Quantcast

Happy hour for Teddy’s owners: Williamsburg’s oldest bar sold

Back in time: Former owners Lee Ornati and Greg and Felice Kirby spent years restoring the old character of the century-and-a-quarter-old bar. They say the new owners are pledging to preserve it.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The oldest bar in Williamsburg is in new hands.

The three owners of Teddy’s Bar and Grill sold it last week, ending their nearly-three-decade claim on the more-than-a-century-old watering hole. In shopping it around, they made a point of picking a buyer who pledged to keep the classic vibe intact, they said.

“We were very eager to find an owner-operator who would cherish what was happening here and not turn it into a luxury steakhouse or an obnoxious chain,” Felice Kirby said. “We had some crazy offers from people, but we did not think those would be a smart move.”

Kirby refused to say how much they sold the business for or how much the new owners are paying in rent to her and her husband. The two still own the building and live upstairs.

Teddy’s is the last of 11 beer houses brewer Peter Doelger opened around Brooklyn in the late 1880s. It is named after a subsequent owner.

Felice Kirby and her now-husband Glen went in on the bar with their business partner, Lee Ornati, in 1987. It was not a get-rich-quick scheme, or even necessarily a get-paid scheme, Felice Kirby said.

“I did not think there was any money to be made in the community,” she said. “It was my boyfriend’s idea. I just drank at the bar.”

But the trio saw a need for a gathering place for artists recently transplanted to the neighborhood, who Kirby said were given the cold shoulder in the neighborhood. It was largely Puerto Rican and the artists coming in were young, and mostly white. Kirby called some of the treatment racist.

“There was a lot of racism, or people would just give you the evil eye if they did not know you,” she said. “We thought there should be a welcoming venue.”

Upon buying the bar, the team immediately set out to restore it to its former glory by uncovering the original woodwork, bar fixtures, and tin ceiling, Kirby said.

They also started booking jazz acts and selling a new-to-the-scene beer called Brooklyn Brewery, nine years before its first drops were brewed in Brooklyn. Even stocking that brand — now a baseline at borough bars — was a bold move in those days.

“It was radical and revolutionary at the time to be selling anything other than Schlitz or Coors Light,” Kirby said.

Details on what to expect from the latest chapter of the bar’s long run were not immediately forthcoming, as the new owners did not return calls for comment.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

More from Around New York