Farrell’s Jimmy ‘Hooley’ Houlihan

by

02/06/2023

Neighborhood: Windsor Terrace

We always drank beer from stemmed glasses in Farrell’s. We were college kids, hair creeping down our necks, and we would meet in the crowded, gleaming bar in Brooklyn’s Windsor Terrace to plan the evening or the rest of our lives. Like our parents, we were from there—Holy Name parish—and attended local schools—Brooklyn College, St. John’s, St. Francis, ones that we could afford. We were miserable, of course, living at home with our annoying parents and their infuriating questions and reminders—where you going, what time will you be home, don’t forget to go to Mass tomorrow.

Farrell’s was our refuge, our frat house, and it was there, more than 50 years ago, I met Jimmy Houlihan, who served us cold, 15-cent Buds. Hooley was a decade or so older than me and, like most of the working-class Irish, looked askance at our long hair, ratty jeans and anti-Vietnam war buttons. Yet every Friday, Saturday, and more, we stood at the rail with construction workers, cops, firemen and those that still spoke with brogues. And if our politics enraged, and debate became invective, Hooley would simply say: “They’re OK,” and all would be calm.

Farrell’s was never just a place to have a beer. Along with the Church, it was the center of our world. There, connections were made, jobs were found, money raised for the nuns, or, quietly, for those without work, or a widow with a bunch of kids. Owner Eddie Farrell, in shirt and tie, made the bar unlike the other saloons that were on every corner–one with class, humility and generosity. But it was more than a place to have a few, it was, I later realized, a family–one of kindness, respect, and even though Hooley with his gruff exterior would never admit it, love.

After Eddie Farrell died suddenly and too soon in 1995, I represented the bartenders, Hooley, Danny Mills and Timmy Horan, as their lawyer, in the purchase of the business and building.

“I want to run it just like Eddie Farrell did,” Hooley told me, and he did that and much more. The other bartenders were wonderful characters, but Hooley was the Mayor. He ran the softball and football teams, organized trips to Giants games, the Preakness, and Cape Cod, and he ordered the tee shirts and hats. Hooley was the one who listened to problems and found solutions, while pouring the coldest beer in Brooklyn, always at his own leisurely pace.

When the classrooms in Holy Name school needed painting, Hooley passed the word. Dozens answered, and in a weekend, the 30 or so classrooms, with their 20-foot ceilings, looked new. He organized fundraisers, like the Eddie Farrell Golf Outing, to support Holy Name School and Bishop Ford High, so that many could afford tuition. He was behind the two celebrated neighborhood reunions, each attended by 1,500, drawing back those who had fled to the Island, Jersey, or Florida, back to our happiest days. We were all desperate to capture, one last time, the joy of a community so close and valued that my wife calls it a cult. Hooley with his wry and welcoming smile was our link to those precious times.

Change happens despite our opposition. Over the years, our working-class neighborhood gradually and then suddenly gentrified. Gone were the large families living paycheck to paycheck. They were replaced by professionals—lawyers, writers, artists. Holy Name church and school were no longer packed. The schoolyard where we’d spent every free moment—a utopia teeming with kids playing basketball, stickball, punchball— was now a cold, concrete slab, empty of fun and life. Narrow row houses, like the one my immigrant grandfather bought in 1945 for $15,000, sell for millions. Where you once knew everyone, you knew almost no one.

Yet even as the neighborhood and the world changed, Hooley, in his apron with his direct manner, made sure Farrells didn’t, at least not too much. Sure, styrofoam containers were outlawed; stools appeared and mixed drinks no longer meant a shot and a beer, but tee shirts still cost $15, and the beer was still the best. Yet, over the years, people move and, tragically, die. Danny Mills and Timmy Horan were gone as were so many we knew on 9/11, including FDNY Captain Vinny Brunton, who bartended for years and was an integral part of the Farrell’s family.

Time and too many years on his feet slowed Hooley. His commute to his home in Suffolk County began to wear. He never complained about aging, or his personal grief, losing his beloved Maureen to the cancer, and then his lovely second wife, Eileen, to that same dreadful disease. I’m going to hang it up, he told me, but I’ll go out with a party. The tee shirts read: “Hooley’s Last Call, April 18, 1965 to November 16, 2019,” and the bar was jammed with all those who adored this honest and considerate man. A typical Irish wake.

We spoke every few weeks or so, and then he had to move in with his son, Jimmy. He didn’t get around so good, he said. And soon there was mention of a walker, a wheelchair, rehab. Finally, I called and he didn’t pick up, an ominous sign. On Sept. 17, 2022, Jimmy died, on his own terms, since he had never wanted to be an invalid or a burden. He was 83.

Once, working class neighborhoods abounded in Brooklyn—Greenpoint, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Williamsburg, Fort Greene—and they’re almost all gone, replaced by nice people, of course, with money and education, but lacking a shared connection to each other, to the block, to the community. They don’t know everyone, nor care to do so. Too busy to stop and chat, ask about family, friends. They don’t meet in places like Farrell’s to talk, laugh and toss a few bucks for someone in need, as they say today.

Jimmy Houlihan, in his unassuming, kind way, maintained for decades the wonderful ideal of caring for and helping not only each other, but also the neighborhood and its institutions which bound us together. Jimmy did it without conceit or acclaim, but because it was right and good and, as a humble bartender in a corner bar, he knew nothing else. I hope I am wrong when I state that Hooley’s final Last Call marks the disappearance of working-class neighborhoods, a way of life, never to be repeated in my beloved Brooklyn. I hope others emulate his gentle, generous life; a life of a neighborhood guy who done good.

***

Ken Nolan is a lawyer who’s always lived in Brooklyn.

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§ 23 Responses to “Farrell’s Jimmy ‘Hooley’ Houlihan”

  • Jimmy Fox says:

    Hey Ken,
    Great story about a Great Man.

  • Mary Bayer says:

    Although I didn’t grow up in Windsor Terrace I was lucky enough to marry a guy who did!!! There was always a feeling of family and real caring there God bless Houley and thank you Ken Nolan for your thoughtful words!!

  • Joanie Budgell says:

    Beautifully written! There’s no other human being on this earth quite like Hooley. He took care of all of us like his own. He is truly missed ❤️

  • Michael Nilsen says:

    Ken,
    Your article recently published on Farrell’s Jimmy Houlihan (mrbelletsneighborhood.com) was very well done and quite informative. It gives great insight into how things were over the years!

    Warm regards
    Mike

  • A beautiful story and tribute to Jimmy Houlihan and the neighborhood I grew up in.

  • Maureen Johnson Okeefe says:

    This post made me happy and sad time. At the same time. I miss my Brooklyn days.
    Graduated Holy Name 1969 and St Saviour in 1964. Lived on Windsor Pl. 223A
    Thank you so much for this wonderful retrospective.

  • Mona Padilla says:

    Kenny,
    As usual, your encompassing knowledge of composition, brings readers, even though some never having gone to Farrell’s, feel the comraderie and solace felt by those who were part of the Farrell’s Family. I was one of those who experienced this scene as the spouse of a Park Slope neighbor, Joe Hajjar. You still are one of his best friends and you two ushered me mistakenly through the front door in 1972 and I quickly found out how much humor, acceptance and genuine kindness Hooley shared with others new to “Farrell’s culture”! I love and treasure every moment that we spent there! As one would take their new child to Holy Name for sacraments so would each child be introduced to Hooley and all would clink their glass to celebrate the new life in the “naybahood” and of course to the Farrell’s family. Joe and I couldn’t wait to take each new son to get the Hooley smile and finger wrap around our baby’s hands and face!
    Jimmy Hoolihan carried the old world custom of preserving culture, religion and community. His mission was to serve and preserve families-characteristics that gentrification weaken. Our generation can carry on Hooley’s mission by involving ourselves in similar projects in our respective neighbors showing empathy, patience, thoughtfulness and unconditional respect for others; Jimmy’s Dream Can be our Dream!
    Thank you Kenny Nolen for your beautiful mind and memories of your life at Farrell’s Bar and Grill. I love you and Nancy and all of Joe’s Brooklyn friends and family very much!💕
    Mona

  • Loretta Morgan says:

    Beautifully written tribute to Hooley and Farrells Bar. I grew up down the block from there and 5 generations of my family have enjoyed the hospitality and neighborhood feeling that could never be replicated. I first walked through the doors there when I was 5 with my Grandfather in 1966, and was probably served my first Shirley temple by Holley, although as I got older, the drinks got stronger. The sense of community and love of the neighborhood and of course being Irish, made this bar one in a million. Thanks for the memories 💚🍀

  • Charley Duffy says:

    Wonderfully written, I too grew up in Farrell’s (traipsed all the way from Flatbush – LOL), and you’ve nailed the aura, style, warmth and emotion of the place, and Hooley (tho naturally hidden from view as most Irish do), yet it shone on his face. When my friend Nick & I were supposed to be at training, yet bellies up instead, I can still hear Hooley calling out, “aren’t you two supposed to be in school”, or if I wasn’t there he’d yell to Nick, “Where’s Duffy?” It was home. (Special mention to badly missing Eddie Mills as well!).

  • Michael Daly says:

    Great whatyoucallit to a great man

  • Gayle Maginniss says:

    This was such a wonderful story. I met Hooley thru Farrells in West Islip. He continued his fundraising well into his 70s out here on the Island as well. For many years I worked with him on the golf outings he ran to fund raise for the special needs community. He would do anything for our kids. He was such a wonderful man!

  • Ray Aalbue says:

    You can tell you grew up there Ken. Written with so much heart. Great memories. Hooley will be sorely missed, eh. No one to fill those shoes.

  • Bryan Carey says:

    If there be any truer measure of a man than by what he does, it must be by what he gives. Thank you Ken.

  • Pete Begley says:

    All those years ago, when we were yutes, and you announced that “you would start throwing raps and aim for the head”, I still had an inkling then that you would always follow your better angels in thoughts and deeds and words. You have not let me or our neighborhood down. Please keep reminding us to never forget what we need to remember. Stay Safe

  • Carol Colligan King Murphy says:

    Thank you Ken for that beautiful walk down Sherman Street, 11th Ave and Windsor Place, the best neighborhood in Brooklyn to grow up in 1948 thru 1973 when I moved to Florida, but returned every year to my “roots” and Hooley made these trips special, Holy Name fundraiser, trips to Cape Cod reuniting with all my Brooklyn friends. He was a special man for sure, he never forgot a friend, even though my brothers Jack and Bill Colligan moved to Florida 35 years ago, he never forgot them, sent them shirts and hats through “Siggy” (Mike Signorile) and kept us in the Farrell’s family loop. He will be missed by so many, as our Brooklyn neighborhood of family and friends will be missed as it evolves into whatever they call it now “a cold, concrete slab, empty of fun and life.” sorry for those who never experienced life like we had it, or a BEER at FARRELL’s WITH HOOLEY.

  • Beautiful piece. You captured Hooley and the feel of Farrell’s perfectly. I was one of the “30 or so” who painted those Holy Name classrooms. Hooley inspired a character in my novels “The El Trilogy.” In his quiet way, I think it pleased him.

  • Phil Willson says:

    Ken: Great article! Passed to me by Ken Ruginis. I’ve quaffed a few Buds at Farrell’s with “Hooley” tending. Thanks, Phil (Temple Court}

  • Joe Santos says:

    Ken,
    Thank you for this well written article about a terrific man and our great neighborhood, Windsor Terrace. Having played three sports for Farrells and attended Holy Name, Bishop Ford & St. Francis College, you very accurately depicted the essence of Hooley and how lucky we all were to grow up in such a great parish & community. Thank you for memories and for the tribute to such a wonderful man. RIP Hooley and hope to see you all for a cold one sometime soon.

  • Dan Costello says:

    A class act, a class family, a treasure that made Brooklyn the soul of America!

  • Steve Finamore says:

    Ken,

    Outstanding piece of writing on a great man.

  • Jean Ann Powers says:

    Thanks Ken for a beautiful tribute to a beautiful man. One of the bad blizzards in the late 70’s early 80’s my friend Dana and I hitched a ride on a snowplow up to Farrell’s and of course hours and later much imbibed, couldn’t get home. Hooley put us to bed upstairs in what I believe was his mother’s place. Heart of gold that man had.❤️❤️❤️

  • John Hederman says:

    Ken,
    Thanks so much for the article. It’s good to know that someone was paying attention to what was happening all those nights way back when.
    Jim Houlihan was directly responsible for so many of our fondest memories. He helped create the memories and then he helped us get back together and reminisce about them as we got older with the reunions, the neighborhood cruise , the Cape Cod trips, as well as my periodic trips in from New Jersey. So many laughs and your article brings them all rushing back.
    You have been a key neighborhood historian for quite some time now and you continue to outdo yourself with each article. As your friend I just ask that you stay away from Riis Park stories. Thanks again!

  • Jimmyvac says:

    Farrells is the heartbeat of a great neighborhood and Houley was the pulse. Great tribute to him

§ Leave a Reply

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