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Freddy's Bar Uses Outdoor Video Art to Lure Drinkers to South Slope

By Leslie Albrecht | November 15, 2013 7:17am
 Freddy's owner Donald O'Finn has projected some of his video art onto a nearby wall.
Freddy's Bar Using Outdoor Video Art to Lure Customers to South Slope
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PARK SLOPE — It's a bat signal for barflies.

Like the beacon that called Batman to action in Gotham City, a new video art installation outside Freddy's Bar is beckoning drinkers to the South Slope.

At least that's the idea behind the 25-foot-wide flickering image, which is beamed nightly onto a wall above Freddy's, on Fifth Avenue between 17th and 18th streets.

"My idea was to take the art and use it to draw people further into the South Slope," said Freddy's owner Donald O'Finn, a video artist who has exhibited work across the world.

O'Finn takes snippets harvested from old TV shows, ads, movies, and other sources and edits them together into short films. He describes the pieces as the dreams an old TV would have — if TVs were sentient beings that could have dreams.

"Girls for Rent"
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YouTube/Donald Ofinn

O'Finn shows his work inside Freddy's and the videos have become a draw, in addition to the bar's relaxed atmosphere and live music events. "It's got sort of a cult status — a lot of people come just for that," O'Finn said of his video collages.

But O'Finn said some would-be customers are reluctant to venture past the Prospect Expressway, a "cut-off point" that stands between Park Slope and a slew of restaurants, coffee shops and bars that are sometimes overlooked, he said.

Freddy's faced a similar challenge decades ago at its original location on Dean Street and Sixth Avenue.

"For years we had the same problem — nobody wanted to cross Flatbush," O'Finn said. "It was a psychological barrier. Then people did and then were were one of Esquire magazine's Best Bars in America."

Freddy's Prospect Heights location racked up accolades from the press, but the gallons of ink spilled singing its praises weren't enough to save it from the wrecking ball. After a seven-year battle against developer Forest City Ratner Companies, Freddy's was torn down to make way for the Barclays Center.

O'Finn says Freddy's new South Slope home is "one of the last really cool places in Brooklyn." It reminds him of the Park Slope of yesteryear, when young artist types eked out a living alongside neighborhood old-timers, he said.

"You can actually sort of afford to live here," O'Finn said. "It's exciting and it's cool because of that. It's old-school and it's cutting-edge because it has space for creative people."

He's hoping his al fresco art installation will help attract more people — but not too many, because crowds would ruin Freddy's laid-back vibe, he said. O'Finn got permission from the landlord to use the building as a movie screen, and so far reaction seems positive.

O'Finn hasn't gotten any complaints from neighbors, and the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District is urging people to go take a look at the video projection, which the BID says is in "a fantastic, but under-appreciated part of Park Slope's favorite commercial strip."