The wooden phone booths in a Chelsea bar

Old, dark neighborhood bars and pubs often harbor a back-room secret: vintage wooden phone booths, the kind that used to exist all over New York.

Now, of course, they’re an endangered species.

That’s mostly thanks to cell phones, but also the fact that few people seem to think it’s necessary to duck away somewhere to have a private conversation.

These two twin old-school booths (with working phones!) are at the end of the carved Mahogany bar at Peter McManus Cafe at Seventh Avenue and 19th Street, still packing in drinkers after 76 years.

More vintage phone booth sightings can be found here.

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14 Responses to “The wooden phone booths in a Chelsea bar”

  1. Ricky Says:

    It would be fun if the phone numbers were posted on the phone with their original exchange names….

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    We can only dream!

  3. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Years ago, in the 1970s, after my friend, Marty Lewis, had his opening night off-Broadway play, “Monopoly” put on somewhere in the 20s, a group of us staggered in to have a celebratory drink to the success of Marty’s first play. Maybe we were too loud or obviously too drunk but they refused to serve us. I still recall the tough locals sitting at the bar and looking us over but after much bitter cursing between us we left. Still I remember that doorway from 40 years ago, looks like nothing has changed. Beautiful!

  4. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    McManus’ “Cafe” (c’mon, it’s a bar) was the regular watering hole for my buddies and me when we all worked at Barnes and Noble on 5th and 18th during the late ’70s. It was a great place (probably still is), but I always felt it was a tad suspicious of “outsiders”. In that sense, it made the perfect location for a scene in the film “Highlander” (1986) where the female protagonist meets “the stranger.”

  5. Brenda Balin Says:

    Can’t recall a time when McManus’ generally tolerant barkeep would put Marty out, but that’s not saying it never happened. We celebrated every night of the play as if it was opening night–or closing night–and mostly there.
    I remember those phone booths, and the magnificent old bar, with its vintage wood and mirrors. The tavern was often used as a movie location. The sight of white paper over the font windows, and umbrella-shaded lamps on the sidewalk outside was almost as common as the mix of “regulars”–including old neighborhood guys, yuppies, and young singles.
    I do take exception to the headline on this page, however. I would never describe McManus as a “dive” bar. If anything, it maintained a constancy and dignity that has helped it withstand decades of trendy bars that come and go like spilt beer.

  6. wildnewyork Says:

    You know, I think you’re right, it’s not a dive. I took the word out of the headline. I was trying to find a short word to describe the laid-back, unpretentious vibe.

    • Brenda Balin Says:

      Thanks. As for a single word, how about “authentic?” That would sum up everything from the never-changing decor to the comfortable neighborhood atmosphere.

  7. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    Maybe (and probably) it’s just me but “dive” just doesn’t carry the negatve connoations it used to. When The City was plagued by crime, yes, a dive was nasty. Nowadays, I hear “dive” and I just think of a place that has resisted the trends, doesn’t encourage mingling, and proudly announces, “Here’s your beer and shot. There’s the T.V. Now thank you and shut up.”

  8. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    ARGH! That was supposed to be “connotations”.

  9. BabyDave Says:

    I’m not sure much of anyplace constitutes a “dive” anymore. People started using the term to describe a bar that didn’t have votive candles on the coffee tables in front of the couches.
    I recall some truly dank places where a mixed drink was an iffy proposition because of the quality of the booze and the cleanliness of the glassware. (Best to order a bottled beer – and pay attention for a noticeable “pffft” when it was opened.) They’re gone, as far as I can tell.
    I’m with Rocco: What often gets labeled “dive” is what I think of as a perfectly normal place.

  10. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    The dives were gone when the Bowery was spiffed up for the wealthy or when they got ride of the Terminal Bar

  11. A wooden phone booth in an old Flatiron bar | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] of these lovely remnants of pre-cell phone New York can be found […]

  12. The wooden phone booths inside a private Midtown clubhouse | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the 1980s and 1990s, every hotel and public building, as well as most restaurants, bars, and drugstores, had at least one public telephone booth along with a bulky paper phone directory […]

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