Neighborhood Brew-haha: Babies in Bars

Babies in Bars

It worked for Grandma: Seen in a North London pub, 1929. Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images

Thirsty? Nursing? Parents in Brooklyn used to bring their kids to the Union Hall bar. That drew the ire of other patrons, and finally the bartender posted a sign banning all strollers. Brooklyn blogger and mommy columnist Louise Crawford distills the hullabaloo.

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BILL WOLFF, Announcer: This is NPR.

MATT MARTINEZ, host:

David and Alison, back to you.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Hey, we're just having a little discussion about strollers and pocketbooks and bars, and…

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, guest host:

Well there's this thing, it's the Bugaboo brigade. It's hundreds of trendy moms who've - presumably they've moved from Manhattan and traded in their Louis Vuitton signature bags or whatever they were carrying on their elbows for $800 strollers. In some places, extra space is set aside for them to park the strollers and hold their Mommy-and-Me meetings, but other businesses are making it clear they aren't interested in catering to the stroller set.

Like the hipster parental parts of presumably other hip cities like Austin, Seattle, Portland and Boston - Park Slope, Brooklyn, is a neighborhood full of bars and babies, which makes it a prime battlefield. One bar owner there recently put up a sign declaring no strollers in the window at his establishment, Union Hall. He cited safety and liability reasons. Many young mothers, and we'd like to think a few fathers, are upset about the rule and skeptical of the explanation, while other parents are asking why the heck were small children taken to a bar in the first place?

Here to help us sort out this weighty issue out there in Park Slope is Louise Crawford. She writes the Smart Mom column for the Brooklyn Paper, and her blog is called Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn. Hi there.

Ms. LOUISE CRAWFORD (Writer, the Brooklyn Paper): Hi.

FOLKENFLIK: How are you, Louise?

Ms. CRAWFORD: I'm fine, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: For people who've never been to Union Hall, which takes in a lot of listeners, I would imagine, tell us what it's like. What kind of crowd do they have?

Ms. CRAWFORD: The Union Hall is a bar with a music space downstairs, popular with hipsters and rockers and just lock Park-Slopers and sometimes parents.

FOLKENFLIK: And sometimes parents. So how did you first hear about this ominous sign?

Ms. CRAWFORD: The sign went up in mid-January. The owners of the bar just put it up on the door. No strollers and no kids - no people under 21 were allowed. It was kind of sudden.

FOLKENFLIK: No babies under 21, they said?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CRAWFORD: You can wear a baby - Baby Bjorns are okay, but no strollers, please.

STEWART: Oh, so you can strap a kid on and come up and belly-up to the bar but just not bring your stroller.

Ms. CRAWFORD: That's right. That's absolutely right.

FOLKENFLIK: Which is good if you want to four-fist it. What did Union Hall owner Jim Cardon(ph) say his reasons were for posting that sign?

Ms. CRAWFORD: He told me it was strictly liability. He was really nervous because of that bocce court and the open stairwell, and the kids were coming in with their parents late afternoons, and he just wasn't staffed for it. Kids were running around barefoot, and it really freaked him out, and he just didn't want it.

FOLKENFLIK: And particularly with dangerous Italian lawn sports. I can see that.

Ms. CRAWFORD: Yes.

FOLKENFLIK: So how quickly did people take to the barricades in reaction to this?

Ms. CRAWFORD: No barricades, but people starting posting about it on Park Slope Parents, which is a very popular list-serve for parents around here, a fantastic resource, and the - you know, the one - I think I noticed it mid-January, maybe around January 23-24, and I just, you know, jumped on the story because it's been a story before here in Park Slope.

A few years ago, a bartender posted the famous Stroller Manifesto on a chalkboard in front of the Patio Bar on Fifth Avenue. So I knew it was going to be a big story around here.

FOLKENFLIK: Kind of a Tiananmen Square moment, I guess.

Ms. CRAWFORD: Yeah, exactly.

FOLKENFLIK: So I understand Jim has kind of taken a step back from this and decided to invite mom, parent groups back in?

Ms. CRAWFORD: You know what it is? Jim's a great guy. Union Hall is a great place. In fact, they have an all-ages rock show once a month, where they feature Care Bears on Fire, a really up-and-coming rock band of the 13-year-olds. So I mean Jim's a great guy. I think his mistake was thinking he could something like that in Park Slope without explanation, and he did say that pretty soon - he could be doing it in the next month ago - that he wanted to a late-afternoon thing for mommy groups.

FOLKENFLIK: I am not a parent, so let's take a moment back to the world of reality and say how much sense does this make to have a sippy-cup in one hand a cosmo or a boilermaker in the other? Do you do that much?

Ms. CRAWFORD: How much sense does it make?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah.

Ms. CRAWFORD: I think it - yeah, I think by - in the evening, happy hour, that kind of thing, most parents are giving their kids dinner, a bath, and putting them to bed, but you know, this is the - this is Park Slope, you know. We want to do everything we always did, but with our babies. That's what we think.

STEWART: And for people who don't know about Park Slope. I mean - can you explain a little bit about the parental culture? I mean, I have been almost mowed down by Maclaren on more than one occasion, by…

Ms. CRAWFORD: The cliché of Park Slope is that there - it's stroller gridlock around here. The truth of the matter is it is a multi-age community, it's a diverse community. There are people without children. There are, you know, singles. There are young marrieds without kids, but the predominate culture in Park Slope, largely because it's a fantastic neighborhood for bringing up kids - we've got a park and a great public school and a museum, and it's just a beautiful area to attract families. So yeah, I mean, that's the kind of community it is. We've got a strollers, so you've got to watch out.

FOLKENFLIK: So it's a cliché wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a demographic study is what you're telling us.

Ms. CRAWFORD: Exactly, exactly.

FOLKENFLIK: So I mean, basically what you're saying is small children and babies were lured into bars by the promise of not having cigarettes there. You're trading one substance for another.

Ms. CRAWFORD: Yeah. I mean, I think that's exactly what happened. There were no cigarettes, so why not? You know, why do we just have to go to PlaySpaces, you know, for - that are set up for kids or cafes? We can go to bars, too.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, what kind of push-back do you sense from maybe either the non-parental folks or the folks who maybe their kids are older, they're in high school, they want to actually go out and have some fun themselves.

Ms. CRAWFORD: Oh, totally. I mean, I think that there's definitely are - people are getting pretty exasperated with the stroller-centeredness of this neighborhood, and there are even people like me who, you know, my kids are 10 and 16, and when I go out, I do not want to be around screaming babies - not to say that I would go so far to say they can't be there, but I will avoid a place, a restaurant where it's all about parents and kids if I'm out with my husband on a night out for, you know…

FOLKENFLIK: Wait a second. You write the Smart Mom column, and you avoid this?

Ms. CRAWFORD: You know, on a personal level, if I'm going out for a night out away from my 10- and 16-year-old, sure. I don't want to be somewhere with screaming babies or, you know, kids running around or people even diapering their kids. No way.

FOLKENFLIK: So presumably, this is what, earlier in the presidential season, Republican candidates were campaigning against when they were complaining about the smothering status of the nanny state. This is their problem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CRAWFORD: I guess. I've never heard about that, but…

FOLKENFLIK: All right. Louise Crawford lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, here in New York City. She writes the Smart Mom column for the Brooklyn Paper and blogs at Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn. Thanks so much, Louise.

Ms. CRAWFORD: Thank you.

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