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'It's Time We Retired,' Says Owner of 80-Plus-Year-Old Greenpoint Irish Pub

By Gwynne Hogan | August 23, 2016 2:05pm
 The Palace Cafe will close on Sept. 4 after a 60 year run.
Palace Cafe Closing
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GREENPOINT — Before the Ryan family took over the Palace Cafe in 1956 on the edge of McGolrick Park it was Flanagan's. Before that it was Smitty's and even before that it was Gavin's.

But no matter what the bar at 206 Nassau Ave. was called, for nearly a century since it opened in the 1920's it reliably served as a watering hole and a social hub for the area's now dwindling Irish-American residents, offering a stiff glass of whiskey, a cold beer, a steaming dish corned beef or a slice of soda bread.

After decades of service the Palace Cafe will be closing up shop for good on Sept. 3. The Ryan family, will host one last bash on Sept. 24 with free food for all from 4 p.m. to midnight, Gothamist first reported.

Owner Geraldine Curtin, 72, who first started working in the kitchen at age 12 when her father Willy Ryan retired from the NYPD and bought it, said the tough decision to close up shop came after three deaths in the family and an overwhelming feeling that she needed to move on.

"It's time we retired, just that we sell the building and the bar and relax," Curtain said. "It's the change of the times and it's time."

She grew up working in the bar, first dishwashing, then running errands and sorting stock and eventually she was in charge of the kitchen.

"Everybody had a job," Curtain said. "It kept the family close together cause everyone had to work."

For decades she knew everyone who came in to dine. They'd host parties, dances and private events and every Saturday her father's friends used the bar as a clubhouse of sorts.

"They used to have a fishing club," she said, though she added with a chuckle, "I didn't ever see them going fishing."

Neighborhood kids would hang out across the street in McGolrick Park, counting down the days till their 18th birthday's when they could start drinking at the Palace Cafe, said one 50-year-old David, who declined to give his last name. 

"I always wanted to get here," he said. "That was the goal to get to the bar."

When Curtain's father Willy Ryan passed away in 1982, the Greenpoint Gazette mourned his death.

"It is hard to imagine that he'll never again run the Palace Cafe cooking up the mighty specials served in the back rooms," the obituary, currently framed and yellowing on the Palace Cafe wall, reads.

Curtain soon took over operations at the Palace Cafe and in turn she raised her own children there. One of her sons, who's now in his 40s, started bartending at age 18 and still runs the bar along with her nephew.

But as the area's Irish population moved out of Greenpoint to New Jersey, Long Island or retired to Florida, Curtain decided to shut down the bar's kitchen where she used to cook. That was about 15 years back, and even then it gave the few remaining regulars left a taste of what was to come.

"'Where are we gonna eat?'" her regulars had wondered, she said. "Everyone was sad. But like I said the neighborhood changes there isn't any of that clientele now."

"There's so many restaurants now and bars, there's plenty of bars," she said. "People will find their way somewhere else."

And now there are only about 10 regulars left, she said, though some newer neighborhood residents have taken a liking to the Palace Cafe.

Imagining the bar's future without her after so many years brings her a complex mix of emotions, she said, and who knows what the next owner of the building which has a 6-unit apartment building above, will choose to do with it.

"I don't want anyone else running it or doing a better job," she said. "But whatever its gonna be its gonna be. It's up to whoever buys it."

Chad Pierce, 39, who's frequented the Palace Cafe for around a decade since he moved to the neighborhood said he wasn't sure where he'd go instead. He'd grown to love the Curtain family over the years, and made it his regular spot for its straightforwardness. 

"It's just a regular bar, you know?"