23 February 2011

O'Connor's Bar to Be Ruined

I knew changes were afoot for O'Connor's, the wonderful old dive bar on Fifth Avenue at the edges of Park Slope. The last time I was there I heard the regulars grumbling about how the new owner was going to "improve" the place and make it more acceptable to the kind of people who like to rent bars for parties and receptions and such.

But I had no idea how devastating the changes would be. How, after they were done, O'Connor's wouldn't be O'Connor's any more, but something completely different and far blander.

The blog Here's Park Slope talked to owner Mike Maher, who bought the 80-year-old bar three years ago. He said the beautiful old bar will be expanded to at least three times' its original size (goodbye coziness!), with the addition of a huge back room, a kitchen serving the usual Irish far like fish and chips, burgers and such, and a second floor with an outdoor beer garden. There will also be a stage for live music (goodbye twilight-like, dive-bar silence).

"We're modernizing the room, but a priority is to keep the old look," Mayer told the blog. "We'll be saving the bar and the booths and as much of the room as we can, but the seats will be replaced, because they're falling apart. If we want to serve food, we have to bring it up to code." He added, "That O'Connor's brand, the O'Connor's feeling, that's not going anywhere."


I'm doubtful. It sounds like O'Connor's is just going to become another run-of-the-mill Irish pub. Same kind of food, same "live music" program, same upstairs space for large parties, same, same, same. I supposed the great old bathrooms with be cleaned up, and the wooden telephone booth ripped out.  I loved that O'Connor's was just a bar, didn't have food besides those little bags of chips you could buy. I loved that it only had a jukebox, and a good one, too. I loved that it wasn't party central, but more an insulated retreat from the harsh world. 

This City has declared war on the dive bar.


Ed said...

I'm surprised no one else has noticed this. Yes, this effectively kills O'Connors.

This, and the somewhat similar Mars Bar closing, has prompted me to ponder at what point is an "old New York" locale, like a dive bar, just too out of step with its hypergentrified surroundings that it might be better if it closed. Fifth Avenue in Park Slope north of Ninth Street is one of my least favorite parts of the city as it is, I don't think the effect of the Atlantic Yards development on the blocks close to Atlantic Avenue will be positive, so I was unlikely to go to O'Connors that often now anyway because I just don't like spending time in that area. Even now, the Mars Bar looks like it is sitting in the middle of a shopping mall.

Do we root for these places to stay around in case the city changes its character again, or is it better at this point just to let the current phase in the city's history to run its course?

Grade "A" Fancy said...

This is painful. Brand? Live music?

And perhaps the phrase "dive bar" is not a great choice. It just seems to bring on the post-frat types who want to get loaded on the cheap and carry on like jerks. (Look what's happened to the Subway Inn.) O'Connor's was a neighborhood bar, plain and simple. And a damn good one.

Mr. Lee said...

What a bummer.

upstate Johnny G said...

I just went and read the piece in Here's Park Slope, which I found to be the same boosterish prose you see from faux journalists who are really in the public relations business. The new owner, Mr. Maher, I guess has an out because he says that he was the only candidate to buy the bar who promised to keep the name the same and not build condos in the air space. But Maher's claims of keeping the O'Connor's 'brand' sound utterly false to me. The bar's 'brand' is more than just the name, it is those features that uniquely identify the bar as O'Connor's. Including the vibe. Change those features enough and the 'brand' is destroyed. Adding a party room, music stage, second floor beer garden, a full kitchen can only destroy the old O'Connor's 'brand'. Why can't Maher just tell the truth - that he didn't buy the place in order to have a dive bar museum and that he sees an opportunity to make a lot more money with the location and that he doesn't really care at all whether he turns O'Connor's into just another cookie cutter fakey Irish bar as long as it makes him enough dough re mi.

I had to laugh by the way, because after listing all the problems with the building: barely functioning electrical system, worn out seating, rats in the back yard, HVAC was 'shot', he goes on to claim that it was NOT a dive bar. Gee, how much scabbier does a bar have to be then, to BE a dive bar? How about we compromise with him since he goes out of his way to state that it was not a dive bar because a) the O'Connor family didn't think it was and b) it was spotless, and just agree that it was a semi-dive bar?

Which raises an interesting question: does a bar have to be filthy in order to qualify as a dive bar?

To those who may think my slam on the so-called journalism in Here's Park Slope is off -base, consider that at the end of the article the writer says: "It remains to be seen whether the old bar will remain the classic, regular hangout it's been for decades, or if the new additions will alter the bar's character irreparably. It appears to be in good hands, though." I just don't see how the conclusion (being in good hands) has anything at all to do with the previous sentence. Being in good hands is thus unrelated to whatever changes Maher makes to the place. Huh?

Kelly/Aperture Agog said...

So So sad. My day is ruined.

HeresParkSlope said...

@upstate Johnny G: I removed the "It appears to be in good hands" phrase because it's not my place to judge whether he will be ruining the bar or not by renovating. I just report the facts of what's going on, so thanks for pointing out the discrepancy.

As a personal note, O'Connor's is my favorite bar in the city, and I'm not in the public relations business. I'm as sad and pissed as anyone to see that they'll be changing it up.

Fiona said...

As much as I, too, love OConnors, I'm a little surprised to hear all this complaining now. This has been going on for well over a year.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Yes, I knew of the coming changes, but didn't realize until now how extensive they would be. Also, the owner had never been quoted as far as i know.

Unknown said...

Anyone who's ever spent a morning or afternoon in O'connor's knows that there's food...the bartenders would frequently feed me as I sat writing in the corner, sandwiches, pizzas, drunk food. It was free. and everyone ate and talked. And there was ice in urinals. At this point, I'd rather see a TGI Fridays take it's place.

Wolf said...

FYI, Joe O'Connor would be rolling in his grave to hear O'Connor's referred to as a dive bar. He used to call it "a neighborhood bar with affordable drinks", without any hint of sarcasm. For everyone who is so disappointed and surprised...if you'd been drinking there regularly you would have known this. And if you'd been drinking there regularly, and spending money there, this might (and that's a BIG might) not be happening. I just don't wanna hear that O'C's was everyone's favorite bar all of a sudden becuase this is happening, when I feel like most people are only passively supporting the place....I go in at 2am on a Thursday and the place is virtually empty.

upstate Johnny G said...

Hey Here's, I apologize for coming down so hard on you. The way I read your article it had an overall positive spin on what Maher is doing to O'C's. I dig that you were accurately reporting what Maher said to you in an interview, but I was missing the views of O'C's regulars who might have bemoaned the loss of their watering hole. I over reacted a bit. It's just so hard to see bar after plain bar gutted out and turned into a theme pub. Good to know that you were an O'Connor's reg and don't like the changes. Again, sorry for going all savage on you.

Tservo42 said...

I'd always been more of a Freddy's guy, but its been painful to watch this place get "improved" over the past year or so. Its unfortunate that this guy is going to make a damn killing at his soulless sports bar once the arena opens. One more down thanks to the friggin Nets.

Long live Jackie's 5th and Hanks

JakeGould said...

"I'm surprised no one else has noticed this. Yes, this effectively kills O'Connors."

I think tons of people have noticed the changes at O'Connors but few really give a damn. The title of this post "O'Connor's Bar to Be Ruined" is one o fthe most obnoxious things I have ever read on an NYC "lamentation" blog.

O'Connors was great. O'Connors is great. O'Connors will still be great. But to pretend personal "dive" bars have an obligation to stay a "dive" is past belief.

I grew up in Brooklyn and have lived in Park Slope since the early 1990s and honestly, I am sick of this "precious" mentality towards business and storefronts.

If you like dive bars so much and want to keep them a dump, then please take your own money and invest it in some dive bar and let it wallow in it's own stagnation for years.

The Brooklyn Inn in Boerum Hill changed owners and has been upgraded a bit, and it’s no big deal. Frank's in Fort Greene has two floors, music and even dancing and it’s still great.

For you "geniuses" to bitch and moan about O'Connors being sold willfully to new owners and those new owners bringing it up to code and more appealing to folks is really obscene.

Technically speaking the owners of Freddy's are not even the original owners of the dive everyone cherished. And heck, they upgraded that place and had music and a backroom as well. And most old-time neighborhood patrons really didn't care for those changes.

Why exactly are you self-important schmucks bemoaning someone taking care of their business as it being "ruined." Would it have been better if the owner of O'Connors be like that poor soul at Hickey’s Bar near Penn station who just died when the place closed? I bet you folks would love that! You folks don't want places that are viable. You want dying businesses you can cherish like lost puppies that only you can appreciate.

Brooks and Jeremiah (of Vanishing New York) are 100% the same: Death obsessed self-important schmucks. The ripping apart of another blogger who is not as cynical such as the "Here's Park Slope" person is proof enough.

Brooks, do us all a favor and retire again. Maybe open your own little bar and apply all of your logic there.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Wish I could, Jake. Will you front me a loan?