Hank’s Saloon, a century old dive bar, is gone. It tried to reinvent itself through relocation, but it ended in an ill-fated merger with a food court that could not sustain its own share of the bills.
Hank’s was a part of a now-vanishing beautiful culture in New York where people from all economic backgrounds might meet, drink, be teased, enjoy a band from any genre, or just get sloppy, and somehow… you looked better doing it at Hank’s. Every year for several years Hank’s was supposed to close, as the owner of the building wanted to build something else.
In December of 2018 the day arrived. Hank’s was actually going down. An epic celebration of this legendary place began with bands and parties, but wait… a new home for Hank’s? Hill Country, a delicious but decidedly more corporate organization, stepped in. Hill Country would lease its own music space to Hank’s and there would be a food court surrounding it. This sounded like a strange partnership. They would trade some of their Bukowski and in turn enjoy a superior stage and sound system along with nice food options at the new location.
Hank’s owner, Julie Ipcar, said, “The Hank’s 2.0 never claimed to be a dive bar—you can’t just create a dive bar—we just wanted to continue the music, keep our staff employed, and add to the growing residential community in a different neighborhood in downtown Brooklyn. In terms of ‘corporate stylings’ we did have to go from using just cash to learning a POS system, which was funny, but we really stayed as true to the feeling of the old Hank’s as possible.”
Feb 2, 2019 was the first show at Hank’s 2.0. The Hank’s team brought in a one-of-a-kind bar crew and a seasoned talent buyer in Lee Greenfeld, who was motivated to take the music program up a notch with the new space’s bigger capacity.
It sounded good. The essential space was the same, but it had some Hank’s attitude, the iconic Christmas lights joined by the newly updated Hank’s logo. There was lots of excitement with plenty of patrons and curiosity-seekers coming through. They had some really big nights, some better than others, but it was working!
Suddenly, just as they were solidifying their momentum in late May, the lease was gone. Hank’s Saloon had its final show June 14, 2019.The Hank’s team, patrons, musicians, and the community were left feeling like someone had just done a mob hit on old Hank.
Marc Glosserman, founder and CEO of Hill Country, said, “I’m upset about it too, and I know we let a lot of people down. There is nothing harder in our line of work than having to close a place—and especially a beloved one at that.” Marc stated, “Opening a new Hank’s in our space on Adams Street was literally a chance to give Hank’s a new lease on life. Julie and I hit it off, and it seemed like a clear win-win situation. Hank’s needed a new home, and Food Park had a vacant bar space and live music venue. Our mutual appreciation and passion for a certain type of live music made us kindred spirits. Things didn’t work out as we planned, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. We poured a lot of time, resources, and passion into making Food Park and Hank’s a real hangout/clubhouse in the neighborhood. Julie and her team were great partners, but the success of Hank’s was not enough to overcome the challenges of the location. I wish things had turned out differently.”
It is an unfortunate situation and clearly everyone had the best of intentions to make the new Hank’s work. When a music venue closes, the hardest hit are often the music industry employees, the talent buyers, and soundmen. This type of work can be more difficult to find on short notice than other positions.
Lee Greenfeld, Hank’s Saloon talent buyer, said, “I am currently unemployed though I am still booking shows through my company Dead Flowers Productions, albeit very infrequently at the moment. I just had a show this past Saturday at Littlefield, and have a killer bill coming up in August at Gran Torino. Soon I’ll start booking again on the regular but for the moment I am enjoying time with my just-born daughter. Despite the name, Dead Flowers cannot be killed!”
Hank’s sound mixer and Rock & Roll philosopher Kipp Elbaum stated, “I am struggling to get back on track. I have found some fill-in work. I have never been fired from a job in my life; I didn’t get fired here either. But it was more devastating, it was losing a family.”
One has to wonder, can Hank’s rise again or has the momentum been thwarted?
“Yeah, it was definitely thwarted but that was really unavoidable, I guess,” said Greenfeld. “And it was totally out of my hands. I am really proud of the shows I booked in the short time we were open, and was really excited about what I had coming up. Sadly, with the closure, I had to cancel over twenty shows.”
When asked if she was enjoying the freedom of not having Hank’s to run this summer, Julie Ipcar replied, “This is the first time since 1998 I haven’t owned and ran a bar, so it’s really weird. When you own a bar, you’re always on call no matter if you have a manager or not, since something can happen at any moment at any time of day or night. So yeah, I am not really missing any 4am phone calls in my life. At least for now…”
So, another storied New York institution bites the dust. Can you really try a third time to revive Hank’s?
“I don’t have any plans right now for a new Hank’s,” Julie said. “I’m still recovering from how the last one ended and all the work and time and energy and trust and faith that went into it. It was definitely heartbreaking. But if anyone has any ideas feel free to contact me!”