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Some steely memories: Ironworkers’ old hangout goes on the block

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The “For Sale” sign above a century-old Atlantic Avenue hole in the wall has stirred memories of the Mohawk Indian ironworkers who once occupied the saloon’s long, wooden bar.

The bar at Third and Atlantic — then known as the Doray Tavern, the pub with the motto “Where Good Friends Meet” and now known as Hank’s Saloon — sits in the center of what was once known as Downtown Caughnawaga, nam­ed for the hundreds of ironworkers who came in the 1930s to Boerum Hill from the Caughnawaga Reservation on the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, recruited to build the city’s heaviest steel landmarks from the Empire State Building to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Over the years, traces of the community have slowly disappeared. A 1949 magazine story, “The Mohawks of High Steel,” by New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell, remains the most comprehensive record of its existence.

One longtime regular, Dennis Chipell of Boerum Hill, stood near the stage of the bar — now a popular honky-tonk music hall — on a recent Tuesday, studying an odd hole in the wall. The opening once led to a staircase going up to a second-floor apartment where a few of the ironworkers lived until 1945.

“They weren’t scared of heights or the giant moon craters that used to be in the bar here,” he said with a wistful smile.

The apartment and the century-old bar — which will be razed by the end of year to make way for a taller condo building that the owners say will house a new Hank’s Saloon in the ground floor — is one of the few places frequented by the Caughnawaga that hasn’t already been transformed by time.

Condos now fill what used to be the Cuyler Presbyterian Church on Pacific Street near Hoyt Street, where Iroquois-language services were held for decades. The church’s landmark exterior remains, but there is little to commemorate the church’s pastor, Dr. David Munrue Cory, who led the Iroquois service, or the Caughnawaga women who created an Iroquois hymnal for the church.

The red-brick tenements and brownstones between Court Street and Fourth Avenue and Schermerhorn Street, where many of the ironworkers lived with their families, have been renovated, the drums and traditional masks that decorated the homes removed. The Nevins Street Bar and Grill, which is described in Mitchell’s famous story as a small joint with crowded booths and a neighborhood nickname of the “Indian Bank,” closed soon after the community dissipated in the 1950s.

Now Twins Pizza House occupies the shabby storefront.

“The ironworkers were a part of all these places,” said Jeannie Talierco, a bartender at Hank’s for 13 years. “They were rough, but then they would kiss and make up in five minutes. Pictures of them were on the walls here. Now the pictures are gone and soon, so will be the bar.”

A delivery boy at Twins simply shook is head in disbelief when a reporter told him that once upon a time when patrons could buy Canadian beer there and read thank-you notes pasted on a mirror from Caughnawaga widows who lost their husbands building the steel skyscrapers.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

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Reasonable discourse

nona from brooklyn heights says:
I've always wondered about past neighborhood hangouts of the almighty Iroquois Ironworkers. Nice article. I don't think the current Hank's Saloon owners have a clue.
Feb. 15, 2008, 5:09 pm

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