INWOOD — Mi Nido Taverna is flooded with old signs and community fliers with brown, folded edges and a faint cigarette smell that owner, Johnny Caro, 67, said remains in the air from before smoking inside bars became illegal.
But after 46 years, the 148 Nagle Ave. bar, one of the first Latino-owned bars to open in Inwood, will write the final chapter of its history when it permanently closes its doors at the end of the month.
The bar had already stopped serving drinks July 24, but Caro has kept his doors open while cleaning up the space to say goodbye to people. He said a few have stopped by to give him cards and letters.
“We were the pioneers here. We were the first Spanish bars up here,” Caro said, adding that his father also owned a bar on Nagle Avenue. “There was nothing on Dyckman before us.”
Caro, who said he’s been suffering from a heart condition in recent years, is retiring and spending the rest of his years traveling and enjoying "what's left" with his wife, three children and grandchildren.
“In the beginning — the first 20 years of my life — I ran the bar. I was working nights, and I was the porter, so everything ran smoothly,” Caro said. “But now, with all the things going on with my health, and to be honest with you — you can’t get good people to work for you anymore.”
Caro said he tried hiring a few people in recent years to help him run the business, but that they ended up taking advantage of his health, robbing him and running the place down with summons from police for underage drinking and bar fights.
The bar in January was denied a liquor license renewal by Community Board 12, Caro said, though the State Liquor Authority later approved it. The SLA said at the time Caro had no pending violations and all priors from several incidents in 2013 had been cleared.
Caro said it was this brief scare that left him even more disenchanted with running the business, and after trying to sell the business months following the community board rejection, and finding no good offers, he decided it was time to retire.
“I’m walking out not owing anyone any money. I’m walking out of here with a clean slate. And at my age, I think it’s time. It’s just time,” Caro said, adding that his sisters, who like his mother wanted him to leave the business, were thrilled to know he was closing up. His mother died last year, Caro said, wanting him to always leave the bar for good.
"I lost my mother last year, and she wanted me to get rid of this bar years ago. I know she’s looking down and she’s very happy that I’m leaving,” Caro said.
Caro said he returned his liquor license to the SLA and is currently cleaning out most of his personal belongings. He said he's also waiting for the landlord to find a new owner, adding that he will turn over the keys when that process is complete.
Although Caro said he's physically gearing up to leave the space, he said he's still not sure how he's going to feel when he finally steps out of the property one last time.
"When I'm alone, I walk around... I look over at where my dad used to sit," he said, adding that he also thinks about the long-timers he helped through the years with simple things like stamps, filling out paperwork and other support.
“They’re all gone now,” Caro said, pointing to old photographs spread throughout his office.
There are also old newspaper clips from the earlier days of Inwood, notes from neighbors and regulars, and photographs of his family.
“Hey, I’ve been lucky. The 46 years, I think was a good run,” Caro said. “I had a good run. My lawyer said, ‘Don’t be sad, you’ve been successful.’”