Freddy’s Bar sits now, well-rooted at 5th Ave & 17th Street in South Park Slope Brooklyn. However, for an eternity before that, for nearly 8o years… Freddy’s held court exactly where the huge Barclays Center Arena now sits. Freddy’s served all who entered her. She was tough, and a little dark, but she absorbed all the joy, the despair, the love, & tears, & fighting, & fucking, & O-Yeah…all the drinking and smoking.
Shortly after moving here from San Francisco in 1889 for Post Graduate Art School, I started bartending at O’Connor’s Bar. It was filled with ‘Old Timers” who all died in the first year and a half I worked there. These old guys were hard as nails, didn’t tip, made plenty of problems and were lovely old fucks…..but basically had little to nothing left in the world except O’Connor’s. So when they left this world they left nothing behind except mixed memories & debts. Pat O’Connor would put together little jars to collect contributions to bury the guys. It was so sweet and sad. But everyone got buried. When the last few moved on, there were few customers left, a couple of young hardcore neighborhood types, one was a lawyer, another an erudite very gay & very rich guy, who fancied himself both an art critic and a collector. There were also a couple of younger writers & musicians, but all cut from the same cloth as the old guys – tough, no-nonsense. A few painter’s stumbled in, and a community sputtered to a start. A small literary mag blossomed, periodic fundraisers happened, but generally just a lot of hanging out and getting drunk with good, kind, intelligent people. Philosophising about having a shack at the roads bend and being a friend to all men. Eventually, as all good things must, it came to a tragic end when Miss Guidance took hold of the owner’s ear. Regulars were tossed aside, friendships forgotten. A full cleaning of the house ripped threw the crowd like an automatic weapon in a high school lunch room. The innocent were as terrified as they were surprised.
Anyway…when I’d had enough of the slaughter, I moved the ‘Show’ to a dying cop bar a couple of blocks away called Freddy’s, which had just been bought by an old hippie named Frank Yost. I came in as a bartender and I quickly married Freddy’s to the spirit and the regulars of the old O’Connor’s bar. The marriage of the two probably happened in 1993.
Anyway, long story short, Freddy’s thrived. I ended up managing the place. Freddy’s received reviews so fast that we hadn’t time to change the bar’s name, without suffering the loss of the review. Mr. O’Connor passed away leaving a hole like a dead father. Quaint and ancient O’Connor’s has since been scuttled, to make room for a giant, clean and polished corporate bar. Freddy’s grew into a force. However the time came when the ‘Millionaires’ knocked, wanting what they wanted. They wanted the property that we sat on. The morning we discovered the encroaching threat, all we had in defense was an unrecognized legal right, a valid lease, no desire to sell or move, and a helluva hangover. We of course could not stand in the way of progress. But we sure as hell would try, & we did try for 7 years.
We installed heavy chains along the front rail of the bar, draped like an anchor’s chain to its vessel. We affectionately called them the “Chains of Justice.”
We fought anyone who raised a fist. We shouted back as loud as we could. We sought & found strange bedfellows, who as our our enemy’s enemy, became our new friends, Fox News & the libertarian Reason TV, to mention just a couple. We had rallies, and fundraisers, and introduced to the press an angry Santa who berated the Developer for evicting people from their homes & businessses. We wrote songs, and cut video, and made signs. But after the long fight, we were finally done, and defeated. We were done after hand-cuffing ourselves to the “Chains of Justice.” We were done after losing our voices at press conferences and rallies, after endless community meetings in our basement and backroom. We were done after all the interviews about eminent domain abuse, and land grabbing by corrupt corporations. We were done after long revelrous nights of Irish Whiskey up and over, over and over again… Endless hours in communication with the spirits of Long Gone drunks fighting their demons, ’til we became the ghosts.
For us, the newest inhabitants of Freddy’s, and her most recent lovers, the old mahogany Bar was an always entertaining and charming companion. The Bar itself was a structure whose doors were always open. Who’s sturdy bar rail never collapsed under our elbows. Whatever was there, whatever was happening, was always waiting. Freddy’s was a place that had live music and events nightly in her backroom. A place where all hours of the day, night and morning, you could find a friend, a seat, good music and a conversation. The taps always flowed.
It had been a long and exhausting battle with various evil forces to try and keep the Bar alive and located at its birthplace. We had lost in the courts, despite winning the battle in the press.
Anyway, enough of the back-story….
Finally time had closed its doors. It was Freddy’s very last night of business. The last go-around with the old girl. We were all working her last night. It was an “all hands-on deck” night – not only were all staff members working, but also every bartender who had ever worked Freddy’s were invited to return for one last ‘go’ behind the Stick. And they came from near and far to do so. Each taking a turn standing behind the wood, facing an insane mass of Brooklynites who’d all come to be part of the death of an institution, to have a few last pints at a long-standing and greatly loved Bar. The Crowd actually started the day before and spilled out onto the street, and clogged the sidewalk around the corner in both directions, all night.
A Bar is like a ship in almost all manners, and she is always referred to in the feminine. The story below is NOT a tale of a great Bar’s life, but instead… a great Bar’s death.
The text below was written the morning after the closing of Freddy’s doors, April 5th, 2010.
Only hours remain, and she is slipping away. We have now nearly put to final rest a friend, a Bar, a comrade, a compatriot.
I had always thought that the Bar itself at Freddy’s was slightly haunted and had a mind of her own, but it was only in her last hours, that I became sure of her life, only because I watched the life drain away and leave. I watched her collapse. She had stood since Prohibition, but now she knew that this life of hers, this time that had been hers, was coming to a close.
Her once thundering voice of seduction and debauchery has softened to a whispering lullaby, like a mother to a child. Her legs are gone and she is supported by blocks of brick and wood. She has only the weakest coughs coming up her pipes from her bowels. She slowly leaks fluid from her cracked joints and broken fittings. Her lights have dimmed, and I find that I wish her a fast demise, an end to the misery that caps her accomplishments in battle and love, her grasp past her reach, her noble ascension past her rank, her constant and uncompromising service.
Anyone in attendance paying attention at 3:45 am…in that throbbing mass of drunken monkeys…was witness, and they heard me from my station saying over and over “She knows…She fucking knows…the bar knows, it’s over.” Spent bottles and broken glasses were strewn over shattered and cracked plexiglass bar shelves. Everything in the bar had started shutting itself down. All but two of the tap beer handles, one by one, had broken off that final night. The drains refused to drain. The ice sink clogged and filled with backwash, so we had to set up buckets of fresh ice directly from the ice machine. The drawer of the ancient cash register was jamming, struggling to open. One of the last lines of functioning draft beer, the Guinness, suddenly gagged and choked and had nothing more to give. One TV went black, and moments later the stereo abruptly, without warning, shut itself off. I am not kidding …this is what happened, as it happened. All the sinks became little pools of stagnant dark water with floating islands of discarded garnish and straws. Glasses couldn’t be cleaned, so we had to turn to blood-red emergency plastic cups. Foam was drooling from around the faucets of the draft beer box. A water pipe under the bar arched and shuddered, and I saw it spit from a joint and begin to hemorrhage. I watched it.
The staff attacked the silent stereo like mad surgeons, all but myself…. I just stood behind that bar repeating, “She knows…the bar fucking knows it’s over…she’s tired, that is all she’s got.” Someone pleaded, “Don’t say that.” The oblivious crowd went on pulsing and barking, and grinning, vibrating, and pushing. Eventually, in about 10 minutes of emergency rewiring and frantic button-pushing, the stereo slammed back to life. But it was a futile music resurrection; the bar knew it was time.
A few of her closest friends and myself sat with her through the long night and well into the next day. We were into daylight when the insane crowd had cleared. I sat on the other side of the bar and, looking up from my drink, noticed Matt (my cohort and one of the bar’s greatest loves) numbly pumping a plunger in vain at a sink that was slowly flooding its banks. He was pounding down with the plunger over and over; the bile of beer, water, and whiskey was exploding in violent splashes every time the plunger slammed down. I stopped my conversation about nothing important, I paused and stood and reached over the bar, I grabbed the plunger from Matt and tossed it over my head into a dark corner behind me, and my voice cracked, “Matt…it’s over…she isn’t going to pour again, leave her alone. It’s over.”
In the hours since, I’ve sat with her again. She is mostly quiet now, but she heaves every once in a while, just to let me know she’s still there. We have selectively removed ornaments and memorabilia, choosing to bury some while rescuing others. We safely retrieved the valuables from her body. We have undressed her and wiped clean her makeup and blood. We’ve tried to wipe clean her wounds, but they just bleed more and fill the air with a sour stench. The dirt and scars from those final wars show all over her now, and she sits in disarray and filth, broken. I am not sure she will ever come back together again, or if she should. I will miss her. – Donald O’Finn.
Post Script April 6, 2010
I personally could drink no more nor stand any longer. In her doorway I recall both kissing and punching the Doorframe, and walking away after 15 years. A loyal crew stayed behind me to assist in final burial. I could no longer bare it.
Below is the message I received from James Barrows.
“I did, literally, pull the plug. Three cartridge fuses removed from the main service panel at 8:30 pm, 4/6/2010. It was technically a safety measure to ensure that no exposed leads would activate. But anyone who knows that bar knows better, which is why I removed the fuses by hand, with a caress and a profound apology. I hope she understands.”