The Bars of St. Mary’s

City Desk IconLiquor permits in the Lawsonhurst district are a bit hard to come by. It’s one of the areas of the city whose spirits laws fall under the stricter 1913 Annexation Plan and as such, it has a fixed number of permits available at any given time, as opposed to the more relaxed methods of permitting in, say, University Center, Downtown or Sampson Heights. Up in Lawsonhurst, there are four permits available for an area stretching from the Ostanahoc River to the Barnes Expressway, from Baseline Road to Carverville Boulevard. A pretty big area, sure, but complicating the issue is Lawsonhurst’s boost in popularity over the last seven years or so, after the opening of the new transit center in 1999 and developer Anson Happ’s extensive investment- constructing new condominiums, rehabbing existing housing stock, almost as though he were trying to will a new area of the city to come to life.

But there’s the issue of those four permits, held by Old Albie’s Tap Room, Manglia’s Family Eatery, Eagles Post 981 and St. Mary’s of the Redeemer, while every other new restaurant in the area has had to try and make the BYOB thing sound better than being able to sell the liquor and beer at a markup. Word comes this week, though, that one of the four is finally coming back on the market, after 74 years. St. Mary’s of the Redeemer is putting their license up for auction, something that “non-profit and spiritually-based organizations” are allowed to do, under a rarely-used state law from 1909.

St. Mary’s holds the license for two small bars- one in the basement and another in the adjoining fellowship hall. Both spaces were used over the years for meetings of the Knights of Columbus, Odd Fellows, VFW (before they got their own hall and license), Elks, Anti-Masons (briefly, after their clubhouse burned in 1981), Carverville Boulevard Rotary, ‘Hap’ Happerson Society, Sons of Norway, Urban League, Loyal Order of Moose, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Sons of Italy-South, Typesetters Club (two meetings in 1977), Order of Scottish Clans and the Auxiliary to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, as well as countless testimonial, retirement and anniversary dinners and wedding receptions.

Over the last several years, though, many of these organizations suffered from dwindling membership and have folded or they’ve moved to hotel conference rooms or other venues that don’t smell like very old church basements. Whatever the reason, the facilities aren’t getting as much use as in the old days and St. Mary’s has elected to close them down. The estimated $1 to $1.5 million price tag for their liquor license is another incentive for an old church that could use an influx of cash for community programs and physical improvements while facing decreasing membership itself.

The actual physical bars themselves, a couple of classic mahogany and brass jobs with nice big mirrors, have been sold to Joe Mackey, owner of the Great Elk Brewery Co., who’s opening a second location Downtown this spring.
– RJ White

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