PARK SLOPE — If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
Jackie's Fifth Amendment, the dive bar that waged a battle (in jest) to "secede" from Park Slope because neighborhood residents were too "disdainful," is bowing to changing tastes and hosting a monthly literary reading series.
The writerly evenings seem to mark a softening at Jackie's, which has proudly resisted conforming to Park Slope's gentrification. The bar has been known to forbid strollers and babies, and sports no-frills decor such as wood paneling, stucco ceilings and a functioning rotary telephone — none of which are props or tongue-in-cheek design statements.
Jackie's domestic-beer-soaked air of authenticity struck a chord with writer Ed Kearns, a Ditmas Park resident who started the new reading series. He discovered the bar through his brother, a bartender in high-end Manhattan establishments. After "slinging $15 cocktails to stuffed shirts," Kearns' brother considered humble Jackie's a refuge where he could kick back with a bucket of "nips" — 7-ounce bottles of Miller High Life.
"I just fell in love with the place," Kearns said. "It's a real bar. It's very hard to find a bar of that aesthetic in Park Slope or really anywhere in New York. It's a unique place full of colorful characters."
Fast forward a couple of years and Kearns, a regular reader at Freddy's Bar's Having a Whiskey & Coke With You series, realized Jackie's would be a perfect spot to launch a new monthly series for up-and-coming writers. Each night also features a musician.
Kearns said part of his motivation was to combat the exclusive "high school cafeteria cool table effect" in the Brooklyn literary scene. "It's an opportunity to bring performers together that may not otherwise be mixing," Kearns said. He added, "It’s open really to everybody. Some people write poetic, and some people write abstract and some people write fiction, and we try to blend those things."
The series' name, The Buzzard's Banquet, is a nod to the idea of "bringing dead words to life." Kearns, 32, who supports himself writing copy for hotel websites, got the phrase from an older friend describing a town full of elderly residents "waiting to die."
Jackie's fits in with the name "perfectly," Kearns said, "because it's full of older people and career drinkers and it’s kind of a buzzard's banquet itself. I mean that in the most affectionate way possible."
The readings, first reported on Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, take place in Jackie's back room, in a corner not far from the women's bathroom. The bar doesn't turn off its jukebox during the readings, held the third Thursday of every month, but Kearns has learned how to muffle the sound with a curtain. He's planning to decorate the back room with framed Aububon Society drawings of buzzards.
The series made its debut in May, and so far Jackie's regulars seem "intrigued," Kearns said. At the June 20 Buzzard's Banquet, one of the writers bumped into an older couple slow dancing to a country western song as he walked into the bar. Kearns said he was worried the collision would result in a confrontation, but instead the older couple invited the writer to join them in dancing.
Linda, a Jackie's bartender, said she hadn't heard any feedback yet from her regulars about the new activities in the back room. But she said there was a "good chance" the readings could build bridges between younger patrons and Jackie's veteran barflies. On the other hand, she still gets the feeling that some Park Slopers think they're too good for Jackie's, especially those who object to the bar's policy of opening before noon.
"They're the entitlement generation and they think because they pay $3,000 a month in rent that the neighborhood should look how they want it to," Linda said. "This place is an eyesore to them. They don’t understand that some people work overnight and want a drink in the morning."
Kearns is hopeful the readings will undo some of the perceived friction between longtime customers at Jackie's, which has been on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Seventh Street for 75 years, and newer arrivals to the neighborhood.
"I'm hoping it brings more love from the demographic they think is turning their nose up at them — hopefully this can play a part in shifting that perspective," Kearns said. "I love this bar and to bring them business would be cool."
The next Buzzard's Banquet takes place on July 18 at 8 p.m., Jackie's Fifth Amendment, 404 Fifth Ave.