State of the Union: Kids are back in the ‘Hall’

The Brooklyn Paper
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The owner of Union Hall, the Union Street bocce bar popular with hipsters, rockers and (until last week) new moms, has changed his mind after a week of criticism for his hastily announced “No kids allowed” policy.

Starting soon, owner Jim Carden told Smartmom, the bar will once again welcome in moms and their kids for some downtime (and drinks!) a few afternoons a week.

Whew! Now, can we all get along?

Carden had been under fire — and also hailed as a drinking class hero — ever since he posted a “No strollers” sign in the front window last week.

Plenty of mommies took to the blogs to slam Carden, but just as many defended him.

“I went to Union Hall [and] was appalled to be sitting next to toddlers while trying talk to my girlfriends (sometimes graphically) about life,” wrote one poster on Brooklynian. “So I’ve not been back. I’ll give it another try if it’s not going to feel like a preschool.”

That was one of the more polite posts!

Carden certainly wasn’t the first bar-owner to lower the boom on the Bugaboo set. Who can forget the bartender at Patio on Fifth Avenue who wrote the now-famous (or infamous) “Stroller Manifesto” on an A-frame sandwich board?

“What is it with people bringing their kids into bars?” wrote bartender Andy Heidel in thick white chalk back in August, 2006. “A bar is a place for adults to kick back and relax. How can you do that with a toddler running around?”

Smartmom can see both sides (she wouldn’t be Smartmom if she couldn’t find the neuroses in everything!). Yes, it’s convenient to bring your kid with you if you don’t have a babysitter. But do parents really need their Rob Roy with a side of rug rats?

Maybe. Carden told Smartmom this week that it was mistake to just put up the “No strollers” signs without an explanation to the neighborhood.

Herein is that explanation: “It was strictly liability,” Carden said. “A lot of parents are great and mindful. But some are not that attentive to their kids when they’re in here. This is a bar with an open stairwell and a bocce court. This is a business and we don’t have the staff to police it.”

It’s not like Union Hall has anything against parents and kids — far from it. Carden and a few of the bar’s employees have kids of their own.

“But Union Hall is not a community center,” he said. “We want to be here for a long time. We’ve got a long lease. We don’t want to jeopardize that for anything [with a possible lawsuit].”

So for now, that means no more mommy groups at the bar. One mom wrote Smartmom to say that she’s not happy about this turn of events. She lives in a 650-square-foot apartment, and there’s barely enough room for her, her husband, their 18-month-old and an elderly, deaf cat.

So she likes to get together with friends in a public space like Union Hall. Especially when it’s cold outside.

“In the winter, sometimes we go to a bar during ‘off’ hours with our kids, let them run around, let the adults chat and have a drink whether it be alcoholic or not,” she said. “We assume that a bar or bar/restaurant would be happy to have some business during the off hours.”

Good assumption. Carden now says he will open Union Hall to kids and parents a few afternoons a week.

While some parents might resent the segregation of parents and regular customers, Smartmom think this is a great compromise for mommy groups that need somewhere to go and a neighborhood sorely in need of indoor spaces for parents and kids.

Still, local parents will have to face the fact that Union Street is not a small village in the English countryside with a charming pub that doubles as a gathering place for families with children and dogs. Smartmom loved the feeling of those places back in 1978 when she took a bicycle tour through southern England.

But this is Brooklyn. And Union Hall is a grown-up bar. Smartmom would even go so far to say that it is designed as a place for the younger Park Slope crowd — you know, those post-pubescent adults without gray hair that aren’t attached to strollers and children. They tend to congregate at brunch places and bars on Fifth Avenue.

Heck, they’re almost as young as Smartmom and Hepcat were when they hung out at that funky bar they called windows on the weird on Avenue A.

Come to think of it, Smartmom can’t remember any kids in Puffy’s, El Teddy’s or the Ear Inn in Soho back in the 1980s. Kids certainly existed, of course, but they didn’t have social lives like kids today.

Today, clearly Park Slope’s “young people” need a place to hang out just like Hepcat did when he had a specially designated bar stool at the Great Jones Café.

And it’s not like Union Hall never lets children through its very grown-up doors. Downstairs, the club sponsors special all-ages shows with such popular bands as Care Bears on Fire and Teen Spirit’s incredible new band, the Mighty Handful. These shows, which happen on Saturday afternoons, serve non-alcoholic punch with sour gummy worms.

But other than afternoons for mommy groups, and the occasional all ages music show, Union Hall is declaring itself a kid-free zone on nights and weekends when it wants to be a grown-up bar.

Smartmom is okay with that. Just because they have a huge Bocce court, Union Hall is not, for the most part, a place for kids. Or parents who don’t want to get a babysitter.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 4:35 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Rueben from Carroll Gardens says:
I think Smartmom is making a gross error in comparing "The Stroller Manifesto" and Union Hall's No Stroller Policy. The first was a an editorial commentary while the second is a liability based policy in order to keep a business running smoothly. Me thinks Smartmom could have flushed that out more and done a little more accurate journalism.
Feb. 1, 2008, 12:58 pm
brian from sunset park says:
I love getting drunk and watching bourgeois milfs breastfeeding their spawn! I only wish there were more places I could do that!
Feb. 1, 2008, 4:21 pm
karl from carroll gardens says:
go here to see the backlash against these so called 'smart moms'
Feb. 1, 2008, 4:26 pm
Guest from Park Slope says:
Kids are absolutely NOT allowed back in Union Hall. Your fact checking is terrible and it's spawned 100 blogs to report such erroneous "news".
Feb. 1, 2008, 6:49 pm
bklynblogga from proho says:
950 words on this? give me a fu*king break. just b/c it's online and word count is not an issue, have some respect for your readers!
Feb. 1, 2008, 6:56 pm
nokids from boerum hill says:
Too many places are overrun with kids in this area. Thats why I avoid them. Parents let them run wild. Good for Union Hall...
Feb. 1, 2008, 6:59 pm
Horatio from Vinegar Hill says:
I'm a parent and frankly, I'm on board with the childless boozers here. If a bar is truly a BAR (that is, doesn't fall into the bar/restaurant category) it's not a place for kids. The smoking ban has made these places seem more "family friendly" during the day, but the fact remains... they're BARS. Having kids definitely put the kibosh on my pub crawling, but that's just part of the deal. If the wife and I feel the need to hoist a few, we arrange for a sitter and head out. If we want to hang with friends and get liquored up during the day while minding kids... we do it at someone's home. If these mommy groups can't get by without a cocktail gathering during the day, hit two boots.
Feb. 1, 2008, 7:57 pm
Lola from Gowanus says:
Glad to hear your boy's band is playing out, Smartmom. Now I can see this kid whose lyrics "give Dylan a run for his money."
Feb. 1, 2008, 7:59 pm
Rob from EV says:
“In the winter, sometimes we go to a bar during ‘off’ hours with our kids, let them run around, let the adults chat and have a drink whether it be alcoholic or not,” she said.

Uhm .... a restaurant or a bar is NOT a place for anyone to "run around." You want your kids to run around? Go to a playground. Children in restaurants should be well behaved and be prepared to sit in place. Don't you think?
Feb. 2, 2008, 4:51 pm
Marcia from Park Slope says:
The Brooklyn Paper's standards seem to have gone down by allowing this self-indulgent, rambling, dear diary style of article to be published. I'm not sure what the significance of a sentence like, "Smartmom loved the feeling of those places back in 1978 when she took a bicycle tour through southern England." is but I'm pretty sure it is irrelevant to this story.
Feb. 2, 2008, 9:25 pm
What? from Park Slope says:
Better to bring your kids with you if you can't find a baby sitter? How about NOT GOING to the friggin bar?

Booze and babies don't mix. This is common sense. Leave the bar to us sprogless boozehounds.
March 9, 2008, 12:03 pm
Steve from Sunset Park says:
Firstly, clearly Rob from EV doesn't have kids...they aren't dogs. You can't say "No, SIT!" or you can but don't expect them to do it. Now, I agree there are some pushy PS moms but I can't wait for you kid haters to get a few years older and have your own. You think all parents should stay in playgrounds and forget about living? Should you never be able to go see a Shrek movie? Tolerence goes a long way and many folks are more willing to sacrifice going "green" than being tolerant of their neighbor who has a child. It's difficult, expensive and challenging and going to a meal or 2 without getting —— from some person who thinks they own a spot because they've been going there for 8 months is a bit too much, no?
I don't see any of you telling the 18yo latina mother with their 2 yo kid hanging out on the stoop at midnight drinking a 40oz about parenting but you love to bring it down on the yuppie crew.
June 6, 2008, 5:14 pm
Matilda from Park Slope says:
Good to hear that the owner of Union Hall changed his mind. I feel babies should be allowed in bar. Parents can bring light weight strollers that occupies minimum space in bars because strollers are necessity for kids as they give good comfort level to them. Also the parents should be attentive to their kids when they are in bar.
Dec. 17, 2009, 5:54 am
Rebecca from North Brooklyn says:
What is wrong with Steve from Sunsent Park? A bar and/or restaurant is NOT a place to let your kids "run around." It is a place where people go to eat, not a playground. It is not up to the bar staff or waitress to keep your kid from running into the kitchen and sticking their hands in the deep fryer. It is not our job to keep them from running out into the street while you sip your microbrews and wine and say in your least effective voices, "honey, don't do that." Yes, children are little people who have a mind of their own but if you can't keep them in line WHICH IS YOUR JOB AS A PARENT then don't bring them to a sit-down restaurant, much less a bar. The rules for bringing a minor into a bar stipulate that a parent or guardian must be responsible for them. RESPONSIBLE. And while you are at it, could you please not get the largest stroller you can possibly find and block up the entire entrance and walkways of the restaurants. People aren't anti-kid. People are anti-your-kind-of-parenting.
May 19, 2010, 11:05 am
Bob from Other says:
Steve from Sunset Park: GET A BABYSITTER.


If your toddlers are under 21, they shouldn't be in a bar. I believe it's illegal... not sure why this is a discussion.

Good for Union Hall for recognizing the liability issue.

Just because you chose to procreate, doesn't mean everyone else should have to babysit your kids while you booze it up.

1) A bar is for adults, not kids.
2) A bar is not a place for kids "to run around."

Some places need to remain "adult only." You can go there too - just get a babysitter & leave the kids at home.
Nov. 6, 2010, 1:18 pm

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