Back Inn business: Storied Boerum Hill bar reopens under COVID restrictions

Brooklyn inn
Jason Furlani outside the recently-reopened Brooklyn Inn on Bergen and Hoyt streets.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

The classic Boerum Hill watering hole Brooklyn Inn reopened for business on Saturday for the first time since shutting down eight months ago due to COVID-19, according to the 169-year-old taproom’s manager.

“This is definitely a peculiar chapter in the bar’s history,” said Jason Furlani. “We’ve never done table service before.”

The bar dates back to 1851, nearly 50 years before the great city of Brooklyn became one of New York City’s five boroughs, according to Kings County historian John B. Manbeck — and the storefront at Bergen and Hoyt streets is said to be the borough’s oldest still-operating saloon.

The Victorian-era business — which survived the 1918 Spanish flu, the Great Depression, and the city’s 1970s fiscal crisis — is known throughout the area for its carved-wood interiors and no-frills service, and has become a staple for generations of buzzed Brooklynites looking for a relaxed place to knock back drinks. 

Now, Furlani, who took over the bar’s management in 2007, will dish up hotdogs and potato chips for $2 to comply with the state’s pandemic regulations, allowing businesses to only serve alcohol to seated patrons who are ordering and eating food.

“It’s an entirely new animal,” said Furlani, adding he plans to also serve vegetables with hummus soon. “We want to keep consistent with who we are. We wanted to keep it simple.”

Eagle-eyed Brooklyn Paper reporter Ben Verde spotted workers setting up outdoor seating in empty parking spots along the old-school bar’s Bergen Street side on Oct. 11, and Furlani said he officially started serving ales again this past weekend without too much fanfare.

“We purposefully didn’t want to announce it,” he said. “We wanted a soft open.”

The bar will also allow indoor dining at quarter-capacity and Furlani has removed bar stools to create more space.

During the alehouse’s closure, the beer purveyor was able to do some restoration work, including repairing the floors and giving the back room a fresh coat of paint.

The manager also set up an online fundraiser at the beginning of the pandemic to support his 14-member staff at the Inn and his two bars in Manhattan — the Magician and Tile Bar — where he raised $19,000.

He was able to retain all of his Brooklyn Inn staff, but several workers on the Distant Isle have since left, and he said he’s still looking to find people before he can reopen those pubs.

“We initially gave them all some money to help out but over the course of eight months some people just moved on — you can’t hardly blame them,” he said.

While many area businesses shuttered during the viral outbreak, such as nearby Building on Bond, Furlani said the Inn was able to survive because the business owner, Benjamin Atkins, also owns the building. 

The manager said that while the future remains uncertain, seeing his Boerum Hill staple reopen and bring back locals has given him hope.

“It’s harder, it’s different, it’s weird, but everyone’s in the same boat. Everyone’s just trying to keep it going,” so Furlani. “I think what’s most important is as I was there on the weekend and seeing people from the community how grateful they were about us being back open. Nothing else really matters.”

Brooklyn Inn [148 Hoyt St., at Bergen Street in Boerum Hill, (718) 522–2525]. Open daily from 2-11 pm.