WINDSOR TERRACE — A local bartender who's been pouring beers for 50 years received a special honor Wednesday — not for his drink mixing skills but for his contributions to the neighborhood.
Jim Houlihan, a bartender at Farrell's, was officially inducted into Bartender magazine's Bartender Hall of Fame during a packed celebration at the bar. He'll join the ranks of 296 elite barkeeps who've been tapped for the honor since 1985.
Houlihan, who looks and sounds a bit like Jackie Gleason, said Wednesday night that bartending never felt like a job to him.
"Since 50 years, I didn't do a day's work," he said. "I love the people."
The Hall of Fame list includes drink jockeys from legendary New York City establishments including The Ritz-Carlton, 21 Club and Rao's. Farrell's is a more humble spot that's famous for serving Bud Lite in massive Styrofoam steins.
Farrell's opened on the day Prohibition ended in 1933, according to bartender Michael O'Donnell. Since then it's been an anchor of Windsor Terrace, serving firefighters, police officers and other city workers starting daily at 10 a.m. It used to be 8 a.m.
These days the view through the bar's plate glass windows on Prospect Park West and 16th Street includes more and more new families walking by with strollers, but inside Farrell's hasn't changed much. On Wednesday morning, regulars let the TV news do the talking while they quietly tossed back a beer or two.
Likewise Houlihan, known as "Houlie," comes from simpler times. His regulars described him Wednesday as a "throwback man" who cares deeply for his customers.
In an era when "mixologists" now sport waxed mustaches and arm garters while they muddle mint over artisanal ice, Houlihan, 76, wears a simple apron for his shifts twice a week.
"I don't think he's ever made anything more complicated than a rum and coke," O'Donnell said. "People come here to drink beer and to talk."
Pat Fenton, a Windsor Terrace native who recently wrote a play set in Farrrell's, said Houlihan is one of the last of the old-style Irish working class bartenders who made it their business to take care of their customers and their families.
"We were very impressed with Houlie's community service," said Jackie Foley of Bartender magazine, who added that Houlihan was selected from hundreds of nominations.
Houlihan has helped raise thousands of dollars for nearby Holy Name School (now St. Joseph the Worker) and helped start a scholarship fund at now closed Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School in memory of Vinnie Brunton, a firefighter and occasional Farrell's bartender who died on 9/11.
When Holy Name School once needed a paint job, Houlihan rounded up 300 volunteers to do the job.
Customers who needed help paying bills, a job, or even an apartment could count on Houlihan to help them out, O'Donnell said.
"He takes care of people's families if they need it," O'Donnell said. "Everybody who's his customer is his friend. ... It's never about the drinks, it's about the person."
Houlihan is also an organizer of group trips and once hosted a neighborhood reunion for 1,600 people. He used to put on an annual event for cancer survivors and hosted barbecues for the senior home on 16th and Eighth Avenue, O'Donnell said.
Seventy members of the extended Farrell's family have already signed up for a trip Houlihan is organizing next year to Cape Cod's Irish Village, Fenton said.
"He deserves any spotlight you can put on him because of what he's done for the neighborhood," Fenton said. "He's definitely from a school of bartender that's probably long past."