The Death of the Park Slope Dive Bar

04/23/2014 4:00 AM |

McMahon’s Public House
39 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope

O’Connor’s was about as divey as bars got in this part of Brooklyn, not because it was unwelcoming—though bums and drunks drifted in all night—but because Mr. O’Connor hadn’t invested much money in renovations: the booths were scuffed and sagging, the stools torn and uneven, and the beer came in bottles because there were no draft lines. “When Dominick O’Connor bought the space nearly 80 years ago, it was a stable,” the blog Here’s Park Slope reported in 2009. “He got rid of the horses and added a bar with 12 stools, five booths, a bathroom, and a phone booth. He put a few pictures on the wall, and he left it alone.” But its skinflint charm is how it earned its loyal following. The clientele liked the bar because of its dinginess, not despite it—they just weren’t sufficient to keep it going. The McMahon brothers, who own another eponymous bar in Marine Park, bought out the old man’s son in 2008, and by 2012 they had shut the place down for renovations. While it was closed, an arena opened down the block.

Park Slope lost its last few dives before and after O’Connor’s boarded up: Harry Boland called it quits in 2011; Timboo’s rang in 2012 by closing; and Jackie’s 5th Amendment served its last bucket of ponies last fall. O’Connor’s in particular didn’t stand a chance: it’s practically spitting distance from the Barclays Center. “The demographics are changing a lot,” Christine Kim, owner of Get Reel Video a block away, told me about the area a few years ago. “The more rounded film lovers or artists are being replaced with a more homogeneous, or gentrified, community.” (The video store finally closed two months ago.) A former O’Connor’s regular told me he used to see Elliott Smith hanging out there in the late 90s, when the singer-songwriter lived in Brooklyn; rumor has it that he wrote some of XO within its walls. (“So I wait for the F train…”) It’s hard to imagine a work of such grace, beauty and pain composed here now, at what the old bar has become, though on a recent evening one of the few patrons loudly strummed an acoustic-electric in back, preparing for this new bar’s first open mic night. (Later, he dedicated his first song to Mr. O’Connor.) The neighborhood sure has changed—and so has this space.

O’Connor’s regulars wouldn’t recognize a thing about McMahon’s Public House; for starters, disorientingly, the bar itself is on the other side of the room. Otherwise, the place looks like it was gutted and wholly rebuilt—you can see why it took two years to reopen. The wood is spiffy; it still has that new bar smell. I spent many evenings at O’Connor’s, sucking down bottles of Blue Point, but I can’t remember if it had a television; it certainly didn’t have six flatscreens on two walls, tuned to soccer. The space has been reimagined and reborn as an arenaside sports bar, with copious tables and plenty of staggering room on its airy ground floor. Plus, there’s a newly built upstairs, the staircase to which has yet to be unchained; a kitchen is also set to open soon, once the owners finish trying out chefs. (In the meantime, the bartenders encouraged us on multiple visits to get takeout and eat it at the bar.)

Fifteen tap lines offer solid if uninspired selections (Captain Lawrence, Brooklyn Lager, Sixpoint, Founder’s and Goose Island share handle-space with Corona, Budweiser and Coors Light). There’s a full stock of liquor, and there are racks where bottles of wine lay longwise. It’s the perfect spot for a drink after the Nets game, I guess, but did Brooklyn really need a Midtown-style Irish pub? I mean, look, it’s not the McMahon brothers’ faults that politicians fought aggressively for that arena to be built, and they’re certainly not culpable for the way Bloomberg’s city became unwelcoming to dark bars where people could go to drink cheaply and anonymously. (A pint of Sweet Action will set you back $7 here.) It’s not their fault that North Slope—and Brooklyn, and New York—no longer had a place for O’Connor’s. So you might still find us here, but it’ll be in mourning—not just for a single dive, but for a whole town. Rarely is the zeitgeist so neatly captured by a single address.