A neighborhood bar is a necessity - somewhere closes to walk to in a snowstorm or stop by on the way home after a long commute. It should be comfortable enough that one, quick drink easily becomes five, where it’s not unusual to run into neighbors, and where you always leave feeling better than when you came – at least until the next morning.
For the more than five years I have lived off Smith Street in Brooklyn, I was lucky to have my neighborhood bar be Char No. 4. The whiskey collection was extensive and the friendly staff knew their bourbon. They held whiskey classes and smoked their own meats. They paired pies with whiskies. They sold hams at Christmas. They had happy hour bourbon specials and special whiskey tasting menus. The light was an amber coziness that hugged you from the outside and then the whiskey hugged you from the inside and the world felt happy.
It topped my list of recommendations for visitors and people moving to the neighborhood and became my go-to spot for special dinners. I cycled through most of the classes they offered, but a majority of my knowledge came from talking to the bartenders. When I decided to try 30 new whiskies in 30 days last January, I had most of them at Char No. 4 since it was one of the few places that had a selection of whiskies I hadn’t tried before and helpful bartenders who could point me to something new or different.
This weekend is Char No. 4’s last. It announced it’s closing with little notice to customers or staff, leaving everyone feeling unprepared. Friday night, customers gathered as they have over the past week for what has become a whiskey wake. Despite the dwindling whiskey selection and menu options, people still want one last chance to sit at the bar, run into their neighbors, and get the inside-outside hug.
As the neighborhood gets wealthier, the character has dulled. Less people stay on the weekends and high rents along Smith Street have forced many places to close – usually to be replaced with something useless like another designer eyewear store. It was inconvenient when the supermarket on the corner closed and the hardware store up the street left. The nearest corner coffee shop is gone, and my salon relocated. Despite being considered a desirable neighborhood to live in, the block by my place – the block with Char No. 4 – has become deserted as classic restaurants and local shops leave, replaced with ever present “For Lease” signs.
I can walk farther for groceries and coffee, and I don’t need a hardware store or salon really that often. But the neighborhood bar is a real hit. It is highly unlikely – veering on impossible - that I will ever live this close to somewhere as devoted to whiskey bonding as I am. Thank you to Char No. 4 for the whiskey, the conversation, and the many lovely – although sometimes fuzzy – memories. Your empty storefront on Smith Street will be the hardest to walk by.