Williamsburg’s Legion Bar closed its doors early Sunday morning for a legion of regulars. The closing was bittersweet for Merle Chornuk, who opened Legion in 2005 with the hopes of it being a busier bar than it turned out to be. “It’s the end of an era,” he told me. “I’m moving on to other things.”
Legion’s closing was the end of an era for me as well. As a former bike messenger, Legion was the fourth star in a constellation of bicycle-friendly bars that included East River Bar, Macri Park under it old ownership, Second Chance Saloon, Legion and the now-defunct Wreck Room. When photographer and DJ Cheylene ‘Le Noize’ Sharkeye started her Thursday night karaoke parties in 2014, the bikes would be locked in huge piles as the folks in one of New York’s most dangerous professions sung out their frustrations. For smokers, Legion had the best backyard in Williamsburg that wasn’t a backyard, but as messengers moved further away from Williamsburg’s rising rents, Sharkeye’s karaoke moved to The Footlight in Ridgewood.
The bartender on Legion’s final Friday was Oklahoma/Texas native Mike Reyes, who had been there off and on for six years. He appreciated the no-frills atmosphere of his job and said “everyone was chill here and I say that as someone who came from the ‘wild west.’ Bartending here taught me a lot about people and their different walks of life.”
Saturday’s rain brought solace for the day drinkers that joined longtime bartender Erika Mohrer for the start of her final 4pm-4am shift. When I arrived that afternoon she was talking with friend Adam Walker who I had known back in 2005 when he worked at the Fix Lounge, one of the “new” Williamsburg’s first cafe bars that sat behind the original Beacon’s closet in what is now Charnuk’s nearby restaurant, The Bedford (Charnuk also operates Roebling Sporting Club as well as Red Hook recording studio Atomic Sound).
While performers of all stripes, including local band The Buy Backs, have appeared in the back room, it was Brooklyn’s comedy community that really called the place home. A show took place at Legion Bar almost every night of the week; as comedian Alise Morales told the audience, “One of the lamest things about me is how genuinely sad I am that Legion is closing. This was a place where so many of us got drunk, and did bits and tried stupid shit and kissed people…”
The six-hour marathon of stand-up and group improv started with SICK: A Comedy Show About Illnesses and Injuries, hosted by Ilana Michelle Rubin, and continued with a show hosted by improv group ALPACA, led by member Emily Riggins, who told me the stage was “the nicest one I perform on in Brooklyn.” At 10pm, a crowd swelled for Hell Yeah’s final Legion show, advertised as “the goddamn end of an era. ” Host James Cross did everything to make his audience feel that way as he ascended the stage under a rain of streamers before being lifted up by the crowd and surfed around the room.
Cross’s line-up told their favorite Legion stories, interspersed by two tribute videos, a thank you to bartender Mohrer and a mock RPG video game of Legion Bar created by comedian Pat Wise, who, along with Morales, co-hosted their Cool Show Not Lame there. At the end of his tale, Tim Heck tried to put the community around him in perspective by proclaiming “wherever a bunch of nobodies perform for each other, that’s where Legion is.”
When the laughs were over, the audience and performers joined the regular partiers and heated up the front dance floor as DJ and Ninjasonik co-founder Jah Jah Brown closed out the venue. When word spread that Jah Jah was spinning, his downtown artist friends– including Osvaldo Jimenez, Bruce La Bounty, Russell Murphy, Miryam Prodanovic, and Austin Pinon— took a cab from the city. While they fooled around in the party-debris-strewn back room, I caught up with owner Charnok who was helping bar-back as the party raged on. Though I was going to stay to take a big group portrait at the very end, I told him that no matter when I came to Legion Bar I always stayed till last call. He smiled and told me, “everyone got laid here, it’s true.”