11 March 2013

The History of P.J. Hanley's, (Maybe) Brooklyn's Oldest Bar

Since word on the street (and in the bar itself) is that P.J. Hanley's of Carroll Gardens is to close its doors on Sunday, March 17, it is time to drop some final knowledge on the joint and remember what we are losing.

It's current Irish name notwithstanding, Hanley's is a rare local landmark that harkens back to the once-huge, local Norwegian population that inhabited South Brooklyn in the late 19th century and early 20th. It is by some accounts 139 years old, though I haven't been able to confirm this. I would submit that it is, instead, 133 years old at most, as there was, by news accounts, a grocery in this location. That grocery went out of business in 1879.

The bar was founded by a Norwegian gentlemen, whose name I've never been able to discover. It went the Irish pub way in 1898 after Jack Ryan bought it. He ran it for 60 years. Ryan was from Limerick and even while he ran the bar, it still attracted a partly Norwegian clientele. Some bartenders during this period spoke passable Norwegian and would help out newly arrived immigrants for Scandinavia with introductions and such. Mr. P.J. Hanley entered the picture in 1956, and he sold it to his two nieces in the mid-90s.

The place stayed open during Prohibition, keeping its windows blackened. Supposedly Al Capone met his wife here. That sounds like a tall tale to me. But Capone DID get married at the church down the street.

I haven't been a huge fan of the current incarnation of Hanley's. I've always felt they didn't take sufficient advantage of their heritage or make the most of the classic back bar and interior. But I hate to see it close. I hope someone else will take up the torch.


Ed said...

When I was first entering adulthood, about twenty years ago, I used to take long walks down Court Street and wind up at PJ Hanleys, where I would get a beer before going home.

I was intrigued by the space, and also the location, sort of isolated with no other bars or restaurants around. This was before the scene on Smith Street sprang up and then started to die.

However, I also remember the crowd to be sort of chilly, an early incarnation of the bobo/ yunnie crowd that is now standard in brownstone Brooklyn bars. No one would make any attempt to engage me in conversation, which at the time was unusual at the bars I went to.

I had no idea about this history but I remember thinking it something of a shame that given the space and the long walk, the bar itself was so ordinary. But its hard to say what I was expecting otherwise.

Joel, Architect said...

E.G. Haviland is listed as a grocer at 449 Court St in the 1885 and 1889
directories and 9/11/1889 Eagle. James H. Wynne is listed as a saloon keeper at 449 Court St in the 3/25/1893 Real Estate Rec. and Guide and subsequent issues and the 2/22/1896 Eagle. Might help narrow down the opening date.