people that I liked. Not the stuffed shirts who want to talk about money and pricing and comparative Middle Eastern philosophy.

HPS: What got you into your specific style of video art?

Donald: I bought probably the first VCR that was available for home use, in about 1980. Cost two thousand dollars, weighed two thousand pounds, two feet tall, top loader, Sony Betamax. I couldn't help but sort of mess with it. That was right around when MTV was starting, so these videos were happening, and I started cutting up stuff as fast as I could. I'd just get these wacky bits of things. Eventually I hit the digital stuff, and I made the decision to stop painting, and that's when I took the same intensity I was bringing into painting and turned it to the video. I think I was an excellent painter but I never made myself laugh with my paintings. I crack myself up when I'm making the videos, though. It's just something goofy. I don't care anymore if anybody likes it. Usually if it makes me laugh it'll make other people laugh. I don't laugh too easily. 


Freddy's, 627 Fifth Avenue Brooklyn NY 11215. 718-768-0131. Open from noon daily.

Wednesday
Feb022011

Know Your Bartender: Joshua Hoisington, Bar Reis


Walking down Fifth Avenue today, it's surprising to think that ten years ago there were very few options around for those looking for a bar that catered to a younger set. Bar Reis (on Fifth between 5th and 6th), which began life in 1999 as a wine bar, evolved into exactly that, and its warm, inviting atmosphere and friendly bartenders have been drawing crowds ever since. 

Walking into the bar, owned by Reis Goldberg, the first thing that strikes you is how small the space is. The front room, with its second-level loft accessible by spiral staircase, is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Walk out the back door and you're surrounded by a lush garden with umbrella-shaded picnic tables, and it's one of the nicest places in Brooklyn to spend a warm afternoon. (Missing summer yet?) There's a lounge downstairs with a pool table, too, and they host private parties there as well as overflow crowds on the weekends and most nights, when the upstairs can get pretty crowded. 

Goldberg owned the space next door until recently, and its rotating variety of themes (first 100 sandwiches, then small plates, then a taqueria) kept bar patrons happy with some top notch snacks, but sadly Reis has decided to get out of the restaurant business and put the space up for lease. 

Josh Hoisington came to Brooklyn several years ago from Lansing, Michigan with a girl, a band, and a dream. He spent some time working for a record label and an artist management company, but bartending turned out to be the most band-friendly job for him. The band evolved into The Stationary Set, and the indie rockers play all over the city and are currently in the studio working on their first full-length album. He used to bartend at Reis more frequently, but kept his Monday shift after moving out of the neighborhood just because he loves the bar.

HPS: How long have you been bartending here?

Joshua: I've been bartending here for almost two years.

HPS: What's your favorite thing about this bar? 

Joshua: I have to think back to why I came here so often before I got a job here. Bars are a dime a dozen, especially in this part of Brooklyn, so it's all about the feeling that you get from the bar. The vibe. And I feel like this place has a really great energy to it. I love the staff, everyone who works here is really great. Interesting people. 

HPS: Can you talk a little about the Happy Hour?

Joshua: Happy Hour is during the week from 5 until 8, it's a dollar off everything. We also have a six dollar beer and a shot special, always and forever, and we also serve specialty warm drinks in the wintertime. 

HPS: What's the strangest drink order you've ever received?

Joshua: We get a younger crowd here sometimes, and they tend to order some shot that they saw on The Real World or Jersey Shore or something, and you have to convince them that that's not actually a drink. 

We've come up with a few interesting drinks here, actually. I actually had a signature drink this last summer. Reis pickles his own beets, and he brought some upstairs and I was like, "I'm going to figure out a drink for this." So I made a beet martini. It was good!

HPS: Are there any other cocktails that you make that you pride yourself on?

Joshua: I think I make a pretty mean Manhattan. It's simple, but it has to be done right. We do a good variation on a Manhattan called a Rob Roy, where we use scotch instead of whiskey. It's good, if that's your thing. 

HPS: If you could have a drink with one person from history, who would it be?

Joshua: The President of Egypt, and I'd tell him to quit it! I'd get him drunk, and tell him to quit it. 

HPS: What mixed drink is made the most frequently here?

Joshua: 'Tis the season for hot toddies, and grogs. 

HPS: What bottle is poured from the most frequently?

Joshua: Jameson! Amen. 

HPS: What beer on tap is poured the most frequently?

Joshua: That'd absolutely be Palm. Great beer. 

HPS: Are there any bottles back there that you've never touched?

Joshua: Ha! We actually sell a surprising amount of nice scotches, which I always applaud people for. We don't sell a lot of Cognac, and I've never once poured anyone here a glass of port.

HPS: If you weren't tending bar, what other profession would you like to have?

Joshua: I mean, listen. If you're a bartender in Brooklyn, the chances of you just being a bartender are null. You're an artist, you're an actor, you're a writer, you're a musician. For me, I'm a musician. I went to college for it, at Colorado, and I'm active in it as we speak. I play in a touring band, I produce beats for hip hop artists and electronic music, I'm doing it!

Bar Reis, 375 5th Avenue Brooklyn NY 11215.

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