A eulogy for Brooklyn’s Irish bars, and an ode to Farrell’s

“Give an Irishman lager for a month and he’s a dead man. An Irishman is lined with copper, and the beer corrodes it. But whisky polishes the copper and is the saving of him.”

–Mark Twain

The Irishman Mark Twain wrote about in “Life on the Mississippi” would have liked the bars of Brooklyn. The beer is cold and unwatered and the variety available on tap is something to marvel at. But whisky! Rye and Irish and Scotch and Canadian are dispensed in small-water glasses, and several would more than save a man.

That’s the way it is at McLoughlin’s in downtown Brooklyn. But in common, with many Brooklyn Irish bars, the time to enjoy the liquid pleasures of McLoughlin’s is growing short.

The three-quarters-of-a-century-old spa at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues with the embossed tin ceilings, the 50-foot long chest-high bar and the nineteen-thirties mahogany paneling, will soon go the road of urban renewal, and another small bit of New York’s tradition will vanish.

McLoughlin’s is but one of the many Irish bars that once flourished in the downtown Brooklyn area in the first half of this century. They have gradually been dying out, victims of neighborhood change.

Farther up Flatbush Avenue, Callahan’s is no more, replaced by the Mill, a restaurant featuring watermelon cordials and organically grown vegetables.

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Hi! Keith here. No, that wasn’t my writing. It has a familiar ring, though, doesn’t it?

Let’s see. Brooklyn:

  • is notable for its beer selection
  • is seeing its “traditions” succumb to “urban renewal”, its longtime establishments “victims of neighborhood change”
  • is being invaded by establishments hawking bizarre cocktails and “organically grown vegetables”

This passage, which I’ve abridged somewhat, dates from 1971. Surprise! The way we mourn losses to neighborhood turnover hasn’t changed all that much in the last half-century. As subsequent generations grow up or move in and make their own traditions, they’re bound to have many of the same feelings their forebears did when those traditions disappear.

And while they’re at it, they’ll take a dig at watermelon cordials.

This Times article, ”Knell for Irish Bars Echoes in Brooklyn”, is a fascinating look at a borough struggling to hold on to its past in the face of change. I highly recommend a full read.

Let’s read on for a bit of background on a certain Windsor Terrace establishment:

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Not so far south, as one gets into Park Slope, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge, there are recognizable neighborhoods, still largely Irish, still clinging to traditional exercises of 30 years ago. These include the bar-sponsored softball leagues, the evening walk to the pub, the annual Bear Mountain outing and mass on Sunday.

Up near Prospect Park, at 215 Prospect Park West, is Farrell’s, a saloon that is known as a “sports bar.” There is, according to some patrons, “lots of betting on baseball and football games.” The bar rents buses for nights at harness and flat-racing tracks, and sponsors “Farrell’s Football Club.”

One regular is a Central Brooklyn reform politician, who says he regards evenings in Farrell’s as respites from the political insurgency. He noted that women had only recently begun to visit the bar–”before it was an unwritten law, that no woman ought to enter here.”

Now women sit in the rear of Farrell’s–which resembles a movie version of an English pub–and their husbands and escorts bring their drinks back to them. Women never stand at Farrell’s Bar.

*    *    *

Well, at least some things have changed for the better.

Farrell's Windsor Terrace 1971 New York Times

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