Saturday, August 6, 2011


"I enjoy New York," he says. "The people are as high‑strung as rats and the air is too gritty, but I enjoy it."
Mohawk ironworker Orvis Diabo, from "The Mohawks in High Steel", by Joseph Mitchell

I've been thinking recently about the temporary reprieve for Hank's Saloon, and I've been trying to find out a bit more about the days when the bar was known as The Doray Tavern, and was a regular drinking spot for the Mohawk ironworkers who lived in Gowanus/Boerum Hill. The classic piece written about this community is Joseph Mitchell's 1949 essay, "The Mohawks in High Steel". It's a beautiful essay, but it doesn't say anything about the Doray. Mitchell visits the more popular Mohawk bar, the Nevins Bar & Grill. In Ian Frazier's 1999 book, On the Rez, he describes a visit to Brooklyn, fifty years after Mitchell's, in which he finds the Nevins Bar & Grill (later the Wigwam) gone, and is told that the remaining Mohawks hang out at the Doray. There, he talks to a retired ironworker, Ronnie Tarbell:

Mohawk Indians used to rule this neighborhood, he said, but not anymore. They used to be able to beat up everybody, even the Italians; but where there used to be three hundred Mohawk families on these blocks, now there was maybe one. Bars with mostly Indian customers like the Spar and the Wigwam were long gone.

In April of this year, Peter Justice, at Carroll Gardens Patch, wrote a fine article about the remnants of Caughnawaga. He visited Hank's:

There are still union stickers on the mirror behind the bar at Hank’s Saloon on Atlantic and Third avenues, a reminder of when it was called The Doray Tavern, a hangout for Mohawk ironworkers. The older regulars told me that as recently as the 1990s there were still a lot of them coming in.

“The Mohawks liked country music, that was their music,” said one regular, an Italian-American electrician known in the bar as Frankie Doo-Wop. Frankie’s sister married a Mohawk man from the neighborhood and he spent a lot of time around the Kahnawake, both in Brooklyn and on the reservation in Canada... There are just a few of the Mohawk regulars left, he and the others said: Chappy, Bobbie Canoe and a guy called Bear who said a year ago he was retiring to move back to the reservation.

Right now, Hank's future is hanging in the balance, and it's tragic to think of this historically important bar as the next in line for the wrecker's ball.

Further reading:
The NY Times ran an article in 1996 about the decline of the Brooklyn Mohawk community, and Brooklynology, the Brooklyn Public Library's excellent Brooklyn Collection blog, posted an article a couple of years back about the history of Little Caughnawaga. And here's a clip from Little Caughnawaga: To Brooklyn and Back, a documentary made in 2009,by the Mohawk filmmaker Reaghan Tarbell. I'd love to see the whole thing. (And I did. It was wonderful.)


Marty Wombacher said...

Great post. Love the writing, links and videos. I hope Hank's reprieve lasts forever, too many classic bars are closing down.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Thanks. Want to get down this week.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

I had no idea Hank's was in peril! I definitely need to pay a visit. I also didn't know about its Mohawk history - thanks for posting.