I’m no urban planner. I don’t understand the social implications that come with my corner store selling organic mac ‘n’ cheese and I’m ashamed to say that I often mix up Jane Jacobs with Jane Goodall in pretentious conversations about gentrification.
But one thing I’ve learned in my extensive drinking career is that booze brings people together.
It just so happens that on a certain stretch of Fifth Avenue, a gaggle of bars have adopted this mantra particularly well. From simple pioneering watering holes like Buttermilk to legendary newcomers like , these establishments have become the mainstays of longtime residents, local artists and broke, young newbies.
Their cheap drinks and amiable staff are heating up the neighborhood, cultivating just the type of slow-cooked communities that would make Ms. Jacobs proud.
It all started with Buttermilk in 2002, the pioneer of South Slope’s underbelly bar scene. Prior to opening Buttermilk, owners Andrew Benedict and Scott Fredrick perfected a formula for a laid-back drinking den at Boat in Carroll Gardens and and brought it to Fifth Avenue and 16th Street.
Residents on the outskirts of the Slope flocked to the place, whether it was for its $3-a-drink happy hour or its old school PAC-MAN machine. According to bartender Pamela Bishop, Buttermilk's patrons range from the working class to the young and restless to service workers who gets off work at 4 a.m. — exactly the type of people for whom Benedict and Fredrick opened the bar.
“They’re really dedicated to building up a local crowd,” Bishop said. “Obviously it works.”
Michael Youmans, a South Slope resident of nine years remembers the beginning of the area’s bar scene well.
“Buttermilk was before anyone,” Youmans said. “Everyone went to Buttermilk, I mean everyone went to buttermilk. Then all these other bars kind of opened up after them.”
After Buttermilk stuck its flag in fresh soil, others moved in and can now be spotted frequenting their peers’ establishments. There was , the coolest jukebox bar around, , a cozy bar and grill with dangerously started by brothers John and Bart DeCoursey, , a cool but regal take on the British sports bar, and South, a neighborhood joint across the overpass that Youmans favors for its proximity and friendly owners, Paul Molnar and Dee Byrd-Molnar.
The Molnars met while working at the Ginger Man in Midtown and moved to South Slope in 2002. They loved the friendly, neighborhoody feel of the area and, in 2009, decided to open South, a no-fuss locals bar that serves girlled PB&J and has a pretty outdoor patio.
“It’s a small community around here, everybody pretty much knows eachother,” Bryd-Molnar said. “We wanted to make a bar in our neighborhood that we wanted to drink at. And help the community.”
South shares a wall with Freddys, which along with bars like (think: “Royal Tenenbaums” walllpaper) and (the newest of them all), opened in the neighborhood less than a year ago.
Unlike the others, however, Freddy’s brought with it a somewhat mythic reputation. It was named one of the best bars in America by Esquire Magazine and praised by many others. Although it was hard for owner Donald O’Finn to leave the bar’s original Dean Street location, he said he couldn’t have picked a better place to relocate.
“There’s a real nice vibe coming in,” O’Finn said. “It reminds me of what would now be downtown Park Slope, what that used to be like 20 years ago. It was more of a mix of young artists and writers and young families mixed with the original Brooklyn generations of people that have lived here.”
O’Finn says he’s happy make his contribution to the well-imbibed area, and join the tight community of bartenders nearby.
“Everyone has been really open arms, really excited that we’re here,” O’Finn said. “There’s no sense of competition, there’s a sense of family, of sort of like: ‘Yeah let’s get this thing going.’”