Looking for the backstory of an abandoned Chelsea tavern

For years I’ve walked by the delightfully shabby Joe’s Tavern sign at the corner of Tenth Avenue and 25th Street.

I’ve never seen the vintage vertical beauty lit up, unfortunately. Even stranger, I’ve never seen any sign of life inside 258 Tenth Avenue, which once housed what I imagine to have been an old-school neighborhood bar on the ground floor. The place has been long left to the elements, its facade papered over with fashion ads.

Who was Joe? There’s not much to go on. The Lost City blog, now defunct but still a lively source of New York City historical insight, featured the sign in a 2013 post. A year later, a commenter wrote that Joe was the “very friendly” Hungarian-American old man behind the counter.

What happened to Joe, and why his bar was abandoned as far back as the 1990s, remains unknown. There’s not a lot of clues to go on. Old city directories aren’t pointing the way. I made out the faded outline of “258” in an old-timey font above the entrance, but that’s about it.

Still, a look into 258 Tenth Avenue’s backstory didn’t come up totally empty. Turns out, the tavern roots of this place go back to the 19th century.

According to an 1895 edition of the New York Times, a man named Martin P. Grealish ran a saloon in this very spot. Grealish made the paper because he was moving his saloon down to 200 Tenth Avenue. (Understandable, as his landlord was raising his rent).

A 1920s New-York Historical Society photo (second image above) reveals that the site had become the Majestic Restaurant. Perhaps the Majestic turned into a restaurant thanks to Prohibition…then returned to a watering hole once that national experiment was over.

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26 Responses to “Looking for the backstory of an abandoned Chelsea tavern”

  1. taxman54 Says:

    I just Googled map the address and see scaffolding around the whole building, not sure how current that is.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Mitch Goldman Says:

    I remember this location being a pizza place, right around the year 2000. A buddy of mine lived in the apartment directly above it (those were his windows by the neon sign). It closed around that time and, as far as I know, it never reopened.


    Just surprised it’s been vacant for so long.

  4. Kim Dramer Says:

    These old watering holes were an essential part of NYC social, political and economic landscape. Great to know about this one.

  5. Greg Says:

    Hopefully someone will know!

  6. GC Says:

    I checked the 1940s in the 1980s tax photos on the city municipal site. It looks like it was there in the 80s, confirming that other comments on the page linked. 1940s looks like it was a different store front.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Those 1980s tax photos are usually of terrible quality, and the one for Number 256 is as well!

      • GC Says:

        Yes the 1980s ones are all trash. But the 1949s ones are excellent. I think the 980s ones are video stills. Just awful.

  7. Ty Says:

    I lived a block away through most of the 90s and early aughts. This fascinated me because there were two glasses still on the bar though it looked like it was abandoned for ages. I did some research:

    The “Joe” was Joseph Luka b. 1912 a bartender who immigrated from Hungary in 1931. He married Clara Kocsis from Virginia in 1946 They and their two children lived in the East 80s in the Hungarian section of Yorkville.

    The Tenth Avenue location was a grocer and a butcher from the 1850s until about the 1950s. One of the string of butcher shop owners, Martin Grealish, took a mortgage on the place in 1891 from William Flanagan the owner of Flanagan & Nay the block long brewery across 25th Street the site of today’s Elliot Houses. In 1895 Grealish moved across 25th Street to 260 Tenth Avenue to open a bar that I’m guessing was financed by the brewery. The brewery, who’s tag was “It’s a Man’s Beer” went bankrupt in 1936 and it looks like seized by the city for back taxes.

    Joseph Luka made the news in Nov of 1956 when he threatened to jump from his apartment window at 355 E 83rd. When the police arrived he was half out the window with his wife holding his leg. It was probably a publicity stunt as he addressed the gathered crowd on the ground floor about the need to help fight the Soviets who had invaded Hungary earlier that year. He was carted off to Bellview for observation.

    The next month in December 1956 the bar, Joe & Mikes, was robbed. The Daily News named Joe as the bartender who was present at the time of the robbery.

    In 1987 the bar was seized by the City for back taxes and Joe died in 1990. Apparently the city neglected to tell Joe’s daughter who inherited the building. A new NY State law in 1992 specifically required NY State to order the city to return any property seized without adequate notification. There was confusion as to whether it applied to Joe’s bar as it was seized five years prior. Probably was the source of its frozen in time look.

    The building is now owned by the Landmarks Preservation Committee so it looks like the city made a deal

    (I may have posted twice, can’t tell)

    • GC Says:

      This was excellent thank you

    • Greg Says:

      Very interesting stuff, thanks. That is a long time for a space in NYC to be mothballed. It must have ceased as a butcher a little sooner than your time though, because we can see from the 1920 picture above that it was the Majestic Restaurant at that time.

      • Ty Says:

        Yes that’s true about the restaurant. I couldn’t find a thing about that restaurant, not even an advert. Also the floors above were a hotel at about that time. I remember seeing a picture.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Amazing research Ty, thank you so much. I can just imagine the kind of barkeeper Joe was, likely serving many longshoremen and factory workers from the manufacturing spaces along the High Line. I’m curious what the LPC is planning to do with it.

      Here’s a look at Joseph Luka’s Hungarian neighborhood just below German Yorkville:

      ‘Little Hungary’ was once on East 79th Street

  8. Ty Says:

    Another detail. It was sold by the city in 2016 to the a non-profit, Clinton Housing Development, for $1 to create affordable apartments whose rent is indexed in income. The intention was to create only 2 bedrooms to counter the transient nature of a lot of developments in Chelsea.

  9. Peter Says:

    A now-deceased older relative of mine owned a restaurant in Connecticut in the 1980’s. It did not last more than a year or two before failing. Curious, after reading this piece I Googled the Connecicut restaurant and found … absolutely nothing. It vanished without an Internet trace.

  10. Kevin Golden Says:

    Ive lived right up the street on 29th and 10th since 1995 and in all that time ‘Joes Tavern’ has never been open. Its always been a curiosity as to why such a great looking place was shuddered for so long. It reminds me of the long vacant corner building on 22nd and 7th, another mystery.

    • Greg Says:

      Interesting. Just had a look at what you mean on 22nd and 7th. Looks like the four buildings must be under one ownership. Based on Google Streetview, 201 on the corner hasn’t had residents since 2009 or so. The A&A Deli was the only retail establishment in any of the four storefronts the last few years and that is gone too. Guessing that lease was the last thing holding up the end. Now they are all empty and under scaffolding.

    • GC Says:

      Unfortunately the city has finally okayed a demolition for those building on 22nd and 7th. They are making affordable housing so they say and setting aside space for long time residents of the current buildings. I’ve been obsessed with them for years wondering what about them and searched yesterday. Apparently it’s another case of the city taking possession after taxes due and then allowing it to rot. There was an article in the daily news from 2012 about the holdout tenants.
      Also across the street from them diagonally at 210 7th is another abandoned building within a glass top floor and great architecture.
      Glad you posted!

  11. Bob Says:

    Regarding signage on the building, according to Walter Grutchfield’s site (https://www.14to42.net/25street3.html)

    “The sign reading ‘PROVISIONS & OILS’ on this building at the corner of 10th Avenue and 25th Street is barely readable even in raking light.

    “The more recent Joe’s Tavern Bar is also a classic of its type…”

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