Fifth Avenue’s beloved old-man bar, O’Connor’s, will get a makeover and expansion just in time for the Barclays Center to open a couple blocks away — but the owner says his loyalties are to longtime customers, not the thousands of sports fans who will fill the arena next year.
Come summertime, the no-frills dive will be expanded to include an upstairs restaurant with seating that serves “good, off-the-bone Irish-American food” and — for the first time — beer on tap. It will be three times bigger and one story taller.
“We’re trying to keep the old look, but modernize it a bit,” said owner Mike Maher, who has run the bar, near Dean Street, for three years.
Maher said that the renovation and retooling had nothing to do with the 19,000-seat arena rising one block away, but the arena is sure to draw a crowd of sporty types from outside Park Slope to a place that’s now only popular with a small band of regulars.
And some of those elbow-benders are disappointed.
“It might be premature to mourn the loss of one of one of New York’s last real dive bars, but it seems like there won’t be that same run-down feeling,” said Dan Myers, who founded the blog, Here’s Park Slope.
Even a bartender admitted this week that “the vibe might change” in a bar that was founded in 1934, and hasn’t changed through World War II, the white flight of the 1950s, the urban turmoil of the 1960s, the gentrification of the 1990s and even having tortured-genius musician Elliott Smith pen part of his fourth album, “XO,” under those dim barroom lights in 1997, when drug dealers still outnumbered strollers in the neighborhood. (Smith carved some scrawl into one of the booths.)
It wouldn’t be the first time the Atlantic Yards project disturbed the peace at a beloved neighborhood watering hole. Last spring, Freddy’s Bar was bulldozed, though the bar reopened in the South Slope — and retains most of its original style and character.
The difference, Maher says, is that his bar isn’t going anywhere, and not trying to do much more than serve simple, old-fashioned corned beef sandwiches. The bar will retain its old wooden phone booth — and its before-noon opening hour.
As such, not everyone is upset.
“The times, they are a changing,” said regular John Lonergan. “You must go with the flow. When I used to come here more than 20 years ago, it was all Korean War vets. The Old Guard is gone. Now it’s all Yuppies.”
O’Connor’s [39 Fifth Ave. at Dean Street in Park Slope, (718) 783-9721].