Coney Island may be making way for a brand new beer garden in the shadow of the Thunderbolt, but not without first saying farewell to local favorite Peggy O’Neill’s.
The neighborhood staple – which opened in 2001 as the second-coming of a Bay Ridge mainstay that saw its end in 2009 – has been pouring pints, serving up eats, and simply entertaining at the corner of Surf Avenue and West 16th Street for more than a decade.
The popular space – adjacent to MCU Park and just a block down from Nathan’s – will soon be transformed into the Steeplechase Beer Garden, a carnival-inspired venue that will showcase local craft brews, a largely artisanal food menu and even a few fun-house mirrors, all at the hands of Peggy’s current owners.
But, while Steeplechase will certainly be steeped in history (the watering hole will sit upon the exact site of the original Steeplechase Amusement Park, built in 1897), its predecessor is no stranger to making memories.
Dubbed by Google as an “easygoing Irish bar with outdoor seating,” Peggy’s has certainly lived up to its reputation, and – in its 15 years on the strip – has become a home away from home not only for locals, but also for an excess of bands and musicians looking to take advantage of that outdoorsy vibe, and the bar’s knack for foot traffic.
“The best part of what we do at these shows, and at Peggy’s in particular, is the lasting relationships and memories that have formed,” said Jerry Farley, a Dyker Heights native who has been organizing free, outdoor, all-age music events at Peggy’s since its early days. “That’s really a clear and easy reason always to aspire to make these events happen. I’ve seen people meet at these shows and later get married, or find future bands to collaborate with, or even simply share a dance or a celebratory drink with a stranger just because the mood was rampant with fun.”
The music scene at Peggy’s, Farley said, has spanned punk, hardcore, expressive metal, emo and alternative to rock, reggae, rap, jam bands, DJs and more – a melting pot of sound, he said, comparable to the borough’s own melting pot of culture.
“Throughout those years we’ve had an eclectic mix that represents the very essence of Brooklyn, new and old – especially Coney Island,” Farley went on, noting that the audience is always just as mixed. “Most of my audience has always been in their 20s and are now in or approaching their 30s and 40s, but I’ve always seen a very wide range of age groups interested in musical performances they normally wouldn’t encounter anywhere else – mainly because we kept it eclectic, out in the open and inclusive to all.”
The same can be said for the concert connoisseur’s last endeavor with Peggy’s, as it stands – a farewell show slated for this Saturday, April 23.
“I want to say [what I’m looking forward to most about Saturday] is seeing all the bands perform,” Farley said, “but I think it’s more about the reconnecting looks and hugs people are going to give each other when they turn out to say goodbye to a venue that was probably the strangest party they have ever been a part of over the years.”
Band members themselves can attest to the important role Peggy’s has played in the community.
“I loved playing at Peggy’s because it always allowed original bands to play there on the weekends. It was home to so many musicians,” recalled Mike Crapanzano, whose band, Our Finest Hour, has collected memories at both the Peggy’s in Bay Ridge and the Peggy’s by the beach, and will play its second show since disbanding in 2009 this weekend as part of the watering hole’s last hoorah. “Peggy’s was one of our first homes. It gave us our name. Without Peggy’s giving us that opportunity, who knows where we would have been later on.”
Gerard Sullivan, drummer of Bay Ridge-based band August on Sunday, agreed.
“Peggy’s was special to so many young bands because it gave them the opportunity to play outdoors, and always in front of new groups of people,” said Sullivan, whose band first played at Peggy’s in 2009. “We’re going to miss all the memories, but hopefully we can still be a part of what Coney Island has to offer in the future.”
According to Farley, that future is a bright one.
“I feel all good things come to an end, [but] a whole new world of memories and music is going to be shared at the new venue coming to the area,” he said, hopeful that he will be able to continue to spread love through music at the Steeplechase, which, according to owners, will include a new concert stage to be made in-house from locally reclaimed wood.
“We’re neither a chain nor a franchise,” explained co-owner of both Peggy’s and Steeplechase, James Quigley. “We’re a small business run by lifelong Brooklynites. This enables us to offer a unique and authentic experience that can’t be found anywhere else. Our mission is to offer our customers the type of historic fun that once prompted Coney Island to become lovingly known as ‘the People’s Playground.’”
The facelift, he said, was inspired by the cornerstone’s backstory.
“Coney Island has a rich and magical history – it’s legendary,” he said. “We’re tipping our hats to some of the past visionaries who put it on the map. People such as George C. Tilyou, who built Steeplechase in 1897, and Charles Feltman, who introduced Coney Island’s first hot dog in 1867, did more than offer amusements and dining – they created a true iconic Coney Island experience. We are looking to do the same.”
While Steeplechase will celebrate a soft opening on Friday, May 6, patrons of Peggy’s past and present can still stop by Farley’s “Farewell” show this Saturday, April 23 where, starting at 3:30 p.m., music will be provided by Jay Sharp Esquire and friends, Encypher, Akari, August on Sunday, Our Finest Hour and Justin for Nothing.
There, they can celebrate the end of an era, and the start of a new chapter in Coney.