In the first chapter of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde wrote "There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." If Wilde had opted to open a Brooklyn bar instead of writing philosophical novels, he might've had a different attitude—especially if everyone talked about how his watering hole was racially tone deaf and the worst kind of clueless.
That's the kind of chatter the owner of the new "boozy sandwich shop" Summerhill is facing, mostly because of her casual attitude toward the bar's neighborhood and its history. Becca Brennan quietly opened Summerhill last month, and early reviews of its cocktails and sandwiches were favorable. But then she sent out a press release about the bar with a reference to the bullet holes on the back wall—along with a high-res photo of a brightly colored cocktail in front of what are allegedly a pair of small caliber signatures in the plaster. "Yes, that bullet hole-ridden wall was originally there and, yes, we're keeping it," the press release as stated, according to Gothamist and other outlets.
That backstory appears to have started on a discussion thread about the property on the Brooklynian site. "If I'm not mistaken this was the corner store where you could buy a 'certified pre-owned' firearm back in the day," a commenter noted last September.
When questioned by the outlet, Brennan backed off on Summerhill's bullet-studded claim to fame. "Just looking at the angle I don't know if that is possible that that's a bullet hole," she said. "We call it that because if you look at the history, someone seriously said, 'Isn't that the place where we could buy guns?' And then we were like, 'okay.'"
Summerhill has also been criticized for selling 40 Ounce Rose, a malt-liquor inspired bottle of wine that the bar offers in a brown paper bag. That one-two combination has caused many Crown Heights residents to accuse Brennan of racism, cultural appropriation, and of showcasing the worst, most clueless side of gentrification. "Anyone moving to this neighborhood or […] any historically Black neighborhood in any city who thinks trotting out the worst perceptions of these areas to appear cool or funny while people are being displaced and further marginalized as a result are scum," one Instagram commenter wrote.
"That this establishment is in a community that has grappled with violence and that pain being used as decor—it's abhorrent, hurtful and insensitive—the worst fear of those in a community being pushed out by gentrifiers," another added.
On Wednesday, signs were posted around the restaurant which called Summerhill "racist," "gentrifier," and "colonialist," and even included excerpts from interviews with Brennan wherein she had make remarks such as, "We just kind of went, 'We can do this!'" and "I was getting tired of walking to Franklin," referring to a major avenue that runs through Crown Heights.
The critics say that the bar is shady for making light of gun violence, especially in a neighborhood that has seen its share of it. Complicating the discussion is the fact that the demographics of Crown Heights are rapidly changing as increasing rent costs drive out many longtime residents. In the late 1960s, the majority of Crown Heights residents were African-Americans or Caribbean immigrants. But, according to the New York Times, in the decade between 2000 to 2010, the black population decreased from 79 percent to 70 percent, while the white population almost doubled to 16 percent (census data from that year shows it as high as 19 percent). Prices for homes in the neighborhood skyrocketed as well, jumping almost 14 percent in a single year. (In an interview for Hello Living, Brennan commented about how she's close friends with "the penthouse people" beside her own penthouse in the newly constructed luxury condo where she lives.)
Summerhill may have a higher-than-average number of growing pains, especially with the tension with neighbors that the photoshoot has brought. When it recently Instagrammed a seemingly innocuous picture of cole slaw, even that was met with criticism. "THAT SLAW LOOKS DRY AF," someone commented.
MUNCHIES has reached out to Summerhill for comment on the matter via phone, Facebook, and email but has not yet received a response. However, she told Gothamist today that she regrets trivializing gun violence and that she "recognizes that it was insensitive"
"I was excited to keep the wall as a shout out to the different businesses that occupied the space before us but my intention was misinterpreted and I'm sorry for that," Brennan said. "I also want to clarify about our bottles of rosé… We serve them in ice buckets and we have them on our menu because rosé is delicious, and it's a great deal for what amounts to more than a standard bottle of wine. We have no intention of serving them in any other way."
On Saturday, members of the Crown Heights community are hosting an open forum outside Summerhill to discuss the issues that were raised with the restaurant this week.