Rosemary’s Tavern is a bar’s bar. With booths, a jukebox, and one long and well-worn bar, Rosemary’s is, as the owner says “A beer and a shot place…nothing fancy.”
The owner, Rosemary Bleday, is an icon and one of the last holdouts of Old Williamsburg. Salty and vivacious at eighty-five years of age, Rosemary sits in the same chair at the bar she’s occupied for over half a century.
CONVICTS was lucky enough to catch up with Rosemary for a drink. We got her word on saloon style justice, the importance of a community watering hole, and her recipe for a great bar.
To start can you tell us your full name?
You’re not from the IRS are you?
OK. Tell me when.
Whenever you’re ready, Rosemary.
I’m Rosemary Bleday. An owner of the Greenpoint Tavern. Rosemary’s Greenpoint Tavern. We’re located here on Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg Brooklyn. It’s a joy to have you guys come and give me this little interview. I don’t know what you’re gonna ask me.
Well it’s a pleasure meeting you, Rosemary. What’s the story of the Greenpoint Tavern?
We opened February 12th, 1954, and it was fun from day one. We lived upstairs so I rolled out of bed and came to work.
So you’ve lived upstairs all these years. Does it get noisy up there?
Oh yes it does. Especially when we have a band. But it’s fun.
We understand this is your chair here. Can you tell us about that?
This is a very special chair to me anyway. Actually I’ve been sitting here from 1955 and I’m going to be eighty-five — hopefully — in January, if I’m still here.
So what’s your drink of choice?
It used to be scotch. Johnny Walker Red or Black, but I don’t care for that much anymore, too strong. In the summertime, vodka. Now, I’m on the little wine.
Good taste. Talk about some of your regulars?
We have regulars from 1955. A lot of them, of course, have passed. We have a new crew now with the younger people. Younger bartenders, all beautiful girls. And we still have fun.
Has the neighborhood changed in your time here?
Oh, big time. I’ve seen a lot a lot of changes. Some nice changes, some I don’t like. We’re not Manhattan. We are Brooklyn, OK? We don’t need these big towers. They look nice but I’m old fashioned. I like little people, little buildings.
What are some of the wildest things you’ve seen over the years?
I could tell you one. We had a very big Polish that came in and brought their own bottle of vodka. I’m sitting here and I could see it: they’d order a drink but then they’d be looking down, pouring from the bottle.
So I said “What’s going on there?” Well I had to go over to see. I found the bottle and pulled off the guy from the seat. I took his bottle and I started banging on him with it. Well dammit, it wouldn’t break because it was a plastic bottle of vodka! Anyway they got thrown out. Saloon style.
What was the neighbourhood like in 1955?
We were busy. We had all different stores, different shops. You had the meat markets here, you had factories Schaefer Beer, Domino Sugar here. Of course, the workers came in here for their drinks, which was very good business for us.
The change is a little different for me and all the neighborhood people. We knew everybody, all our neighbors. When bartenders had their day off they would go from bar to bar to patronize all the different bars. Well, that was fun.
Did your kids grow up here?
So I kind of raised my kids at the bar. I would work and I’d have the carriage or the playpen. They’d be sitting right here for me watching mommy work. I did work with my father in the beginning. He worked one side with his register, I worked on the other side of the register. I never smoked in the bar when I worked with my father. Nor did I have a drink. I had to be a Miss Perfect.
What do you think about the world today?
Has anyone tried to buy Rosemary’s Tavern?
Yeah, but I’m not ready for that. I’m not ready. I hope it don’t happen.
What makes a good bar?
What makes a good bar? My good bartenders. That makes a great bartender. I was OK in my age too.
I don’t doubt that, Rosemary. What else?
I’m just nice to customers. We all are. You have to be nice to your customers. I understand they’re not drinking ice cream sodas here and there and they can get a little woohoo. But that’s OK too. I’ll just go over to them and say ‘How bout we take a walk out to the door and you come back tomorrow when you feel a little better?’
Tell us about your day to day. Do you come into the bar everyday?
Not as much so I used to. But everyone comes up to see me and figure out what we want done for the day. Of course we have the camera and telephone so I can call orders down. That’s about it. I don’t have problems with any of my people.
What happens when things get too rowdy around here?
Oh we don’t let them get rowdy. The kids like to come in and dance and sing, have their birthday parties or whatever and they make their fun.
What’s a sure fire way to get kicked out of the bar?
When you’re a bad boy or a bad girl. We’re not kindergarten. We’re a man’s bar. We’re a lady’s bar. I do want you to behave. I behave when I go into a restaurant or another bar and I feel that people should be that way as well.
Are there any shops that are as old as Rosemary’s
A lot of business had to close because of the rents. I’m a little fortunate because the rent problem, I don’t have that. But it’s sad when they close. It gets a little scary because will I have to do that, because people are not here anymore with everyone moving out of the neighborhood?
What’s your favorite song on the jukebox?
All of them I think. Some of them I don’t like. The words are terrible. I go back to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and that whole gang.
How long has your family been in NYC?
Would you ever live anywhere else?
NO THANK YOU. I’m a New Yorker.
Are you a mets or a yankees fan?
Got any other good stories for us?
I could tell a lot of stories like the day I was arrested. Gee.
You mind telling us that one?
It was the day before Valentine’s Day. I was upstairs doing something and the bartender Freddie came up saying “Rosemary, Rosemary the cops are here they want to arrest us” I said what do you mean? I thought this poor bartender was going to pee his pants, he was as scared as could be. Nevertheless I did come down and that cops said “you’re under arrest.”
I said, “What did I do? I didn’t kill my husband yet. What did I do?”
They said that joker poker machine there is illegal. Joker poker see you played and if you won you got a prize. I said “I’m sorry I didn’t know it was illegal. All the bars have them.” I said to the big cop. He was a handsome dude but he was miserable, so so nasty. The language I used on them was something else. I learned my ABC’s up to F also.
Right on Rosemary. Glad you got out of that one. Thanks for the chat and best of luck with everything.