Rent Hike Drives East Williamsburg's Kings County Bar to Relocate
EAST WILLIAMSBURG — It started as a garage for friendly hangouts and turned into one of East Willamsburg's first bars.
Now, Kings County Bar is moving out of its longtime space at 286 Seigel St. and relocating to nearby 1 Knickerbocker Ave., after their landlord nearly tripled rents in the up-and-coming area near the Morgan L stop, owners said.
Owner Jesse Levitt, who bought the decade-old business about seven years ago, said the new rent — which he declined to give the specific amount for — was no longer feasible for the bar.
"There were lease escalations every year so that within a couple of years, it would have been quadruple the rent," Levitt said, adding their employees would make the move along with the bar. "It was just too much for us to really keep up with."
Locals said they'll miss the dive bar's current venue, which has no windows or signage in front, aside from a rustic metal sign with a crown on it and a single crown above the door. A beer cooler in the back used to be Chops' shower. The bathroom's light barely illuminates the toilet.
"Kings is dingy," said manager Bobbie Chaset. "The plumbing isn't right. Everything is breaking down. But it was our sh**hole."
It's felt like family there, with many regulars and staff attending each other's weddings through the years, Chaset said.
"People have been walking around Kings County crying," she said.
Regulars saw it as one of the places that felt like home — with no pretentiousness and a "solid, adult feel to it," said Kyle Patterson, 37, who's been stopping by for years and learned of the move last Thursday.
"There are a lot of places trying to be like this," said Molly Dutton, 25, another regular. "This is authentic. This is a neighborhod institution. It's not like anything else around here."
Kings County Bar was opened about 10 years ago by a man known as "Chops," who converted his garage into a hangout for friends before deciding to open it to the public, longtime employees said.
He lived upstairs, worked at tattoo parlors and ran a metal shop where Fine & Raw Chocolate is now located next door at 288 Seigel St., said Bobby Head, who has bartended at Kings since Chops was around. Chops set the tone for the bar, which continued long after the current management took it over, he said.
It's a place for people who have had a beer or two before, who "don't do stupid sh**," Head said.
But Levitt and his staff are hopeful about the new location maintaining the spirit of Kings. All the plumbing and electrical outlets will work. It will have a kitchen for simple bar foods, and there will be a stage for events like Kings' Smallest Penis in Brooklyn Pageant.
Plus, Levitt owns the building at 1 Knickerbocker Ave., so the business won't run into the same issue of rents becoming too high, he said.
"It's beyond the dollars and cents of it, which is one of the main reasons I didn't want to just walk away and let it fade out," he said. "I wanted to find a way to keep it going, even if it's a slightly different location."
"I think we can keep the spirit and character alive."
Kings County Bar plans to leave the space on July 13. Levitt and his staff plan to reopen in the new location at 1 Knickerbocker Avenue shortly after.