This is O’Connor’s, my longtime local watering hole. It looks slightly different now — a new sign and awning, a new front door — but this is how it looked around the time I first encountered it, and how it will always look to me.
My first visit to O’Connor’s was in the fall of 1990. My previous local hangout had been sold and ruined, so my girlfriend and I were searching for a new bar to call home. We wandered into O’Connor’s on a Saturday afternoon and found an elderly gentleman tending bar. He wore a weathered cardigan, spoke in a heavy Irish accent that sounded like music, and introduced himself as Charlie.
Charlie treated us like family almost from the start, telling us stories and inviting us to tell some of our own. He also apologized several times because a few of the bar’s ceiling tiles were broken, which I found very touching — sort of an “I’m sorry the place is a mess” gesture, as if we might be offended by something like that. By the end of the afternoon, we knew we’d found our new tavern. When we got ready to head home, Charlie gestured toward the front door and said, “Remember now, that door is always open for you.”
Over the next 17 years, Charlie Campbell became a good friend. We’d talk about eating, cooking, Ireland, Brooklyn, sports, family, music, and the very interesting life he’d led. He eventually stopped apologizing for the ceiling tiles, which never did get fixed until about 2006, when the bar was sold and the new owner fixed up a few things.
Most of these discussions took place during Charlie’s regular weekend shift, when he’d make dozens of Bloody Marys for the devoted regulars who’d come to love him as much as I did. And he earned every bit of that love — working well into his 70s and beyond, Charlie was always chipper and never pulled the grouchy-old-man routine with the bar’s generally young-ish clientelle. In fact, he especially loved it when young customers came in for the first time, and he always left them with that same send-off about the door always being open.
Charlie kept working under the new ownership, but about two years ago he stopped showing up for his weekend shift. He was sick, I was told, but he’d come back when he was better. Unfortunately, that day never came. He passed away last week, about a month shy of his 82nd birthday. I’ll be attending his wake this afternoon, and I’m closing down the site today in his memory.
Here’s to you, Charlie — there’s another door that’s open for you now.