Freddy's Looks Back on 13 Years of Art; Should it Close, Expect Freddy's II

Donald O'Finn of Freddy's Bar & Back Room
Donald O'Finn has spend a great deal of time talking about his bar's struggle to survive a city-backed development plan that would see the beloved drinking hole flattened. But now, he says, the time has come to think about what Freddy's Bar & Back Room was first meant to be: a place for artists to showcase their work to the community. A retrospective of the last 13 years of Freddy's art opens this Sunday.

Describe the retrospective you have coming up.

In the chaos of this fight, I've been trying to remember what has happened, what's important and all that. We've had really amazing visual artists that have shown in the back room. The next show will be a retrospective of Freddy's artists. It's called: "Gone But Not Forgotten: A Retrospective of 13 Years of Freddy's Back Room Art."

What is the status of Freddy's with regard to the Atlantic Yards project?

The status is exhaustion. We're doing great, but as far as I know, right now, we're waiting for a judge who's in chambers to see whether or not the Empire State Development Corporation can use eminent domain, as the state has given them the right to do. Since they tried to file this document, which was followed up by a large outpouring from the public, the judge has been asked to hold off to see how all these other [eminent domain] court cases turn out. [It's a question of] the bonds being issued legally, things like that.

When do you expect an answer?

I don't have a clue. And I've given up trying to figure out when things will happen or what will happen. It's been hanging over our heads for so long now, it's gotten to the point of being ridiculous. I can't even imagine what it's like to run a bar that's not under constant threat of destruction.

So, looking back, what's been your favorite part of running a bar?

It's been a dream come true, in every sense. Even in the sense of what has happened with the Atlantic Yards project. It was the ultimate test of the bar as a community. A good bar is a community. So, whatever happens, we just totally passed the test.The neighborhood, the people who come to the bar, everyone has just impressed me so much with their intelligence, how hard they worked for the right issues. When you start a bar, you're so concerned about whether it will work, and then those nights happen where you get absolute confirmation that you're the hottest game in town. And it's just such a wonderful feeling when the room is just throbbing with life and people and music... It's a wonderful thing to see that something is completely maximized. I don't think you could squeeze anything more out of Freddy's.

How did you get into the bar scene?

Well, my father was a big drinker. And I've always had a fascination with bars. There's something about a great bar. One day, it hit me: It's a hard-to-describe thing, like a piece of art. But you develop a muscle for [recognizing it]. That, and I've always had a capacity for high consumption of alcohol while remaining a really nice guy.

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