Brooklyn bar's ordinary nature makes it a star
Photos by The New York Times
By Joshua Jamerson
NEW YORK TIMES
NEW YORK – The regulars do not gravitate there for its glamorous decorations or its trendy ambience. There are basic tables and chairs and a bar so old that drinkers can feel the contours in the wood from cigarette burns decades old.
The drinks are cheap and the understated exterior blends in well with the surrounding apartment buildings.
So much so that most customers would probably never guess that Jennifer Lopez had recently been filming a television show right where they were nursing a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
For the past 25 years or so, the bar – Capri Social Club, in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn – has enjoyed a minor star turn in several movies and TV shows, a stark juxtaposition between its everyday, nondescript character and its ties to Hollywood.
But it is precisely the bar’s minimalism that has made it appealing to television and film production crews.
“Not only does it really look good on camera, but it really has a sense that it could be anywhere, like it has a universal quality,” said Chris George, the location manager for a new NBC show, “Shades of Blue,” that filmed scenes at the bar last month. “There isn’t anything pretentious about it.”
Television shows that have used the bar include “Blue Bloods,” a police drama on CBS; and two NBC shows that are no longer on the air, “The Black Donnellys” and “Third Watch.”
“Some of the stuff we’ve shot, you’d never know it was Irene’s bar,” said Ross LaTerra, a set dresser who has worked on several projects there, referring to the owner of the bar, Irena Kabala.
New York does not lack for famous film and TV backdrops – the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building are among the more familiar – but Capri illustrates the capacity for the city to produce hidden gems that have been embraced by film scouts.
When there are no film crews, the bar, at 156 Calyer St., could be any neighborhood joint. Kabala says it now attracts a younger nighttime crowd than the middle-aged Irish men who were frequent customers when she first opened.
“The hipsters, they love it, because I have the oldies,” Kabala, 73, said, pointing to an old jukebox in the back of the bar. (The selections include songs by artists as varied as Johnny Cash, Queen and Justin Timberlake.)
Another reason those hipsters keep coming back: “The drinks, cheapest in all of Greenpoint,” she said. A homemade sign behind the bar advertises a can of Pabst for $3.
Kabala said she collected fees – she would not disclose how much – from production companies and spent a lot of time and money keeping the place looking like it was fresh out of the last century.
“Everything here, original,” she said.
“These stains” she added, rubbing her hand along the contours of the wood bar counter, “are from the cigarettes that the men used to smoke. You know, maybe they lie them down on the wood or drop them, but this is original.”
She said she could not remember the first time a production company used her bar, which she has owned for about 40 years, or what the movie was. But one of the earlier productions filmed there was a 1996 movie, “Sleepers.” (Spoiler alert: The movie’s star, Kevin Bacon, is shot multiple times, and that scene was filmed at Capri Social Club.)
Barry Levinson, the Academy Award-winning director who is directing “Shades of Blue” and is the show’s executive producer, said the bar had a feel most viewers could relate to.
“In this particular case, for this show, it seems like a neighborhood bar where people would hang out,” Levinson said. “It feels like a place you could just drop by.”
On a recent afternoon, Kabala was taking questions from crew members setting up in the bar, such as whether they could use a particular type of glassware. One of the actors from “Shades in Blue” in the bar was Lopez.
Kabala said the feel of the bar often lent itself to films or television shows focusing on gangs or police officers – or both.
“It really just looks good on camera, and that’s the bottom line,” George said.