On Friday the 13th, the owners of Teddy’s Bar & Grill, which originally opened in 1887, posted a message on the bar’s Facebook page explaining that, after 28 years of ownership, the team—Felice and Glen Kirby, along with business partner Lee Ornati—was selling the bar to new ownership.
But thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be the latest chapter in the out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new story that’s so familiar in Williamsburg. That’s because the new barkeeps were carefully selected, with restrictions on what can and cannot be changed at Teddy’s. “We spent a lot of energy finding local buyers who would cherish Teddy’s, our great clientele, and the neighborhood,” Felice Kirby wrote. “We are proud to see a transition to owners who aim to continue much of what the community enjoys.”
Teddy’s, which sits at 96 Berry Street, is the last of eleven Victorian-era beer houses opened in Brooklyn by brewer Peter Doelger. (The bar is named after a subsequent owner, Teddy Prusik.) It exudes the kind of fin de siècle charm that is now being emulated by bars and restaurants built more than 125 years later. That is in large part due to the restorative work of the Kirbys, who, after purchasing the bar in 1987, uncovered and refurbished the original woodwork, tin ceiling, and bar fixtures.
That’s not to suggest Teddy’s is stuck in the past. The Kirbys and Ornati also added live music and food menu (including, of course, a great brunch), the latter of which Felice Kirby says made Teddy’s Brooklyn’s “original gastropub,” in an interview with Gothamist. At the time, the owners wanted to transform the venue into a comfortable haven for the flood of artists pouring into the neighborhood, which sounds quaint in retrospect. Throughout the course of their ownership, the Kirbys and Ornati have been cognizant of the perils of gentrification, and accordingly sought to build and maintain connections to the neighborhood. That meant everything from booking local artists to stocking beers from some then-little known brewery called Brooklyn Brewery.
It also meant selecting new owners with preexisting roots in the neighborhood. According to Gothamist, the new owners can’t change the name or remove certain historic aspects from the bar’s decor, including the flooring and the “imported, stained glass exterior heralding the site’s original use as a brewery.”
Teddy’s is one of the rare Williamsburg venues that has managed to survive violent demographic upheaval and real estate profiteering. That’s down to the mindfulness of its owners, who are throwing a goodbye party to this version of Teddy’s on March 30th (details to come at the bar’s website). But thankfully, it sounds like the new version of Teddy’s will be much like the older ones.
Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.