80-year-old bar exhibits old-day Windsor Terrace
All the men standing around the reddish-brown bar turned to look with surprise at the young woman walking in for the first time. They kept watching the stranger take a stool and order a drink, leaving their noisy conversations unfinished.
“We don’t often see women here,” said Ronnie Sardo, a painter who has frequented the bar for 30 years.
But that is changing as Windsor Terrace, a neighborhood in central Brooklyn, is attracting newer residents. While the area has become a destination for more affluent and younger residents, the 80-year-old Farrell’s Bar offers an insight into history and life in the once working-class neighborhood.
On weekdays, Farrell’s Bar at 215 Prospect Park West is the exclusive place for men in their 60s and 70s, in the once-Irish Windsor Terrace neighborhood.
Here, standing on the worn yellow floor under the oldish ceiling fans, they gather to talk about sports and the old days, when “everyone knew other families’ kids in the neighborhood.”
Mike Farrell, the bar’s first owner, had no stools, said bartender Edward Mills, who will mark his 50th year working at the bar next year.
“We all stood up here,” he said. “If you can’t stand, you drink too much, so go home and see you tomorrow.”
“He was saying you just treat them as you treat the family.”
The bar did serve women, in contrast to its reputation for ignoring female clients, but the women used to sit to have drinks or food at the rear, Mills said. Men stood drinking at the front bar.
The tradition continued until the late 1970s, when a woman in the neighborhood came in and asked to be served at the front bar.
Mills has worked for two generations of the Farrells since he was 21. Now his grandchildren have gone to primary school and the bar has been taken over by another owner.
What keeps the men going to Farrell’s, apart from good beer, is its role as a community place, said Sardo, the painter. Many of them, including war veterans, have been drinking at Farrell’s all their lives.
“Everyone knows each other; there is no fighting here,” Sardo said in a conversation sometimes interrupted by people approaching to say hello.
Located several blocks from the Veteran Association office, the bar has become the gathering place of the onetime soldiers.
Most of them are Vietnam veterans who call themselves the 1960s draftees. There are also several World War II and Korean War veterans in their 80s.
Once the landfill area of the former Brooklyn town in the 1890s, Windsor Terrace has turned into the residence of young urban professionals, whom the natives call yuppies.
Now Farrell’s has stools. It also has a range of drink flavors, from orange to strawberry to chocolate, in addition to traditional martinis and vodka. Younger clients and women drop by on weekends and at night.
Mills sometimes find it hard to adapt to the “candy world” of the new flavors amid the masculine bar of retired policemen, firemen and sanitation workers.
“It changed a lot because of the yuppies — people that I can’t understand,” he said. “When they first came in, I tried to talk to them, but I can’t.”
“Everything is ‘Why’? They say ‘Why?’ and I say ‘because’… ‘Why can’t I bring my bicycle in?’ ‘Because we have no room for bicycles in here.’ ”
Windsor Terrace used to be a small community where people know each other and other families’ children. Native residents who have spent their whole lives here have seen the community become crowded and less familiar, said musician Jimi Marrash.
“I even don’t know those living next door,” he said.
Traditionally a more family-oriented neighborhood than Brooklyn Heights or Dumbo, Windsor Terrace is attracting newer residents and gentrification, said Brooklyn author John Manbeck, whose works include “The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn.”
“I regard change as new blood, and usually this transfusion brings a new life to neighborhoods,” he said. “A city that does not allow change is not alive.”