Connolly’s Bar and Restaurant on 47th between 5th and Madison avenues is the official home of Black 47, a politically charged Irish rock band, whose name is derived from the worst year of the Great Irish Famine, 1847. They play every Saturday night. During the week, the bar is the de facto Bear Stearns after-work hangout: Some 6,000 employees of the fallen bank work in the $1.5 billion, 45-story, granite-and-glass octagonal tower around the corner.
“On an average night there would be between 20 and 30 Bear guys,” said a 23-year-old Bear man we’ll call Tommy. He works on the investment banking side and has been a Connolly’s regular since he started at Bear a year ago. He said that on Friday, March 14, when it was pretty clear that the bank was heading south, and fast, more than 100 Bear employees, mostly men, gathered among the mahogany, rich leather and lighted green clover leaves of the bar.
“Bear! Bear! Bear!” they chanted as they downed their shots, recalled the young man. “Everyone was trying to keep hope alive.”
“They’re coming less, these last weeks,” said the compact bartender in an Irish brogue Monday night, when the Bear stock was being valued at between $4 and $10, depending on the appetite of JPMorgan. The figure was being displayed on several flat screens tuned in to CNBC’s Kudlow & Company. “I think a lot of them are nervous now. It’s a sad thing; a lot of them are older guys with retirement plans, and now this, you know?”
Around 6 p.m., five men in blue suits marched in and began holding forth. Seats were available but they chose to stand, upright with chests thrust out. Two women—a blonde and brunette—mutely accompanied them: part of the scenery. With hearty enthusiasm the group discussed the effects of different alcohols (Scotch, numbs the head; tequila, makes you horny and aggressive), the strenuous act of swimming laps (some people wear gay-looking, European-style bathing suits), and the market (Lehman had taken a bath today). The typical banker bro-session.
“He said, ‘I’m not drinking for a month,’” recalled a tall, beefy young man with cropped red hair. Aside from his dress—pink spread-collar shirt, blue patterned tie—he belonged on a college lacrosse field. “He’s like, ‘It’s been three days!’ I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re a warrior.”
The men laughed heartily, including a shorter, slightly older and more refined-looking banker—better-looking suit, perfect wave in his hair. He explained that of course they were not Bear men. “I doubt too many Bear guys are going out right now; they’re probably all going straight home,” he said.
The group declined to say where in the world of finance they worked—but they were bankers. Then they put on their overcoats and left. They had taken no notice of the two Bear Sterns guys hunched over their beers a few feet away.
“We were talking about where both of us were going before all this happened and what our future is now,” said one, who agreed to be referred to as Bob. He said he had worked at Bear for seven years, was in his late 20’s and lived in Manhattan. His tie was loose and his collar unbuttoned. He wore black wire-frame glasses and looked to be of South Asian descent.
“You build a reputation, make in-roads, learn the culture—this is the only bank I’ve worked at, but I’m told they all have different cultures,” he said. “All of that is lost now.”
His companion in misery was tall and thin, with a chiseled face and a prominent brooding brow. Call him Frank.
“If you have a plan to make something of yourself within a company, and you’re trying to move up and there’s potential, there’s a certain pride in where you work,” said Frank. “If that all goes, what happens to the plan? Obviously it’s in complete jeopardy.”
Sure, the top brass were making multimillion-dollar bonuses, but at the middle of the bank were a bunch of what Frank called “worker bees” trying to carve out a living. Tommy said the expression was that Bear was the place for young men who were “poor, smart and desire to be rich.”
Frank took his lapel in his hand. “See this?” he said. “This is my uniform—it doesn’t mean I’m rich. The perception is, we’re all on Easy Street. We’re not all greedy dogs trying to be big shots. Some of us just punch the clock.”