Venerable Prospect Heights watering hole Freddy's spent an impressive eighty years at its old digs on Dean Street, serving at times as a sort of policeman's lounge for a good chunk of it, until their well-publicized battle with Bruce Ratner, imminent domain, and the hulking mass of the Barclays Center. The original location is now something of an odd memorial, an unintentional absurdist monument of unused bike racks at the lower boundary of the Atlantic Yards sprawl.
The bar has found new life in the ever-ascendant southern reaches of Park Slope, in the former home of relatively useless Ellis, a blip of a bar known mostly for its seedy pool room and blindingly bad drink specials, all of which tasted like they'd been fished out of the Gowanus. The space has come a long way since it housed that mishap of an establishment, with the pool room now serving as Freddy's back room, where a constant parade of musical acts, literary events, tribute nights, screenings, and art installations turn the room into a sort of artistic and cultural holodeck. While the walls generally showcase the graphic artistry of local painters, illustrators, and the like, they are also occasionally adorned by the reclaimed bathroom walls from the original location, complete with the graffiti that decorated the stalls, a snapshot of the old Freddy's at the moment of its inevitable demise.
The main bar harkens back to that former space as well, with nearly all of the kitschy furnishings of the old bar having made the trip down 5th Avenue to their new home, which can only be described as a tavern by way of curio shop: there's the cow skull with a bottle of whiskey jammed in its eye, a marlin with the scotch-tape-on-glasses equivalent of a nosejob, the "asshole" sign used to silently judge anyone foolish enough to be one, and of course, the chain that spans the entire length of the bar, which regulars handcuffed themselves to at the height of the publicity over the battle with the Barclays Center. Of the many televisions screens around the place, there's one at the back that tends to show either sports or TCM, one in the front and back room showing the mesmerizing "TV Dreams," a never-ending project of co-owner Donald O'Finn's genius repurposing of found footage, a projection screen in the back that shows the same, and, of course, the infamous Freddy the Cat—of No One Outdrinks The Cat fame, on a permanent loop behind the bar, in an eternal bid to empty his water bowl. If you watch closely, he does relent eventually, so he can
be beat, but it takes some doing.
If we were the sort of people who gave awards, Freddy's would win the distinction of Best Bar Seating hands-down for their stools alone, wooden numbers with high, curving backs and armrests, ready to swivel between the seemingly trivial but always deep conversations that tend to flank you at all times at Freddy's. And then there are the church pews that sit on each side of the tables along the wall, which could drive a Catholic mad wondering how pews could feel so doggedly uncomfortable during mass but be so comfortable when transplanted to a bar.
In the case of bartenders and regulars, Freddy's stands above the impressive pantheon of bars along 5th Avenue, a stretch of road that's already known for having an amiable bar culture that's more about community than competition. Two-thirds of the ownership still tend bar for the congregation, and do it with such effortless skill that you can't help believe that the best bartenders aren't made but born into it. By dint of that, the patrons of Freddy's tend towards the amiable and the intellectual, making the bar the sort of place where bad attitudes and the fights that inevitably follow are not just frowned upon, but judiciously dealt with. There's an air of curation—done with the unseeable hand of a magician—about everything at Freddy's, from the decor right down to the regulars, proving that great bars, unlike great bartenders, don't just happen by chance.
by Patrick Hipp