Williamsburg became a boozy funeral row on Thursday with the closings of Rosemary’s Greenpoint Tavern and The Abbey. Nostalgic drinkers bounced from Bedford to Driggs all night, filling both bars to the brim for hours.
Rosemary Bleday– who once told us “This bar is Brooklyn to me”– wasn’t on hand to bid her namesake tavern farewell. (Its home of 65 years has been bought by real estate developer Redsky Capital.) Grandson Eric Carson told me she’s been hospitalized for the past few weeks and that he and his parents, Bleday’s daughter Debra and her husband Frank, wished she could have been there with them.
Also missing was longtime bartender Peggy, who I had photographed 15 years earlier on New Year’s Eve 2004. She was sidelined a year ago; when I brought in new prints of her, one of the regulars wanted them for a scrapbook that customers were putting together.
The crowd at Rosemary’s swelled at happy hour and peaked upon the delivery of the bar’s styrofoam cups, a trademark before they were banned. Cheers rang out as everyone raised the cups with names Sharpied on them. Outside, while seven-year doorman Tom held court over the smokers, I spoke with bartender Renee Rodgers. “I didn’t know what to expect when I started here 10 months ago,” she told me, “but the best part was meeting the regulars and hearing Rosemary’s stories.”
Down the block at The Abbey, which opened in 1997, live music during happy hour got its mourners raging early. The beer ran out shortly after 10pm, but the liquor kept the five bartenders busy till they kicked everyone out at 4am. In the midst of it all was a small reunion of former bartenders, including 10-year veteran Tania Cross. “I was living on North 8th Street and was already a regular when I was offered the job here,” said Cross, who now works at Bushwick’s Cobra Club. “Right away, it was a dream come true. I only had to walk three blocks to work and my rent got paid.”
Soon after, The Abbey’s owner, Michael Kearney, walked in the door. At 80 years old, Kearney is a contemporary of his neighbor Rosemary as well as a fellow native New Yorker hailing from Hell’s Kitchen. His daughter, Jessica Cloonan, told me how his small bar empire started years ago with a pioneering LGBT bar named Queens, for which he resisted intimidation from local bigots. Kearney has since become an owner of such diverse hipster havens as The Charleston, Metropolitan, Macri Park and Alligator Lounge.
During my conversation with Cloonan, I mentioned that last April I was at closing night of another bar named The Abbey Pub, on the Upper West Side. Taken aback, Cloonan replied, “Oh my God! Not only did my dad co-own that place with Paul [Holland] but he met my mom there before they bought it.” The two Abbeys were little-known sister bars. “My dad couldn’t make it to the closing that night because he was in the hospital, but you know what? If wasn’t for that Abbey I wouldn’t be here.”
Both Rosemary’s and The Abbey were at capacity by 11pm so my friends and I hit up nearby Vinnie’s Pizzeria and then The Charleston. After that, we stumbled back to The Abbey right as bartender Polina Buckley was scaling the front canopy. Finding her footing, she raised her cigarette and proclaimed to her dozen denizens, “May your cirrhosis of the liver be the result of tonight! Long live The Abbey and may it live in out hearts forever!”