(Courtesy Scott Lynch)
Something’s up at Summerhill. Last week a passerby sent Gothamist a photo of the once controversial Brooklyn bar at 637 Nostrand Avenue looking shuttered and getting its awning sign painted over. On Friday, neighborhood local John Donahue sent in another tip and wrote that the bar’s hours “were increasingly irregular toward the end of the year and it hasn’t been open at all so far in 2019.”
He added: “They’ve been doing construction on the inside and I noticed yesterday that they have started painting over the sign outside.”
On Monday night, several workers inside Summerhil told Gothamist that the establishment was not closing, but rebranding, and that the same owners would reopen in February with a new name and new menu.
No one associated with the bar could be reached for comment. An employee at Shea Communications, which had represented Summerhill in 2017, said the bar was no longer a client.
Workers were seen painting over the Summerhill signage last week. (Courtesy John Sentigar)
Shortly after its opening in July 2017, the self-described “boozy sandwich shop” in Crown Heights became a lightning rod for criticism about gentrification and racism following a press release for the establishment that featured a photo of a cocktail in front of what was supposedly a bullet hole-ridden wall. The damage was attributed to an illegal gun shop that had supposedly been at the location. “Yes, that bullet hole-ridden wall was originally there and, yes, we’re keeping it,” the release stated.
Many in the community took offense at the promotion, saying that it was racially insensitive and made light of the neighborhood’s struggle with violence and crime. Owner Becca Brennan, a 31-year-old white former attorney, initially defended the marketing gimmick as “cheeky.” But after criticism mounted, both on social media and at the bar, Brennan apologized and said she would “take this as a learning experience for the future.”
— Emma Whitford (@emma_a_whitford) July 22, 2017
Even after Brennan plastered over the wall, Summerhill remained synonymous with creeping gentrification. Slate ran a think piece about gentrification and the racism behind certain types of cultural nostalgia. That summer, Spike Lee referenced the infamous bar at a Bed-Stuy block party he threw in honor of Michael Jackson. And just last July, “This American Life” featured a story about how Summerhill had become surprisingly popular among African Americans. The story credited the revival to Wallahi Oyo, the black executive chef and part-owner that it said was brought on shortly after the controversy.
All of which is to say that if Summerhill is indeed closed for good, its history will live on.
Attempts to reach Brennan and Oyo for comment have been unsuccessful. Readers with tips are welcome to email Gothamist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional reporting by Scott Lynch.