State of the Union: Kids are back in the ‘Hall’ - Brooklyn Paper

State of the Union: Kids are back in the ‘Hall’

Union Hall, on Union Street in Park Slope, will soon allow strollers inside, a few days after putting up a sign prohibiting them (below).
The Brooklyn Paper / Noelle D’Arrigo

The owner of Union Hall, the Union Street bocce bar popular with hipsters, rockers and (until last week) new moms, has changed his mind after a week of criticism for his hastily announced “No kids allowed” policy.

Starting soon, owner Jim Carden told Smartmom, the bar will once again welcome in moms and their kids for some downtime (and drinks!) a few afternoons a week.

Whew! Now, can we all get along?

Carden had been under fire — and also hailed as a drinking class hero — ever since he posted a “No strollers” sign in the front window last week.

Plenty of mommies took to the blogs to slam Carden, but just as many defended him.

“I went to Union Hall [and] was appalled to be sitting next to toddlers while trying talk to my girlfriends (sometimes graphically) about life,” wrote one poster on Brooklynian. “So I’ve not been back. I’ll give it another try if it’s not going to feel like a preschool.”

That was one of the more polite posts!

Carden certainly wasn’t the first bar-owner to lower the boom on the Bugaboo set. Who can forget the bartender at Patio on Fifth Avenue who wrote the now-famous (or infamous) “Stroller Manifesto” on an A-frame sandwich board?

“What is it with people bringing their kids into bars?” wrote bartender Andy Heidel in thick white chalk back in August, 2006. “A bar is a place for adults to kick back and relax. How can you do that with a toddler running around?”

Smartmom can see both sides (she wouldn’t be Smartmom if she couldn’t find the neuroses in everything!). Yes, it’s convenient to bring your kid with you if you don’t have a babysitter. But do parents really need their Rob Roy with a side of rug rats?

Maybe. Carden told Smartmom this week that it was mistake to just put up the “No strollers” signs without an explanation to the neighborhood.

Herein is that explanation: “It was strictly liability,” Carden said. “A lot of parents are great and mindful. But some are not that attentive to their kids when they’re in here. This is a bar with an open stairwell and a bocce court. This is a business and we don’t have the staff to police it.”

It’s not like Union Hall has anything against parents and kids — far from it. Carden and a few of the bar’s employees have kids of their own.

“But Union Hall is not a community center,” he said. “We want to be here for a long time. We’ve got a long lease. We don’t want to jeopardize that for anything [with a possible lawsuit].”

So for now, that means no more mommy groups at the bar. One mom wrote Smartmom to say that she’s not happy about this turn of events. She lives in a 650-square-foot apartment, and there’s barely enough room for her, her husband, their 18-month-old and an elderly, deaf cat.

So she likes to get together with friends in a public space like Union Hall. Especially when it’s cold outside.

“In the winter, sometimes we go to a bar during ‘off’ hours with our kids, let them run around, let the adults chat and have a drink whether it be alcoholic or not,” she said. “We assume that a bar or bar/restaurant would be happy to have some business during the off hours.”

Good assumption. Carden now says he will open Union Hall to kids and parents a few afternoons a week.

While some parents might resent the segregation of parents and regular customers, Smartmom think this is a great compromise for mommy groups that need somewhere to go and a neighborhood sorely in need of indoor spaces for parents and kids.

Still, local parents will have to face the fact that Union Street is not a small village in the English countryside with a charming pub that doubles as a gathering place for families with children and dogs. Smartmom loved the feeling of those places back in 1978 when she took a bicycle tour through southern England.

But this is Brooklyn. And Union Hall is a grown-up bar. Smartmom would even go so far to say that it is designed as a place for the younger Park Slope crowd — you know, those post-pubescent adults without gray hair that aren’t attached to strollers and children. They tend to congregate at brunch places and bars on Fifth Avenue.

Heck, they’re almost as young as Smartmom and Hepcat were when they hung out at that funky bar they called windows on the weird on Avenue A.

Come to think of it, Smartmom can’t remember any kids in Puffy’s, El Teddy’s or the Ear Inn in Soho back in the 1980s. Kids certainly existed, of course, but they didn’t have social lives like kids today.

Today, clearly Park Slope’s “young people” need a place to hang out just like Hepcat did when he had a specially designated bar stool at the Great Jones Café.

And it’s not like Union Hall never lets children through its very grown-up doors. Downstairs, the club sponsors special all-ages shows with such popular bands as Care Bears on Fire and Teen Spirit’s incredible new band, the Mighty Handful. These shows, which happen on Saturday afternoons, serve non-alcoholic punch with sour gummy worms.

But other than afternoons for mommy groups, and the occasional all ages music show, Union Hall is declaring itself a kid-free zone on nights and weekends when it wants to be a grown-up bar.

Smartmom is okay with that. Just because they have a huge Bocce court, Union Hall is not, for the most part, a place for kids. Or parents who don’t want to get a babysitter.

The Brooklyn Paper / Noelle D’Arrigo

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