As a small businessman, Bobby Gagnon is a survivor. Not the kind just grimly hanging on, but the sort who cheerfully throws open his doors every day for another round of serving the neighbors. At a time in Brooklyn when so many locally-run shops have been supplanted by real-estate offices and national chains, his Park Slope craft-beer bar, The Gate, at 321 5th Ave., has endured for 20 years. He and his fans will be celebrating the milestone tonight starting at 7 p.m., when some of the prices will be rolled back to 1997 levels.
Back in the days when Gagnon opened the bar, 5th Avenue was a “forlorn” stretch, he recalls, with sparse foot traffic after dark. Now the avenue is so prosperous that shopkeepers have a different concern: they worry that wealth, and rising rents, will push them out.
How did Gagnon make it this far? Much of his success comes from his early bet on an epic cultural trend: the craft-beer movement. So too is having a great spot on a corner, with a patio on the side, and popular events like trivia night. But another key is Gagnon’s immersion in the neighborhood. A Boston native, he and his wife live right around the corner from the bar. Their son and daughter have risen up through the neighborhood’s public schools. Gagnon can talk with the teachers over the bar, not just in parent-teacher conferences.
Likewise, Gagnon grew up in the business with the community of craft brewers as they got their start, sharing advice and camaraderie. Today he sells about 24 kegs a week, supporting the pioneer brands like Brooklyn Brewery, but always looking for worthy newcomers. The Bridge talked with Gagnon to hear about the secrets of his survival.