By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA
The pub has always been much more than just a tavern—it is a clubhouse, a meeting place, a community center — Andrew Dias Blue
Ours is an era of perpetual outrage. The causes are myriad. It's not merely due to the changing landscape of the city; or the increasingly fascistic rhetoric of some politicians; or the latest incendiary Twitter post from a celebrity. It's also because of an increased sense of victimhood as our society changes, even among those who are not in marginalized positions. In fact, this seems to be where the sense of outrage is at its strongest. It is fueled by a media that measures success in the amount of times a headline can evoke enough outrage for a user to click on it.
It is an era of perpetual carnage, as well. Between the time that I write this and the time it goes to print, there will have been at least one more act of terrorism committed in the name of some cause or ideology that the perpetrators feel is so important that individual human lives should be considered as fodder to advance it. Between the time I write this and the time it goes to print, there will have been at least one more instance that an undisciplined police officer forgot that a black life is just as sacred as any other. Between the time I write this and the time it goes to print, there is a good possibility that something so horrific will have happened that all pundits will agree that it changes everything.
This is perhaps one of the biggest downsides to writing a column every few months. There are very few cultural events that remain evergreen. In fact, even when it comes to writing about the bars of New York City, things can get a little dicey. There's a good chance that the establishment I choose to write about today may be nothing more than a memory and a building site cordoned off by scaffolding and particle boards by the time these words are published.
Bob Dylan was right when he said that the instant gratification of today's media has changed songwriting. In the same way, it's changed essay writing. Unless you're live Tweeting an event, chances are your perspective and observations are going to seem dated.
Oddly, this fetish for the new is not exactly a novel phenomenon. It's really one of the calling cards of Modernism, and it's been around for at least a few hundred years. Not everyone shares such an enthusiasm for the new, though. In some circles, there's a no less effusive fondness for a sense of home that combines community and tradition. There's a desire to maintain what has existed for generations, even if the institution in question is a punk rock dive bar, an anarchist bookstore, or a Birchist country club. It's not a matter of politics; it's a matter of experiencing the comfort of continuity, a shelter from the wild rapids of change.
Many local bars attempt to scratch this itch. They used to be far more common, but they still exist, particularly in the outer boroughs. And if you are looking for a bar that doesn't change; for a bar where being dated is exactly the point of its continued existence; for a bar that has remained a stalwart holdout in the face of gentrification and rapid development, at the top of your list is Farrell's Bar and Grill (215 Prospect Park West) in Windsor Terrace.
While New York City is renowned for its dynamism, for a long time this reputation primarily concerned Manhattan. The dueling skylines of Midtown and the Financial District were forever in a state of flux, as were the residents in the valley between them. The outer boroughs, especially Brooklyn, were not provincial, but they were most certainly less cosmopolitan. Neighborhoods had clear ethnic lines, and these lines remained firmly in place for generations. This has changed throughout the borough, but it remains largely the case in Windsor Terrace. While there is an increase in the number of young married couples moving in, it is still predominately an Irish neighborhood with strong ties to the NYPD and the FDNY. Within seconds of walking into Farrell's, this much is clear.
Even though I'd lived within walking distance of the bar for well over four years, I'd never been in Farrell's. The only thing I knew about it was that it had been around since the 1930s and that beer was still served in 32-ounce Styrofoam containers. Self-proclaimed bar aficionados had told me that it was the last real bar in Brooklyn, and that I was seriously missing out, but, for whatever reason, this wasn't enough to make me go. My first visit wasn't until I walked through the doors as a reporter covering the induction of Hooley, the bar's owner, into the Bartender Hall of Fame.
I've dedicated a lot of time to writing about how the bar can be a place where you witness the beating heart of a neighborhood, but I've never seen a bartender embody it. I've never heard of a bartender working so hard to treat people from the area like family, either by organizing benefits for the sick or by recruiting volunteers to paint the school down the block. This is why Hooley is a living legend, and why Farrell's is known throughout the city. It is where you meet not only people who live nearby, but people who are locals. It's not just that they have lived in Windsor Terrace for most of their life, or that they know most of the other people who will come into the bar over the course of the night, or that, in some instances, they know their parents, too. It's that there's a shared history and sense of community that you won't find in any cocktail bar or craft beer bar or really any establishment that hasn't been around for at least a few decades. And most of this is because of Hooley. Furthermore, it will survive Hooley because of the respect that the neighborhood reserves for him.
So while I may not be able to write about the most recent gaffe on the part of some B-list celebrity or adjunct professor; or the most recent brain dropping from Ben Carson; or the most recent mass shooting by a white guy; or the most act of terrorism perpetrated by a brown guy; or the most recent instance in which someone senselessly killed a black guy; or the most recent post on social media that turned an average person into the world's most despised pariah; I can write about Farrell's. I can write, safely, that it is the best pour of Budweiser in the city (and I do not like Budweiser), and that it is what every local bar should strive to be.