In 2003, on the first morning that I called New York City my home, I walked out of my apartment on Sutton Street in Greenpoint—where I’d moved all my earthly possessions the night before—up Nassau Avenue to meet a friend, who’d moved to the city three months earlier, at a bar called Enid’s.
Even though it was a relatively straight shot that should have taken no more than ten minutes, I somehow made a few wrong turns and got there a half-hour late. When I finally walked in, covered in sweat and ready to apologize to my friend for making him wait, I noticed a large, golden camel statuette on the wall. It’s what just about everybody notices when they first walk into Enid’s—and countless people who made the move to Williamsburg or Greenpoint in the early-to-mid aughts ended up in there at least once.
The camel belongs to owner Jaime Eldridge’s former partner. She flashed a smile when I asked about its fate on a recent visit—that’s what everybody wants to know. “It comes from a beloved gay bar in Kansas City and it’s going back,” she told me. “Its well-earned retirement.”
On March 31, the camel will look down on guests one final time. After that, the spirits will no longer flow, brunch will stop being served, and the lights hanging from the ceiling will be turned off one final time. Enid’s, once a hub for the wave of young people that altered the surrounding part of Brooklyn—some would say for better, others would say worse—doesn’t have a place in a neighborhood it helped transform.
Eldridge, who moved away from Greenpoint a few years ago, is resigned to the fact that neighborhoods change; the Greenpoint she knew is now a place with a Starbucks and where children, not hungover twentysomethings, make up the bulk of her bar’s lunchtime customers.
“We’re the leftovers,” she says.
Enid’s may just be one place, but it’s also part of a larger pattern. It’s one of a number of beloved casual bars across Brooklyn that announced in the first months of 2019 that they won’t be around when the summer comes. And these particular closings signal a symbolic final nail for their respective neighborhoods.
The loss of places where you can grab a drink or two without putting much thought into it—the places that don’t have extensive Japanese whisky lists, or fancy glassware for expensive beer—can help to explain the recent history of certain parts of New York City. They went from being places where people from various backgrounds lived for decades, to what MIT professor of housing policy and city planning Philip Clay calls the pioneer stage of gentrification, when younger creative types move in.
But these places are now well beyond the expansion and displacement phases, which just leaves the final stage: mature. Corporate businesses, condos, and people with more money to spend. That’s the story of gentrification: Whatever was there before doesn’t stand much of a chance—especially the old bars.
“Saloon culture naturally gravitated around the people’s delirium,” Luc Sante writes in Low Life, his history of seedy 19th-century Manhattan. Something that hasn’t changed between the period Sante was writing about and the present day is that there is no shortage of distraction, agitation, and frenzy among New Yorkers; it’s a delirious place filled with delirious people.
That may help explain why many of those who spent their earlier years in New York City tend to have an overly romanticized picture of their first real bar as an idyllic place. It was where they slowly drained a beer or a two-ingredient mixed drink while shooting the shit with somebody on their journey into something resembling adulthood.
Mine was Enid’s, starting on that August afternoon in 2003. In Meet Me in the Bathroom-era Brooklyn, where nearly every other person had asymmetrical bangs and you were always certain to meet somebody in a band that was getting minor buzz, Enid’s felt welcoming. Drinks were inexpensive, the music was good, and people generally did their own thing, so it became one of my main hangouts, along with other early-aughts north Brooklyn spots that shut their doors for good in the last few years: Daddy’s, Royal Oak, Trash Bar, and Matchless, which—until the start of 2018—was located across from Enid’s.
At some point, I would say around 2009, I started hanging out at Matchless more as I approached my 30s, and the crowd at Enid’s resembled the type I hung out with (and made regrettable choices with) in my 20s. Still, I had nights where going to both bars, and then waking up the next afternoon and going back to one of them for brunch, was an option. When Matchless closed, it felt like the end of something; but we’ll always have Enid’s, I thought.
That wasn’t the case. I got older and moved to a quieter neighborhood nowhere near the L or G train, saying I’d stop in when I was around. I didn’t do it all that much. I was part of a migration out, it seems.
Eldridge initially believed that Matchless closing would bring in more business, but that didn’t end up happening, continuing a trend that had been going on from a date she and her partner can pinpoint: the opening of a place she goes out of her way not to name in a newer, hipper neighborhood a few years earlier. “A bar opened in Bushwick and we noticed our weekend nights died,” she says.
Spend a Saturday night in Bushwick and you’ll see that it’s where the current twentysomething crowd that wants to stay out until last call goes. Williamsburg has gotten too expensive; Greenpoint has great restaurants, but can feel like it’s at the end of the world. Those neighborhoods just aren’t the party destinations they were in the aughts, and that’s the rub when it comes to gentrification. Places go from neighborhoods to hot spots, and back to neighborhoods again—albeit more expensive, and less inclusive to those that can’t afford them. The bars and music venues that sprouted up in the early aughts closed up shop, and the Apple store and poke bowl spots moved in, like new layers of paint atop a coat that really isn’t that old.
As P.E. Moskowitz, author of How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood, puts it, “there’s a difference between a laundromat and a $10 cocktail bar or destination restaurant, because the latter aren’t the same kinds of spaces non-gentrifying residents of New York and other cities need.” Places like Enid’s sit somewhere in the middle of that idea. People might not need inexpensive bars like it, but they do serve a purpose.
Unlike those north Brooklyn neighborhoods, the stretch of Fourth Avenue right down the street from Barclays Center—depending on who you ask, it’s Boerum Hill, Gowanus, or even Park Slope—has never been much of a destination. It still has little delis, auto body shops, schools, and a Carnegie-funded library from the turn of the century.
Pacific Standard was a welcome addition to this stretch when it opened in 2007, but 12 years later, it almost felt dated, albeit in a charming way. It was a bar built to be a clubhouse of sorts, with several different IPAs on tap, a reminder of the early days of the craft beer boom starting to grip parts of the city. There was an Iron Maiden pinball machine alongside a Sopranos one; flyers on the walls advertising literary readings and comedy nights; random illustrations from the iconic California restaurant Chez Panisse on the wall, one of the many reminders the bar’s owner is from the Bay Area; and lots of old paperbacks and hardcovers. What there wasn’t was good lighting for selfies, a vintage bar that continually pops up on Instagram, or an extensive menu of cocktails based off of recipes found in a book from the Roaring Twenties.
“It’s just a cool place,” a heavily-tattooed guy who stopped in for an afternoon pint told me when I visited last month. The bar was supposed to close on February 9, but it later tweeted that it was granted a reprieve of indeterminate length. Still, I told myself that it was probably the last time I’d ever go there, and I was right. Pacific Standard has officially been phased out, and you can see the surrounding area getting pinched between the rapidly developing section of Atlantic Avenue, where the Nets play and people shop at Target on one side, and Park Slope and Gowanus on the other. As if any day now it’s either going to be more big retail in the place where microbrews were once served or more condos—maybe both.
Bars like Enid’s and Pacific Standard are becoming a rarity in neighborhoods across Brooklyn and other parts of the five boroughs that experienced that initial pioneer wave of gentrification over the last two decades. In December, the beloved Hot Bird, a spacious spot on Atlantic Avenue where Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and Fort Greene all meet, a place where you could find people from all walks of life drinking at the outside tables, gave way to what will eventually be a skyscraper; not long after that, the iconic dive bar, Hank’s Saloon, closed up after years of speculation and announced it would be moving into a new food hall. At the end of February, word got out that The Abbey, which has been serving Williamsburg since 1997, will also close. On St. Patrick’s Day, the Old Carriage Inn, the dark and dirty Park Slope sports bar where you could catch a Jets game sitting next to a retired cop and a handful of foul-mouthed locals who lived in the neighborhood long before it was one of the most coveted sections of the borough, served its last pints.
These kinds of places—with mismatched furniture, scuffed-up walls, and accumulation of little tchotchkes that make them feel like a living room—are going extinct. Rent is too high and tastes are changing, sure. But the dearth of places you can go for a beer and not think too much of it, the bars that don’t feel like they had any sort of plan when they were being built, is a loss. As Eldridge retells the Enid’s genesis story, she passed the place one day and a few hours later was signing a lease. That idea now seems downright nuts when considering how much time and money goes into opening a bar or restaurant, and how just about everything that opens in New York City these days has some sort of concept.
While bars like Enid’s and Pacific Standard are new in the grand scheme of things, even older bars, ones that have been around for 50 or more years, don’t seem to stand a chance anymore. Take Rosemary’s Greenpoint Tavern, which opened on Bedford Avenue nearly 65 years ago, and for a while, seemed like it would outlast everything. It served beers in huge Styrofoam cups—even after the law said it couldn’t—and it remained cash-only. Eventually, things changed around the dark little watering hole. The waves of gentrification brought the vintage clothing boutiques and artisanal cheese shop, which gave way to an Apple store and Whole Foods, but Rosemary’s stubbornly stayed the same.
But if there’s anything you learn living in New York City for a decade or longer, it’s that Bruce Springsteen was right; “Everything dies baby, that’s a fact.” The news broke early in February that the senior citizen-aged bar would close at the end of the month, that Rosemary Bleday, the 86-year-old owner who had worked behind the bar since her parents opened it in 1955, had decided to finally close. It is said that her family is looking to sell the bar.
Although the news of Rosemary’s end came as a shock to many, it didn’t seem that surprising after a few minutes of letting it sink in. While there have long been greatly exaggerated tales of nearby dive Turkey’s Nest closing shop (something the bar has played along with in the past), it’s just far enough off the main drag of Bedford that it could fly under the radar a bit longer. Rosemary’s, on the other hand, was smack in the middle of everything, smashed between places that serve juice for the health-conscious and gadgets for people who are always on the go, who don’t have time to sit around a dark bar for a few hours.
But the loss of Rosemary’s and its younger counterparts feel connected, and not just because they’re places where people went to drink. It’s part of the disintegration of places in New York City where you can connect with other people. It’s the end of places that made neighborhoods that were once overlooked or forgotten feel like home for some, but also spelled the end for others. Bars that might be a decade or two old aren’t those necessary places, like laundromats or moderately priced grocery stores with affordable fresh produce, but they’re independent and inexpensive in a city that has turned its back on those ideals. These are places where you can be around other people for next to nothing, a luxury that is quickly going away in Brooklyn and other parts of New York City.
It’s a little bittersweet to see places like Enid’s that, just a few years ago, were dismissed as “hipster bars,” getting the nostalgia treatment, but so it goes. Eldridge doesn’t think the people that live in Greenpoint now will really miss having her place on the corner, and she doesn’t see herself visiting the neighborhood much. But she has been moved by the reaction, all the customers telling her their memories. There are all the first dates people went on at Enid’s with the person they’d end up marrying; she laughs when she realizes there’s a chance that maybe a few of their children were conceived in the bar’s bathroom.
It’s a little past 1 p.m. as we finish up our conversation and Eldridge runs to the back to grab me two commemorative click pens she had made for the closing. While she’s gone I look around and notice the bar is filled entirely with parents and their kids, save for a couple sitting at the bar, knocking back pints on a weekday afternoon. One of the mothers near me is talking to the other about how they looked into getting a second apartment in Manhattan so it would be easier for their kids to get to their private school. I think about how I couldn’t even contemplate what people who are my age now were like back when I was 22, or that I’d live in close proximity to people that could even afford to consider having a second apartment in New York City. I always figured that Enid’s, and all the bars like it, would eventually phase me out.
Eldridge returns with the pens that read, “Enids: since before you moved here” and another that says “Enids: 1999-2019 thanks for the fun Greenpoint!” I thank her for them, and she asks if I plan on stopping in for the final party on the 31st. I tell her I might come in for one last drink, but I know as I get up to leave that I have completed some sort of a circle, that this would be the last time I stopped into my first bar.