‘Frozen in time’: Bay Ridge bar owner Joe Joyce remembered as local legend

Joe Joyce with his wife, Jane.
Kevin Joyce

Joe Joyce, owner of the storied Bay Ridge tavern JJ Bubbles, died on April 9 at the age of 74 due to complications caused by the novel coronavirus, his family said.

At home in one of the most bar-dense neighborhoods in New York City, not much has changed about JJ Bubbles in its 42 years of operation — something Joyce’s son Kevin attributes to his father’s dedication to an old-fashioned way of doing things. 

“My father was frozen in time,” Kevin Joyce said.

Joyce opened JJ Bubbles in 1978, near the corner of 79th Street and Third Avenue. Prior to that, he worked as an adaptive physical education teacher for disabled students at I.S. 27 on Staten Island, and tended bar at the nearby Tankard Inn. An army veteran, Joyce was previously stationed at Chu Lai during the Vietnam War.

What did change inside JJ Bubbles was its collection of knick-knacks lining the walls. Over the years, the tavern picked up more and more treasures, including a collection of old earthenware beer steins that hang from the ceiling above the bar, and dozens of old beer signs – all of which Joyce collected himself. He picked up the pieces at garage sales and antique shops across the country, his son said.

“It’s a tale of my father’s journey in life and his collecting,” Kevin said. “The bar is a living testament.” 

Three years after opening JJ Bubbles, Joyce quit drinking for good, spending the better part of the following 39 years operating a watering hole he never drank from.

Employees remembered Joyce for his generosity, and for creating a safe haven for patrons. 

“He was more than just a boss, he was family to many of us,” said Ross Procaccio, who has worked at JJ Bubbles for six years.

But, “Being a 40 year-plus bar owner is such a small part of what Joe [contributed] to the neighborhood,” the bartender said. “If you ever needed help with anything, he was always there for you. He would give the shirt off his back to anyone.”

Joyce was heavily involved in community events, including — but not limited to — the local competitive darts scene, the Brooklyn Shamrocks Gaelic Football Club and the Special Olympics Polar Plunge on Staten Island. 

“Anybody who needed anything, he would have fundraisers for them,” his wife, Jane Joyce said. 

Right now, the fate of JJ Bubbles remains up in the air while the family deals with more pressing matters. However, the Joyces say they plan on having a service for their patriarch at St. Anselm’s Church, and a subsequent celebration of his life once it is safe to do so.

“This is a truly devastating loss to the community as a whole,” Procaccio said. “He’ll be greatly missed by so many.”

Additional reporting by Meaghan McGoldrick