Ready or not: Our Brooklyn bar scavenged from Sullivan
Christmas was sparse this year. Opening a new business—a bar in Brooklyn—took more out of my husband and me in time and money than we planned. Who am I kidding? We hardly planned at all. We just forged ahead with an idea of what we were building together, with family, to sustain a son for the future.
The lack of a plan aggravated our eldest son. A structural engineer, he doesn’t do lunch without a plan. We had a vision, a sensibility and a lifetime of experience, but we did not have a plan. Even our name for the bar, “Chagrin Falls,” after the small town in Ohio where my husband grew up, changed midway to the end. It’s now Bar Bayeux, a nod to its address in Brooklyn, 1066 Nostrand Ave.
Most people older than 40 remember 1066 as the year of the Battle of Hastings, when the Normans beat the English for control of the throne. The Bayeux Tapestry, a cross between a comic strip and a history book, tells the story of the battle and associated events of the time, most notably the arrival of Halley’s Comet. The neighborhood of Prospect Lefferts Garden is home to a large Caribbean and West Indies population. A French patois wafts through the air as groups of men gather on street-corners in fair weather to discuss the events of the day.
Decor for a bar called Chagrin Falls lent itself to kitschy art of waterfalls more than to French tapestries. That was one plan that took a U-turn about seven months into the 14-month battle to open the bar.
At first, it was an empty space, a storefront with an overgrown backyard that looked like it held secrets best left untold. When we started weeding, my husband cautioned not to dig too deeply lest we find something that required police intervention. What we found was much more relentless than something the NYPD might be involved with—a maze of bamboo that refused to be vanquished. A backyard neighbor opined that we would never conquer this crop as the Normans had conquered the Brits. Still, we persisted, and by summer had a clean slate of pea gravel surrounded by a border of five arborvitae and a new Dogwood tree, with a lavender hedge, herbs, hostas and hydrangeas, battling occasional incursions of sturdy bamboo sprouts.
The garden was my bailiwick, as was the decor. I could not have managed either without the able body and willing nature of my future son-in-law, Conrad Dean. Since I spend most of my time in our Narrowsburg home, my hunt for bar furnishings started here. I found it easy and fun to drive around, ready to toss a ‘find’ into the back of my car and deliver it to the bar on my next trip. And besides, I know most of the local vendors and they shared my excitement about our new venture, as they are all entrepreneurs themselves. I was thrifty, but I did not skimp, expecting to open our doors before too long.
As summer passed, so did autumn, without a liquor license, after an email snafu that tested the very fiber of our 30-plus year marriage. Not to mention our bank account.
Finding antique lighting (11th century light fixtures are hard to come by) and mirrors was fun. Since I had no plan, I had no budget either. (Except the little light that goes off in my head when something is overpriced.) Our first purchase, from The Velvet Maple in Narrowsburg, was a gorgeous, old, gilt-framed double-oval mirror that would become the focal point behind the bar. I remember soliciting the advice of friends whether to invest $140 in it. I am grateful that they encouraged me, though I think they questioned my sanity at the time. I’m also grateful to Velvet Maple owner Alessandra Maria for holding it for me against higher bids.
Later I found a three-light ceiling pendant with fluted white glass shades at Barryville Antiques, and two over-the-top bejeweled golden pendants with fleur-de-lis decoration at Green Outlet in Honesdale. Callicoon, in the form of Lee Hartwell, provided a sweet little wall fixture of wavy handblown milk-glass with a brass fitting that I rewired and outfitted with a gold-tipped bulb. Installed, it resembles a flower.
In November, we finally received our license and began ordering liquor. We opened the door, without a clear plan to do so, on December 12, 2018, when son Jeremy turned to my husband and said, “I think I’m ready to open.” Ready or not, we did.