18 October 2013

That Old Bar in Greenpoint

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.


cole said...

I live there and evidently the building used to be a coal depot

Ken Mac said...

I have sat in here many times having a glass of red wine, surrounded by the regulars. I love the atmosphere, and the windows that look out over the two streets like a private window on the world. There are multiple bars and hipster restaurants within two minutes in every direction. A 20/30 something wouldn't be caught dead in here, and I really don't understand why but am glad anyway. I love the oddly shaped windows, the brick, the old building. The hipsters can have their crowded, overpriced, noisy joints. I prefer this joint. Long may it fill this corner.

Unknown said...

I wandered onto your website by way of Luchous recipe for potato dumplings. I love your site. I grew up in Jamaica, N.Y. and my mother worked in a bar/restaurant called The Idle Hour.I now live in Colorado and miss New York so much.You have brought back wonderful memories for me. Thanks. Cynthia Fox

King Ning said...

Irene's is also known as Walker's. During Prohibition, old saloons were converted into other businesses. Most, if not all, of these re-purposed establishments continued to sell beer and liquor in a not so covert manner. There are survey photos, taken in 1928 by the Board of Transportation during the construction of the Crosstown (GG) Line which show another saloon converted into an "Army-Navy" store on the northwest corner of Greenpoint/Manhattan Aves.

Unknown said...

My cousin Theresa's husband worked at that Bar in the 60s when I was in the Air Force , had a great Juke Box. Anyone remember Ace , Bill McNeill . His kids and Theresa's still live on Diamond St. There house was in NEWS with a big fire last year or last winter , earlier this year !