Brooklyn residents are pissed off at one Canadian’s effort to make the borough’s rich history of violence into trendy, “Instagrammable” bar profits.
Summerhill bar, opened in the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn by former Toronto attorney Becca Brennan, has faced a deluge of online hatred in recent weeks. Complete with fake bullet holes in the walls and $12 cocktails, locals in the neighborhood have singled it out as another force of gentrification and the chosen aesthetic in a neighborhood long plagued by violence as outright racist.
It culminated in a protest over the weekend where protesters, many from the Black and Latinx community, chanted: “Bye-bye, Becky” to the former corporate tax lawyer.
“Profiting off the idea that you ‘didn’t want to have to walk all the way to Franklin’ to go to a gentrifying hipster place is racist and everything that’s wrong with the colonization of Brooklyn,” says one local who gave the restaurant a review of one star on Yelp.
Describing her “boozy sandwich shop,” Brennan told Gothamist that she had plans for her 40oz bottles of rosé: “I’m going to go get some paper bags.” Though she later retracted that statement, it struck many as a racist stereotype.
Brennan has also openly bragged about bullet holes dotting the walls of the restaurant. In a press release announcing the opening of the bar, they wrote: “Yes, that bullet hole-ridden wall was originally there and, yes, we’re keeping it.” The Gothamist, however, debunked that, writing that the holes are probably due to construction damages.
“Basically Summerhill owner Becca Brennan thought gun violence was a cute theme for her restaurant,” reads one tweet.
Crown Heights has struggled with gun violence for decades, but has seen anti-violence and anti-gun programming turn around results in recent years, although the problem has not gone away completely. There were 29 shootings in Crown Heights in 2014, up from the year prior.
VICE News reached out to Brennan for comment, but have yet to hear back.
“You’re not going to take our pain and make it a novelty,” yelled one demonstrator to the crowd at the Saturday protest. One protester demanded that the restaurant be shut down.
“Maybe the owner should go back to Toronto and sell poutine,” says one Yelp reviewer.
A statement signed by Brennan and handed out at the weekend protest by a bar representative stated “I deeply apologize for any offence that my recent comments might have caused … The reason we maintained the distressed wall is the aesthetic. We have kept other elements of the original space as well to create a visually engaging experience.
“I’ve taken the time to rethink how I want to engage and be part of this community … over the next few days, I plan to talk to my neighbours about positive ways we can be more involved, including with other local small businesses, artists and charities. I want Summerhill to be a point of pride for everyone.” Online discourse continues to view the apology as dismissive and disingenuous.
Despite the persisting angry comments on all of Summerhill’s Instagram posts, the owner seems to continue an optimistic perspective on the “internet love” it’s received. Defenders of the restaurant have said they don’t believe the owner’s intention to be malicious.
According to the CBC, Justine Stephens, resident of Crown Heights and boycotter says she wants to see better representation by patching up the wall and having representatives from the bar present a plan for how they will prioritize hiring “people of colour as employees at living wages or higher.”