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Pioneer rewarded for his patience

He talked as he walked, sounding like a starving man reciting the menu for a promised feast.

"They're going to put all new sidewalks here," he said, a touch of wonderment in his voice. "And benches. And lights."

It is Thursday afternoon, and I am on Genesee Street downtown with Eddie Brady.

Eddie Brady is not just a bar owner. He was the first man standing. For years, in this pocket on downtown's edge, Eddie Brady was the only man standing. The bar that bears his name was the sole sign of life on a barren street, equal parts outpost and oasis, a glimmer of hope on a landscape of gloom.

Before downtown became cool again, before lofts sprang up like spring flowers, before Chippewa morphed from seedy byway into nightlife hothouse, before hotels and restaurants blossomed -- before all of that, there was Eddie Brady.

Now, finally, progress has spread to the street where he staked his claim. This is the notorious "Genrich block" where, for decades, the empty shells of 19th-century buildings signaled a bleak welcome to downtown. Now, those buildings are being revived.

"It's wonderful," said Brady, voice deep and throaty. "It's gonna be beautiful."

Brady is the bartender who knows everybody's name. He is 58, linebacker-large, head the size of a cinder block, its fringe of white hair framing a gleaming dome. He has a willing handshake and a mental scorecard filled with the name of every regular's spouse, ex-spouse, kids, friends and friends of friends. His beer-keg torso and nobody-a-stranger vibe marks him as a conversational Buddha who, leaning back in his chair, seems half-asleep but misses nothing.

If colleges awarded degrees in Advanced Sociability, Brady would have a doctorate.

He seems born to inhabit the narrow strip of real estate between bottle rack and bar. He worked various local joints, with a five-year detour to Florida, before 20 years ago spotting the For Sale sign at the place then called Gandy's.

He leased it at first, gave it his name, bought the 1863 building a few years later, moved his stuff into the upstairs apartment and waited. And waited.

"I figured all of this [development] would happen a little quicker," he granted. "Five, six years. Not 20."

We are sitting at a table on the patio, in front of the one-room bar with its tin ceiling and wood-paneled walls and chalkboard of $6 lunch specials. Brady has a few words for anybody coming in or out. A passing Metro bus driver honks his horn. Brady waves.

"That guy used to drink here," he explains.

He points up the block toward Chippewa Street, to the Comfort Suites with the T.G.I. Friday's on its ground floor.

"It was an empty lot," he remembered. "City Center [condos] was an empty lot. People were sleeping in the parking lot.

"Back then, somebody walked down this street, you knew they were lost," he added. "Now, you got people walking their dogs around here."

He sits back, thinks about it.

"People say 'You hung in there,' but I didn't just hang in there," he said, a little edgy. "I worked a job. I made a living."

A construction fence runs nearly to his doorstep. Soon the block's row of long-empty buildings will be stuffed with office workers and apartment-dwellers. Rocco Termini, the developer who did the nearby IS Lofts, told Brady that -- when the "Genrich block" is done -- his building will triple in value. The words fell gently on the large man's ears.

"They say no neighbors are good neighbors, but I've had no neighbors for 20 years," said Brady. "I'm looking forward to some company."

Hold on, Eddie. It's coming.


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