At 623 Manhattan Avenue, corner of Nassau, in Greenpoint, there's a bar called Irene's Place. Though you won't see that name anywhere on the outside. The owner is one Irene Kabala. There are signs that say Idle Hour Tavern on the inside. And that does seem to be the joint's real (or original) name, at least as far as The New York Times and the local Community Board are concerned. It's frequented by the area's Polish population, and Polish beer is served. (There's a neon Zyweic sign in the window.) There's also Polish music on the juke box. But, usually, it's extremely quite inside. And it's always dark.
While the bar has always intrigued me, the building it's in has intrigued me more. A three-story brick number, it looks terribly, terribly old. The cornices, the lintels, the vents, the wooden door on the side, the flagpole perched on the corner, every detail looks original. Only the faux-stone facade on the ground floors seems modern, and even that was probably put in in the '60s.
So I did some digging into the building's history. As far as Irene's Place/Idle Hour Tavern, it's been around at least since 1980, when it was cited for health violations.
My suspicions that this structure has always held a bar seemed to be confirmed by an August 1899 article The Brooklyn Eagle about bars and pool rooms at which illegal gambling was practiced. Among the addresses listed at the end of the report was 623 Manhattan Avenue—the address of Irene's Place. But then I found an old photo from 1928 that showed an Army and Navy clothing shop at that corner. But then, that was Prohibition, so who knows what was being sold inside.