Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin De Casseres’

A Prohibition-era ode to the lost corner bar

November 19, 2010

When Prohibition began in 1920, writer Benjamin De Casseres noticed something subtle: how the death of the corner bar altered day-to-day life:

“The corner saloon was the eye, ear, mouth of the old man.

“It was here that he saw double, listened to wisdom, spoke with boasting and Rabelaisian tongue and tickled his olfactories with the perfumes of Milwaukee and Kentucky,” he wrote in a June 1921 New York Times piece.

De Casseres noted that a rite of spring was no longer: the day when a bar owner put up the swinging “summer doors” at corner saloons.

A familiar summer scene was also gone: no more dogs putting their heads under the doors, sniffing the ground and excitedly barking at customers.

And then there were the displaced men who had no place to gather:

“On dozens of corners that I have examined I have noticed the same men standing—leaning against the wall, against the electric light pole or fire hydrant—day after day.

“There they loll, hoping for the impossible miracle . . . . They stand there dully, soberly, a little better dressed, a little worse facially for sobriety, looking blankly at the passers-by with a terrible J’accuse! on their parched lips.”

[Above left photo of Kelly Brothers Saloon at 125th Street and 8th Avenue in 1915, from the Byron Collection of the Museum of the City of New York. Above right, Manny’s on Suffolk Street, from the New York Public Library digital collection]