627 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope
Rating:4 out of 5 L’s
In the epic 21st-century tale of greed and corruption that is the Atlantic Yards, Freddy’s Bar is the displaced underdog protagonist with a heart of gold; Bruce Ratner, the power-mongering authority figure; Borough President Marty Markowitz, his bumbling sidekick; and Freddy’s bathroom graffiti, the Greek chorus—a collective voice commenting on the drama.
You can tell a lot about a bar’s patrons by the scrawls on its walls. At the resuscitated Freddy’s, open since early February, there’s already plenty of material to keep you entertained while you tinkle. The witty and passionate nuggets adorning the walls of the two single-occupancy co-ed bathrooms range from base—”Ratner has a hamster dick”—to more politically charged—”Hey Marty! Hey Marty! Eat shit!” with annotation by a responder: “He would if it was a photo op.” Tell me how you really feel, bathroom bombers.
The iconic Prohibition-era establishment Freddy’s Bar and Backroom—hub for artists, thinkers, performers, and generations of cops from a neighboring precinct and voted among Esquire‘s “Best Bars in America“—closed last April to loud protest from its intensely protective and devoted following. Boxed out of its longtime Prospect Heights home at Sixth Avenue and Dean Street by the Ratner-driven development project centered around an arena for the New Jersey Nets—the “Death Star we know as Atlantic Yards,” according to a blog post by Freddy’s bartender-turned-co-owner Donald O’Finn—the original bar was a symbol of all that the “Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn” movement holds dear.
After a nightmarish real estate hunt and relocation process, the bar finally has a new home on a somewhat ragged stretch of Fifth Avenue in South Slope. From the look of things, the three new co-owners—O’Finn and fellow Freddy’s bartenders Matt Kuhn and Matt Kimmet—have no plans to leave anytime soon. They brought with them the old wooden booths and tables and original red mahogany bar, enveloped by a string of metal links known as the “Chains of Justice.” At old Freddy’s, patrons hand-cuffed themselves to the bar to protest eminent domain abuse; at new Freddy’s, the chains serve as a reminder of their fight.
Despite all of these growing pains and heavy talk, Freddy’s is still just a bar, and a great place to get drunk and knit (as part of their knitting circle) or check out live music and performances including Diva Night (where opera amateurs belt their hearts out to a heckling audience) and the stand-up hour “Ed Sullivan on Acid” with guests including Angry Bob from HBO’s Bored to Death.
There are plans to get a player-piano going, and basic pub food is on the way. O’Finn’s artistic vision is manifested everywhere, from his frenetic but tightly edited video collages streaming constantly on mounted TVs to his “digital fishtank” with subtle background footage of male nudes from a homoerotic movie. Permanent installations include wallpaper hand-made from flesh-colored flock and glitter by Brooklyn artist Nancy Drew, and, of course, an homage to layers of bathroom graffiti from old Freddy’s. This exchange—”I fucked your mother,” followed by “Go home, Oedipus”—is etched into granite, and that pretty much sums up Brooklyn’s most eclectic, smarty-pants and resilient bar.