Friday, February 11, 2011

Freddy’s Bar Rises from the Ashes, Feb. 3, 2011

It's been one hell of a weird year and a miserable winter in New York — blizzards, ice storms, deep freezes, a deep recession, and all. It's been a while since I've posted on this blog. I vowed not to post until Freddy's Bar re-opened its doors.

And like the crocus that peeks through the black ice, Freddy's Bar rose like a sign of hope. Although the official opening night was February 4th, friends and family gathered for a private evening on February 3rd in South Slope... that's right, Freddy's Bar is now nearly two miles away from its original location (and nine months) since that day.

I was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying “It’s a bizarre feeling of old faces in a new space...” ("A Displaced Dive Bar, Reborn in Brooklyn," by Pervaiz Shallwani). The experience was somewhere between a class reunion and an odd dream where everyone you knew milled about in a large Joseph Cornell box.

I stood in awe of a room packed completely from front to back. I knew every face if not most of their names. Everything from the old Freddy's location was transported to the new space... the entire bar, the booths, the massive captains chairs, art, artifacts. But for a few new things, this is in fact the former Freddy's Bar laid out in a new space.

Over a packed bar, Eva handed me a beer and winked, "First one's on us." Mike pushed my money away. Don and Kimmet ran up and down the bar serving drinks, Matthew Kuhn was busy giving hugs, and at some point there was a call for "all hands on deck" to all bar staff. A few of us even bussed glasses from the tables and the evening poured on.

Steve, Gersh, Andy...
But this was by far fairy tale — the road to the new Freddy's Bar was a white knuckle ride down a rocky path lined with obstacles. New York State's misuse of Eminent Domain claimed an entire section of Prospect Heights, forcing then owner Frank Yost into a nominal buyout — it was this or leave with nothing. The only one who benefits from all this is a billionaire developer and his private arena built on public funds. Amidst plans of reforming business, Frank backed out of the partnership and moved on leaving Don and crew in the lurch.

Matt, Adrianne, Bleu, Bill, Tim...
But the dream didn't die on the floor, everyone pitched in and I mean everyone — old patrons, new neighbors, friends, news media, bloggers, online communities. If Freddy's Bar left with anything it left with an incredible collective good will.

Vadeem, Gail, Steve, Pat, Katie, John, Ian, Lex, Millie, Marlene...
Former employees Don O'Finn and Matthew Kuhn formed a new partnership with seasoned bar professional Matt Kimmet. They raised capital and with friends and family they built the new space — from the wiring and plumbing to the wall paper on up to the new tin ceiling.

A hollow void is filled once more with music, dancing, laughter, and the sound of glasses clinking — a toast among a table of friends. John Pinamonte warmed up the new music space with country rhythm and blues, and what a sweet sound it was.

Nancy Drew's artwork graces The Silver Gallery walls. The regular Freddy's entertainment will soon fill this room... opera divas, independent film, stand-up comedy, sketch comedy, original live music, H.A.M., the country jam... and of course Knit Nite.

Beneath the bar crest, Kellum and crew were finishing the exterior of the bar — pegged woodwork made from a weathered barn donated from upstate. The same weathered wood also adorns the interior.

That whole ugly mess that is New York State's abuse of eminent domain and misappropriation of funds still makes my head throb. It's a disease borne from generations of cronyism, true greed, and paid favors for the wealthiest from the wealthiest... How much does a judge's vote cost these days? As long as someone upstate is still padding their purses behind a locked door, this horror we call Albany may never change.

The proponents of the Atlantic Yards Project continue to manufacture hype about an arena that fills a need in a community, and how it will bring jobs to all... etc. Our borough president insists we need this basketball team from New Jersey to be the heart of Brooklyn. What's he been smoking? Bull crap I say. They barely know what do with the blight and traffic they've created. They all could a take a tip from some real people and a real community.

Meanwhile, somewhere in South Slope Brooklyn, in the tiny neighborhood called Greenwood Heights, hope for the small guy is reborn in the year of the Golden Rabbit. Three cheers to Don O'Finn, Matt Kimmet, and Matt Kuhn, and thank you so much for hanging there!

Freddy's Bar is located at 627 5th Avenue between 17th & 18th streets. Drop in and say hello.

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