José Gregorio Has Left the Bar; Its Owners Want Him Back

"Kidnapped!” reads the Web site of Barbès, a Park Slope, Brooklyn, bar and restaurant popular for its live music. Beneath the striking red text is an image of a statue — the bust of a man with jet black hair and a matching mustache and eyebrows. It is about two feet tall and sits in a cubbyhole.

“José Gregorio has been our mascot and protector for now 10 years,” reads the message, posted about a month ago by Olivier Conan, a Barbès co-owner. “Yesterday, someone stole the bust. We don’t think it’s funny.”
José Gregorio Hernández (1864-1919) was a Venezuelan physicist who studied in France, returned to his homeland to provide health care to the poor and is now worshiped by followers of María Lionza, a historical Venezuelan religious cult figure. Mr. Conan is a Frenchman best known for playing Chicha music, a genre popular in Latin countries, including Venezuela, where he often travels. He does not follow María Lionza.

“He’s my Venezuelan compadre,” Mr. Conan, 49, said of the statue, which he bought at a shop in Brooklyn years ago. “He also very much looks like a European.”

The statue had sat between the bar area and performance space at Barbès, overlooking the typical crowd of coiffed 20-somethings mingling with Latin immigrants. That is, until Jan. 10.
On that evening, Mr. Conan was preparing for his weekly set with his band, Chicha Libre. The late afternoon crowd was sparse but would eventually fill the performance space.

While Mr. Conan prepared, a waitress, Grace Kendall, noticed a young man hovering near the statue, looking “slightly inebriated” but not ordering drinks.

“I was wary of him — something didn’t feel right,” Ms. Kendall wrote in an e-mail, culled from notes she took that night. “But I passed it off as him being already under some influence.”

It was a conclusion she now regrets. Soon the young man had vanished, and the statue with it. The suspect is a “hipster-type, early 20s kind of guy,” Mr. Conan said in a phone interview.

“He looks exactly like all of our patrons.”

Mr. Conan is now faced with hunting down a hipster in his early 20s in Brooklyn. But fortunately for him, Ms. Kendall is thorough. Her detailed description of the culprit suggests that if her waitress career doesn’t pan out, she has a serious future in law enforcement.
The suspect is a white male in his 20s. He is tall (between 6’1″ and 6’2″) and lean, but slouches a little. He has ash-gray/light blond hair, which was slicked back into a very clean retro-style haircut of the 1920s and ’30s. The hair was cut short on the sides, and the longer hair on the top of his head was combed back, possibly with gel (think Jimmy Darmody of “Boardwalk Empire”). His face was clean-shaven, and he had a clear complexion. His eyes are a grayish blue with a kind of crystalline quality to them — not a solid color. And he has fuller lips. He was dressed neatly and gave the aesthetic impression of a hipster; he was “put together.”

What has followed is a manhunt, albeit one better suited for the Park Slope art crowd than, say, “America’s Most Wanted.” Mr. Conan did not contact the police because, he said, “it just seems like bad karma somehow to go after somebody.”

But he did take to the Internet, with the message on the bar’s Web site and via the bar’s Facebook page, where he posted a notice about the theft shortly after it occurred.

“No way! That sounds like a fraternity initiation rite to me!” said one of the 21 comments that soon followed. At the bar, one patron wrote a prayer and placed it in the spot that the statue once stood.

“We worship it in absence,” Mr. Conan said.

Since the theft, he has searched Brooklyn’s boutiques for a replacement, but he came up empty. When he traveled to Colombia and Venezuela recently to perform, he visited street vendors, who could offer only smaller versions of the statue.

For now, he can only urge his fans and patrons to show vigilance.

“If you spot it in your friend’s living room, shame him,” he says with a laugh. “If that doesn’t work, cut off his hand.”

Are you on the list?

Subscribe to stay in the loop with lineup announcements and festival news.

What's with the statue?

“José Gregorio has been our mascot and protector for now 10 years,” said Olivier Conan, “Someone stole the bust. We don’t think it’s funny.”
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram