The scene at O'Flynn's in 'Free Brooklyn' during St. Patrick's Day
By J.M. GIORDANO
Mar 17, 2017 | 5:50 PM
Protest songs of the Irish Republican Army drift through the speakers and smooth pints of the Guinness are passed down the bar to beard-y patrons lined up at O'Flynn's for the St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
The talk at this former police bar is not shamrocks or March Madness, but the new mural painted on the southern side of the building that reads, "You Are Now Entering Free Brooklyn," a nod to the Derry mural in Northern Ireland.
Now a world famous landmark, the Derry mural was painted in 1969 by John Casey to signify a nationalist area of the city free from British control and honor those members of the IRA who died in "battle" with the occupying English.
"It's our message that anyone is welcome here," said O'Flynn's bartender Mark Kitch*. "One night we said, 'Fuck it, let's nail our colors to the mast and let everyone know they're welcome here. No matter who they are.' It's our response to the current political climate." Before Flynn and Kitch took it over, the bar near the borderline of Brooklyn was O'Brady's, a cop bar not know for being inclusive.
Though O'Flynn's mural is more about tying a community together and less an affront to authority, it does fit into a city rife with murals honoring activists living and dead and those killed by police in recent years.
"It's the same shit, but different cultures," said Duane "Shorty" Davis who cooks his "Shorty's BBQ" on a portable grill and serves it up at the bar. "Except over there [in Northern Ireland] it's what I call white people eating white people. It's like Brooklyn here. People say it's racist, but we're bound by a culture of drugs. I'm proud of this mural. It speaks for both cultures that live here."
The local response has been positive so far if a bit wary, according to Kitch. "We wouldn't have put up the mural if the feeling wasn't mutual from the residents. They want a positive definition of the community. The only criticism I've gotten is that people don't want more politics. But we say, 'Bring it.' People can come here and vent no matter what their political beliefs."
"People recognize that we're the southern gateway to the city," said owner Liam Flynn, who closed his North Avenue bar in December. "We're trying to give recognition in a positive way which the residents really appreciate. About a third of the city doesn't even know that Brooklyn is a part of the city. I came today to see if any of my old friends stopped in."
There's a sign behind the bar banning so-called Irish Car Bombs, a drink made with Guinness and Bailey's, and Black and Tans, a split of Guinness and Harp. It's dim and cozy with the fading evening light glowing on the wood paneling. If you've ever been a local pub in Northern Ireland, you'd never know the difference as the IRA ballads are cranked up to compete with the noisy crowd.
"I'm happy this place is re-opened," said Joe Gold, a Brooklyn native and founder of Baltimore Beer Week who stopped in for a Guinness. "It's a credit to the neighborhood. I brought the international beer writer Michael Jackson here for crabs [when it was O'Brady's] and he put it in his Ultimate Beer guide."
Kitch watched the bar fill up on its first St. Patrick's Day and mentioned a quote from a friend of his on Facebook whose words he hoped define O'Flynn's on the Irish high holiday.
"My friend Adam wrote that what annoys him about St Pat's day is when there's 50,000 undocumented Irish in this country, and you see [some] racist anti-immigrant asshole today, and you will see him, wearing green and drinking Guinness, be sure to take his glass and smash it over his head and punch him in the face. We have no room for racism, car bombs, or Black and Tans here."