With its distinctive two-story, red brick building next to a parking lot near the corner of Fulton and South Elliot, Frank’s Cocktail Lounge has been a formidable presence in the blocks surrounding Fort Greene Park near downtown Brooklyn. The old-fashioned bar, with its stucco ceiling, lent a sense of bygone normalcy to an area now bristling with condominium towers. It was established by Frank Perkins in 1972, and is currently operated by his sons Terry and Tyrone. But as of April 10, 2020, this neighborhood landmark will be no more, as first reported by East New York News and confirmed by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
It is one of the few vestiges of an African-American commercial presence that dominated the neighborhood for decades, gradually banished by gentrification. Spike Lee operated his Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks production company nearby and maintained a retail store called Spike Lee’s Joint, which closed in 1997, and during the 1980s and ‘90s Nigerian and Senegalese businesses made a home there. Soul food cafes were once a major presence one block away on Dekalb Avenue. Now none remain.
The neighborhood population has long been racially mixed, and Frank’s provided a welcome home for all, though stepping inside there was no doubt it was an African-American bar, beginning with its soundtrack of Aretha Franklin and Percy Sledge. The bar served classic cocktails and bottled beers, and beyond there was a small dance floor where DJs and the occasional jazz band set feet stomping. Wednesday evenings karaoke filled the room.
When the place opened at 4 p.m., there were always folks waiting for their afternoon cocktail. Dating couples flooded in later in the evening, along with small groups that favored the welcoming though discreet atmosphere and inexpensive drinks. I had a friend who lived nearby on Lafayette Avenue 10 years ago, and stopped by occasionally for a cocktail in the late evening. The lighting was agreeably dim; the crowd was mixed, though more black than white, Hispanic, or Asian. Nevertheless, all felt welcome.
The original Frank died in January, 2018, and his wake was the subject of a Grub Street reminiscence. Owners Terry and Tyrone Perkins finally decided to sell the building, which dates to 1930, listing it in February for a price not disclosed. According to S. E. Blackwell, writing in East New York News, “The closing of Frank’s Cocktail lounge is a bittersweet reminder of times long gone and fleeting local black economic power.”