Bravest on 38th—Ever Changing, Ever the Same
Thursday, March 16, 2017
By: Ashley Petrylak
Thirty nine years ago, FDNY firefighter Larry Fitzpatrick and three friends opened Suspenders—a local bar on 38th Street and 2nd Avenue where firefighters could relax after their shifts and have a cheap beer and hearty food. In only two weeks, the men renovated the space that formerly housed Quinn’s bar and opened on St. Patrick’s Day in 1978. From day one Suspenders was busy day and night, which was proof that it was a needed addition to Murray Hill.
Sadly, Larry died while on duty in 1980, but the bar lived on and later became the internationally popular Wanda’s Full Moon Saloon where owner Wanda Shadwick honored and preserved his memory. Wanda, who knew Larry through her husband, a retired FDNY fire marshal, took over the bar 28 years ago and worked tirelessly to maintain the bar and restaurant as a homey neighborhood establishment with excellent food. Wanda says, “It was really our second home. My family and friends helped as bartenders, waitresses, potters, cooks, everything. Even my kids worked here when they were old enough. I really think that effort paid off into making it the place it is today. It really is a place where people come to feel welcomed and comfortable in a city where it’s so easy to feel anonymous.”
There was never a time when the Murray Hill and FDNY communities needed comfort more than in the days and weeks following September 11, 2001. Thus, it was after September 11th that Wanda changed the name of the bar to Bravest, to not only honor the men and women of the FDNY (known as New York’s Bravest), but also to recognize all of the brave citizens of New York who put their lives on the line for their fellow citizens and countrymen. People came to Bravest to find comfort and community when the outside world was rife with unrest. Even today, on every section of the walls surrounding Bravest’s unique horseshoe-shaped wooden bar is a badge, photo or tribute to the FDNY and a section devoted to September 11th.
Wanda has seen the Murray Hill neighborhood change a great deal over the past 30 years. A bus depot on 38th Street and 1st Avenue that brought regular foot traffic to the bar was closed and The Corinthian, a 58-story apartment building was built in its place. With rents, insurance premiums and real estate taxes all increasing, it became tougher and tougher for a neighborhood bar to exist. Like many family-owned businesses in New York today, Wanda is unsure of the future for Bravest. With its close proximity to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, Wanda says that the unrelenting noise from traffic along 2nd Avenue is having a negative effect on business. She also has no control over what the landlord may decide to do with the building, a thought that is deeply upsetting for the Bravest family, made up of staff and customers who think of the bar as their second home.
In response to these challenges, Wanda has introduced an expanded menu that focuses on homemade hearty food with interesting twists, such as Bravest’s Wicked Wings with homemade buffalo sauce, hand-formed burgers made with a custom beef blend, hand-cut and breaded mozzarella sticks, and homemade mayonnaise and Caesar dressings. Bravest remains one of the best deals in the neighborhood with beer and food specials every night of the week and a Happy Hour menu weekdays until 7pm with $5 wings and $4 drafts and well drinks.
Over the years Bravest has seen weddings, surprise engagements, first kisses, new babies, New York City Marathon celebratory parties, and baby showers (firefighter-themed of course!). It has been much more than a bar to thousands of people. Customers and staff there are enjoying their unique neighborhood hangout for as long as they have it. “We want everyone who comes here to feel comfortable and to be a part of our family,” says Wanda. When this writer asked a sampling of people what their favorite part of Bravest was, there were two overwhelming responses—the vibe and the food. It seems like Bravest is fulfilling its mission as a true neighborhood gem.
Photo by Michael Toder