For a long time, I wasn't much of a fan of Freddy's Bar & Backroom, which closes its Dean Street location tonight, having taken a settlement in the wake of eminent domain.
Until the mayor banned smoking in bars and restaurants, I wasn't a fan of any bars, actually; they were just too smoky. And I'm not a big bar-goer.
But a lot of people who live in walking distance have their own Freddy's story, and here's what I'll remember most: Freddy's is where I discovered John Pinamonti.
Pinamonti is a Brooklyn-based roots musician--rock/country and a tinge of folk--who deserves much more notice than he's gotten.
I first heard Pinamonti at Freddy's nearly three years ago, playing his haunting Atlantic Yards anthem/elegy "The Burrow" as part of the quite variable "Ratnerville Singout." (One song presciently warned, "Freddy's is an Escalator Now.")
I became a fan. I bought Pinamonti's albums. I listen to his "JP Radio," essentially streaming audio of most of his work. And I've trekked to Red Hook to watch him play at Sunny's and Rocky Sullivan's.
Beyond "The Burrow," let me recommend "Chalino," "Oak Hill, West Virginia," "Like Willie Mays," and, especially, "It Wasn't the Rain," a Katrina elegy ("It wasn't the rain/it wasn't the wind/it was just greed and power/winning again").
I shot a 2010 version of "The Burrow" at Rocky's. I also adapted the original video into a sequence on how AY overseers don't follow Pinamonti's advice to "come down and see" what's going on in Brooklyn.
Turner/RebelMart on Freddy's
I caught Pinamonti January 22 at Rocky's along with Neil deMause (yes, the Field of Schemes author is a musician), and Scott Turner, the Atlantic Yards activist (DDDB Steering Committee member and graphic artist) who performs as the one-man band RebelMart.
The song "Brooklyn Is Dying" is not just about the authenticity of Freddy's--an antidote to big box stores and "soul-less Bloomberg-ian, Markowitz-ian, Ratner-ian idea that people have for Brooklyn."
It's also about Lee Houston, a teacher, writer, musician, Vietnam vet, and Freddy's regular who died in 2005 and whose wake was held in the bar. (Lyrics: "We buried Lee with tears and smiles/We only got each other for a while.")
"For events like Lee's wake do not occur in T.G.I.Friday's or Chuck E. Cheese," Turner wrote in his Fans for Fair Play blog. Manager Donald O'Finn, comped everyone's drinks and lost the revenue on a day that's typically busy.
"Brooklyn Is Dying"
See lyrics and Brooklyn scenes, including AY rallies and now-demolished parts of the Atlantic Yards footprint, in this video of another version of the song.
"Strength in Numbers"
The other AY-related song RebelMart sang was "Strength in Numbers," prefaced by an observation that if all the people who'd expressed dismay about Atlantic Yards had gotten together, there could've been more of a movement.
In a perhaps telling metaphor, the crowd at Rocky's was enthusiastic but small, as the performance competed against a benefit concert for earthquake relief in Haiti.
Turner wrote the regular commentary/rant/quiz invitation Greetings From Scott Turner for Louise Crawford's Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn. Here's his pitch last October for the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn walkathon and his dis of SHoP, the architecture firm hired to put a new facade on the arena.
Here's his Thanksgiving commentary on the DDDB struggle, after the loss last November in the eminent domain case: "if you win by walking all over people, it's no win at all."
Turner's left Brooklyn, too. As he explained:
A job offer in Seattle coincided with an awakening that I have to get back to music. Six years of fighting the Atlantic Yards project and lots else going on here in Brooklyn put a squelcher on the guitar and the singing. Seattle’s a clean-slate chance to play lots of music and get RebelMart functioning full-throttle.And here's this week's message, reporting on a trip back for the weekend:
I’m a long way away — in a land.... not too far to grieve over the passing of Freddy’s Bar & Backroom.If Freddy's goes down
That would be this Friday, April 30, at the corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue — the future site of not a school, not a health clinic, not an AIDS or cancer research center, not a job-training facility, not an emerging small business, not an artists’ colony, not a community center, not one stitch of affordable housing, not open space or green space or free space or peoples’ space. The future site of some ancillary structure connected to a Russian oligarch’s basketball team’s arena.
"If Freddy's goes down, Brooklyn is gone," Turner sang, in a bit of dramatic license.
Freddy's will move, and survive. After all, it's been through several iterations, as articles in the Brooklyn Paper and New York Times explain. (The Times cites both Pinamonti's launch at Freddy's and a memorial at the bar to Lee Houston.)
So Brooklyn isn't dying. But something will be lost.
In the New York Press, Joshua M. Bernstein suggested some context:
I admire [Manager Donald] Finn’s optimism and indefatigable spirit, as well as the fact of Freddy’s continued survival. However, it’s a tall order to re-create the scuffed charm of a structure that was once a bowling alley, speakeasy, cop hangout and clubhouse for employees of the former Daily News printing plant. Freddy’s will endure in spirit, but the patina that the patrons created will be lost in the rubble. Because I’ve lived in Prospect Heights since 2003, Freddy’s demise hits close to home, as does the coming construction nightmare (a dream for the jackhammering workers that will descend on the neighborhood like locusts to a crop). I will not pretend that I was a dyed-in-the wool Freddy’s regular. But I did like having it here. I did like popping in for a pint of properly poured Guinness and letting the hours dissolve as easily as butter in a hot pan.Come on down and see, one last time.
You see, Freddy’s was as comfortable as an old sweatshirt, enveloping musicians and off-duty policemen, curmudgeonly oldtimers and young bucks—like me.