I was sitting with a friend who I thought new Williamsburg. I was amazed that he did not know that before there was a Sweetwater Tavern before there was today’s super restaurant. Sometimes when I write about history I am not sure about the accuracy of my information, but I spent so much time there that I can vouch for all the information I put on the blog.
The place was the classic dive bar. It was grungy to the extreme. It was on a rough street that had meat packing plants and abandoned buildings, a far cry from the hipster shops that line North 6th today.
There was pool table in the back and toilets full of graffiti that often clogged up and stank to high heaven. The bar had a history that went back about ninety years and the tin metal ceilings and walls gave it real character. There was a pinball machine, which if memory serves was Big Buck Hunter. It was a gritty edgy place when Williamsburg was also gritty and edgy. How times have changed!
I hope that someone will respond to my blog and give me the exact years of Sweetwater’s existence. I want to say that I began to drink there in 1996 and this was the year that it opened. We had recently moved to Greenpoint and there were no bars in Greenpoint you could go to that were fun. Sweetwater was a punk bar and I was never a punk, nor had to be. I quickly made many friends who were punk musicians and punks, but many were just great neighborhood people.
It was the people who made the place and there was an amazingly diverse group of people who drank there, but not only got along, but were even friendly. Many of my Sweetwater friends from the 80’s are still my friends today. Simon Trolley who I believe still plays punk became a lifelong friend, even though he is a rabid Chelsea supporter. Kevin Fitzgerald later gave up drinking, but he was not just a good musician, but a good friend. Doug, Doctor Israel was a talented African-American musician whom all the ladies loved, but was totally down- to-earth and cool.
Brant Vogel and his partner Jenn Steenshorne were the bar’s intellectuals and a really fun couple. Leeds Attkinson who recently passed was a friend in a band, if memory serves me correctly called “The Ken Firpo Rent Explosion” along with Karin Roach ( apologies she is married and I do not know her new name) and Travis Wendell who was as mad as he was brilliant. There was another terribly nice punk rocker named John Hvorka. There was the equally sweet Killea a punk rocker who was from Minnesota. Finally, there were a number of English squatters who lived in the abandoned housing that was still there in Williamsburg. Becky and Pete were regulars as was a cockney called Gonk.
I could recall at least twelve other regulars whom I wont mention. Even though we were different we got along well with each other. They were very many happy times I spent there.
One of the most interesting characters there was a Scottish enthusiast and die hard Glasgow Rangers fan from Philadelphia called Eric “The Warthog.” I know that he had a proper surname, but I cannot recall it. Sweetwater had a largely punk jukebox, but if you were a regular they would put your disk on. Eric would always play the “The Real McKenzies” song Loch Lohman and a collective groan would rise up from the punks with an expletive filled tirade something like this,” Who the “FuXY#xyxs” played that” Fuxswe2zing Scottish crap.”
The bartenders were great. There was the deceased Howard O’Brien who hid the fact that he was a Harvard grad and that he was the smartest person in the place. He was fascinating to talk to. Once I remember there was going to be a rumble in the back between the bikers and skinheads. Howard was outnumbered twenty to one. He went into the back and said, Sorry guys you cannot fight here take the brawl outside and he was amazed when they listened to him.
There was Michael Huckleberry who was a gentle giant who could always make you laugh. There was George who eventually became an English prof who wrote poetry and ran the film session on Sunday nights. There was Jake who was skateboarder. I got an inordinate amount of buybacks from them for which I will be eternally grateful.
Steve and Marina ran the place and were married, but their marriage and business partnership both fell apart.
I cannot recall now the year Sweetwater closed and became the restaurant. I want to say 2004, but I am not certain. I remember coming for the final evening and realizing that a huge number of my friends I made there.