He was a Latvian immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1903; Eugene O’Neill’s first New York City roommate, sharing a rundown Sixth Avenue flat with the playwright for $3 a week; and manager of the Greenwich Village Inn in Sheridan Square (below left).
He was also a colorful rebel so convinced that Prohibition was idiotic, he became the first New Yorker ever prosecuted under the Volstead Act in 1919 when his waiters served booze to undercover cops (he spent 30 days in the Tombs for this misdeed).
After his stint behind bars, Gallant—now a hero and celebrity—decided he would keep serving liquor, but only to customers in the know.
It was a hit, attracting “youngsters with strange stirrings in their breasts, who had come from remote villages on the prairie; women of social position and money who wanted to do things . . . businessmen who had made quick money and wanted to breathe the faintly naughty atmosphere in safety, and ordinary people who got thirsty now and then and wanted to sit down and have a drink,” stated Stanley Walker in 1933’s The Night Club Era.
The key to his success, besides his eccentric personality and reputation for having more friends than party-loving mayor Jimmy Walker?
He made his speakeasies exclusive, and he asked customers to adhere to some rules. (Rule 10: “Please do not offer to escort the cloakroom girl home. . . . “)
After Repeal in 1933, the “mayor of Greenwich Village,” as he was dubbed by the press, opened a restaurant at 86 University Place.
He wrote an article for Cosmopolitan in 1946 called “The Vanishing Village” and worked on his memoirs in the 1960s, supposedly.
What stories he must have had to tell! He died in a Miami retirement home in 1968.
[Photos: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Alamy]
Tags: 1920s Greenwich Village, Barney Gallant, Club Gallant, Greenwich Village clubs, Legendary Nightclubs NYC, NYC Prohibition, Speakeasy Greenwich Village, Speako De Luxo, Volstead Act in New York City