Even before it opened its doors, the new tavern on Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights was under attack.
The name of the place, Crow Bar, was racist, complained many residents of the neighborhood, which was once predominantly black.
The residents point out that Crown Heights was known as “Crow Hill” for much of the 19th century, and that the word “crow” was used as a derogatory name for black residents who lived in the area.
The controversy over the bar, which opened on Sept. 19, has also served to underscore recent tensions related to the continuing gentrification of the area.
Last week, members of the Crown Heights Tenant’s Union gathered yet again outside the Crow Bar to voice their opposition to the bar and to the changing face of the neighborhood.
Marcia, a 25-year tenant of 1045 Union Street, the building where the Crow Bar is located, is not a fan of recent changes that have swept through the area bringing new restaurants, bars, boutiques and luxury towers.
“Crow Bar is here because the landlord refused to renew the Panamanian deli’s lease — forced it out, just like everything else in the neighborhood,” she said.
“…The same landlord is harassing long-term tenants and overcharging new tenants… Ah, Crow Bar, Crow Hill, Jim Crow — just the name is demeaning, but the reality for tenants is even worse.”
She added that Crow Bar should immediately close and that tenants should decide what replaces it.
“We want justice, lower rents, safety and equal repairs in our building.”
Another long-term tenant of the building, who declined to give their name, said: “The noise, no sleep, the fighting, the racist name, the police heeding the rich man who owns the bar — and our landlord hounding us out.
“I think they want to get rid of the black people in the neighborhood — then kill everyone on the rent. But they could give me $350,000 and I still wouldn’t leave.”
Dan Wilby, The Crow Bar’s owner, did not respond to emails and calls seeking comment.
However, Wilby, who runs a photography business in Manhattan and also owns the Hollow Nickel Bar in Boerum Hill, told Gothamist last month that the bar’s name wasn’t racist and that it is simply a reference to the neighborhood’s former name of Crow Hill.
Wilby also said that the real issue was not about his bar’s name but a matter of economics.
“It isn’t about my bar. It’s about the tenant association,” Wilby told Gothamist, referring to The Crown Heights Tenants Union, which has demonstrated in front of the bar protesting the name.
“They want to keep their rent stabilized apartments,” Wilby added.
He also maintains that the Crow Hill can be traced to a prison that had been located in the area what was known as Crow Hill Penitentiary because of the crows that congregated there.
Historians tend to disagree with that account, according to Henry Goldschmidt, author of “Race and Religion Among the Chosen People of Crown Heights.”
“Most historians agree that the name Crow Hill was coined in derogatory reference to the black community of Carrville and Weeksville, whose residents were sometimes known as “crows,” he wrote in the 2006 book.
Zaheer Ali, a historian for the Brooklyn Historical Society, suggested that anything referencing the era of Jim Crow should best be avoided.
“It is around this time [the 1840s] that Jim Crow emerged as a popular figure in racially offensive blackface minstrel songs…,” Ali told WPIX New York.
“When it comes to the history of denigrating people of African descent, the word ‘crow’ has never been ‘just for the birds.'”
But, a young black girl, standing outside the bar, who declined to give her name, seemed unfazed and unconcerned.
“I don’t think it’s really that big of an issue,” she said. “People are making it more dramatic than it is, I think it’s a stale story.”