Fort Defiance, the bar known for its acclaimed Irish coffees and standout brunch, is closing after nearly fifteen years in Red Hook. The bar posted an Instagram this weekend, announcing that its last day in operation is December 3.
Fort Defiance’s closure comes just a little over a year after it finally reopened as a bar and restaurant in its new home at 347 Van Brunt Street: It was the last of several pivots for the spot. In 2021, Fort Defiance relocated down the street to a space twice the size of the original, operating as a grocery store in response to the pandemic. That winter, still waiting for a stalling liquor license, owner St. John Frizell announced that they had plans to temporarily shut down the business until spring 2022 as they could not operate as a general store alone. It wasn’t until later that summer of 2022 that the bar was finally able to roll out. Of the reopening the New York Times said its cocktails, like its Irish coffee, “with die-hard fandom” were “as dreamy as ever.”
Frizell says he plans to focus on Gage & Tollner and its upstairs cocktail bar, the Sunken Harbor Club, and says both are in healthy shape. (Frizell’s co-owners in Gage & Tollner, Sohui Kim, and Ben Schneider, separately also own the Good Fork Pub in Red Hook.)
When Fort Defiance opened in June 2009, its food was as memorable as its cocktails and became a destination for Red Hook.
Frizell tells Eater that the decision to close Fort Defiance was related to debt accrued during the pandemic. He said the team had taken out EDL and PPP loans but did not receive the Restaurant Revitalization Funds they anticipated. The debt, when combined with the losses from the stalled liquor licenses, was too much for Fort Defiance to handle, he said. “It’s a really difficult environment for restaurants in general, but looking at the long-term debt hanging over the company it was the right decision,” he said. “My life has been so enriched by [Fort Defiance] and I can’t imagine who I’d be without it.”
For those holding out hope, he added that there may be the potential for a Fort Defiance reincarnation down the line.
Update: November 27, 2023, 3:23 p.m.: This article was updated to clarify that Gage & Tollner and Fort Defiance are separate business teams.