Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 1:21PM
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.