A History of Greenpoint in 25 Buildings: The Capri Social Club

Capri Social Club
Capri Social Club, illustration by Kenzie Kline

No one is sure when the bar that is now called the Capri Social Club (156 Calyer Street) actually opened, but it was sometime in the 1880’s. When you walk into the bar it’s not hard to imagine that you are back in the 1890’s because little has changed. The gorgeous dark woodwork, elegant old bar, the broken clock, dusty nicknacks and turn-of the-century large mirrors recall the Bowery of the late 19th century far more than the gentrifying area outside the bar.

The crowd is mixed. Hipsters love it because it is a cheap place to drink and oozes charm. They fill the place on the weekends, but old-school Greenpointers rule the other nights of the week. They love it because they not only drank there as kids, but their fathers and grandfathers drank there too. These old school “pernters” don’t call it The Capri; they call it Murphy’s because for years Murphy’s was the best Irish bar in Greenpoint. There is an amazing oak back bar that once served local Irish working men their meals. So little has changed that it is not hard to imagine these old Irishmen entering the side door in their work clothes and coming over for a meal.

Once a year, like the magical Scottish town Brigadoon that rose from the dead, Old Murphy’s rises from the ashes on St. Patrick’s Day. All the old Irish Greenpointers come back, drink like fish, sing Irish songs and eat corned beef. For that one day only, the old Irish Murphy’s is born again.

If you want a bar history lesson, catch Mickey Zawistowski, a regular, whose grandparents owned the place in the fifties. He likes to have beer and reminisce about drinking days of yore and his stories are great.

In the middle of the bar is a wooden divider that once played an important role well into the 1980’s. The divider separated women from men. Men were on the bar side of the divide and females were meant to sit in the back room. If females wanted drinks they had to go to the door at the side of the bar. Once, one of my friends who was twenty-one in the early eighties, had the chutzpah to go the men’s side of the bar and ask for a drink. She was rudely told by the old man behind the bar, “You grew up in Greenpoint and you know the rules—back to your side of the bar.”

The bar hit a rough patch in the late seventies and was put up for sale. The present owner, a delightful older Polish lady named Irene Kabala cobbled her savings together and bought it. Other than the name she has changed little.

The place has so much character that it has appeared in many movies and TV shows. Kevin Bacon did scenes from Sleepers there, Jennifer Lopez recently shot some drama there. The list is too long to mention.

Weekends can be pretty raucous, as young people imbibe PBR’s, whiskeys and profuse jello shots, but come in on any afternoon and enjoy a bar where time stands still.

Irene’s Capri Social Club | 156 Calyer Street | 4pm-4am daily

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a Brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog historicgreenpoint.wordpress.com. He has lived in Greenpoint for over 20years and is the author of a book on the history of the area, "Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past."

6 Comments

  1. Sara Jane Witkin Berman says:

    Thanks. That was very interesting.
    On the same subject, do you have any information on the current Our Lady of the Snow Hall at 411 Graham Avenue. Was it once a Synagogue? Would appreciate any information.

    Reply
    • Geoff Cobb says:

      Hi Sarah, I do not know if it was a synagogue. Usually, you can look at the architecture and get a sense if a building was once a house of worship. OUr Lady of the Snows has a hundred and twenty-five year history,
      so it would have to be before then. Jews have had a congregation in Williamsburg since the 1850’s, but I cannot give you a definitive answer.

      Reply
      • Ann Haddad says:

        Yes, it was originally a synagogue. I am a member and have been told as much by the old-timers. I also did some research on it several years ago.

        Reply
  2. susan says:

    a friend and myself went to Murphy’s in the late sixties. As young women we were determined to be served at the bar. We were told many times that we would not be served. Is the picture of an older women over the bar still there? I believe it was Mrs. Murphy

    Reply
  3. Donald Collins says:

    Does anyone know anything about the Juanita club? My Grandfather lived in Greenpoint in the early 1900s and I have a picture of him in a group with that club sign. His name was Eugene Leon Pertin.

    Reply

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