For New York, I tackle the question I get asked all the time: Where should I eat in Prospect Heights? I've lived here for more than 15 years, so I've got plenty of opinions on everything from ramen to Thai and fried chicken.
By the time many of you read this, the end will have come for Prospect Heights dive Freddy’s. Its destruction has been destined for seven years, ever since developer Bruce Ratner announced plans to bulldoze swaths of the central Brooklyn neighborhood and build luxury skyscrapers and a stadium housing the New Jersey Nets, which, happily, just completed one of the losingest campaigns in NBA history.
Sure, the lawsuits, rallies and ham-fisted eminent domain gave residents and businesses dwelling in the Atlantic Yards footprint a kernel of David-versus-Goliath hope, but really: Ratner had billions of reasons to shoehorn this project into the neighborhood, doling out political donations like Halloween candy, soliciting sweetheart tax breaks and enlisting the slobbering boosterism of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. “Please, come on out and support your Nets, Brooklyn,” I can hear him beg, as local interest flags after another 12–70 season.
But the pleasure I’ll take in watching Marty drown his sorrows in Junior’s cheesecake is trumped by the sadness I feel at Freddy’s closure. This quirky, curios-strewn tavern, where you could catch a banjo player one night, before building dioramas the next and participating in a spelling bee, will serve its final pint on April 30. After seven years of fighting, and staring down the wrecking ball, Freddy’s owners’ resignedly accepted a settlement from Ratner.
“We’re little guys. We can’t run our business into the ground as Ratner has and still survive. We have a lot of mouths to feed, and we are not billionaires,” manager Donald O’Finn said in a press release, which announced the bar’s hopeful move to Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn’s burgeoning bar district (Mission Dolores, Pacific Standard and 4th Avenue Pub all reside on the stretch.) “We… are looking forward to moving out from under this sword of Damocles.”
I admire Finn’s optimism and indefatigable spirit, as well as the fact of Freddy’s continued survival. However, it’s a tall order to re-create the scuffed charm of a structure that was once a bowling alley, speakeasy, cop hangout and clubhouse for employees of the former Daily News printing plant. Freddy’s will endure in spirit, but the patina that the patrons created will be lost in the rubble. Because I’ve lived in Prospect Heights since 2003, Freddy’s demise hits close to home, as does the coming construction nightmare (a dream for the jackhammering workers that will descend on the neighborhood like locusts to a crop). I will not pretend that I was a dyed-in-the-wool Freddy’s regular. But I did like having it here. I did like popping in for a pint of properly poured Guinness and letting the hours dissolve as easily as butter in a hot pan.
You see, Freddy’s was as comfortable as an old sweatshirt, enveloping musicians and off-duty policemen, curmudgeonly oldtimers and young bucks—like me. Freddy’s was among the first bars I visited upon relocating to New York City, and thus holds a special slot in my liquor-besotted heart. Back in October 2000, I was a bright-eyed newcomer living in Astoria. I knew few folks save for Brooke, a collegiate classmate who lived in Park Slope.
Freddy’s was as comfortable as an old sweatshirt, enveloping musicians and off-duty policemen, curmudgeonly old-timers and young bucks—like me.
“Come to Freddy’s and have a few beers,” she said on my second or third night in town. I agreed as quickly as a corporate yes-man, and soon I was navigating the bowels of the subway system. When I emerged an hour later, I found myself amid stately brownstones and disheveled bodegas. Like a lighthouse appearing in an ocean’s dark, roiling distance, neon-soaked Freddy’s stood out like a beacon. Inside, I found refuge with cheap beer, friends’ cheer and the warm embrace of a brunette whom I’ll call Stephanie—less out of embarrassment than the fact that, 10 years and 10,000 beers later, I’ve forgotten her name.
“I just moved to New York,” I said. “That must be really overwhelming,” she said, rubbing my hand.
“Do you want a beer?” I said, engaging in my time-honored courtship routine. My purchase of three-dollar Budweisers, combined with my then-optimistic outlook (“I want to start a magazine that’ll revolutionize journalism”) and lack of shoulder hair, conspired to work their magic. Soon, we were holding hands in the bar, followed by a rooftop after-party at Brooke’s apartment. A kiss. A question.
“Want to get a cab back to Astoria?” she asked. I did. I told the cabbie my address. He took off. We started smooching. A couple days in New York and already this? I could learn to love this town, I thought, so caught up in making out that I didn’t notice the cabbie steering us in a costly direction that took every dollar in my wallet.