Posts Tagged ‘Greenwich Village bars’

The 1960s heyday of Village bar the Lion’s Head

May 22, 2017

It had an early incarnation on Hudson Street. And even past its heyday, it lingered on as a popular neighborhood bar until the taxman shut its doors in 1996 (left, during last call).

But the Lion Head’s glory days as a legendary Greenwich Village watering hole was during the 1960s.

That’s when the downstairs bar at 59 Christopher Street equally attracted literary types and longshoremen, and drinkers could rub elbows with writers, newspaper reporters, Irish folk singers, politicians, and a pre-fame Jessica Lange, who waited tables.

Pete Hamill, a writer at the New York Post in the mid-1960s, recalled the energy and excitement there in his wonderful 1994 memoir, A Drinking Life.

“In the beginning, the Head had a square three-sided bar, with dart boards on several walls and no jukebox,” he writes.

“I don’t think many New York bars ever had such a glorious mixture of newspapermen, painters, musicians, seamen, ex-communists, priests and nuns, athletes, stockbrokers, politicians, and folksingers, bound together in the leveling democracy of drink.”

“On any given night, the Clancy Brothers would take over the large round table in the back room. . . . Everybody joined in singing, drinking waterfalls of beer, emptying bottles of whiskey, full of laughter and noise and a sense that I can only describe as joy.”

The Lion’s Head has been shuttered for 21 years; in its place is the Kettle of Fish (below), another old-school Village bar that moved over from MacDougal Street.

Kettle of Fish still packs in crowds, but too many of the regulars who remember the “glorious mixture” Hamill recalls at the Lion’s Head are not with us anymore.

There are accounts like Hamill’s in many books and memoirs, but more and more of the memories of nights at the Lion’s Head are lost to the ages.

[Top photo: Chang W. Lee/New York Times; third photo: Petehamill.com]

A haunted speakeasy in a Greenwich Village alley

April 29, 2013

12gaystreetJimmywalkerCrooked little Gay Street looks like the perfect place to open a speakeasy.

So it’s hardly a surprise to learn that one existed here in the 1920s.

Called the Pirate’s Den, the illegal bar was run out of number 12, a Federal-style house built in 1827—back when Gay Street was just a slender stable alley in up-and-coming Greenwich Village.

See the metal arch placed in front of the building? It supposedly marked the bar’s basement entrance.

Gaystreet1894Located near other Village speakeasies, such as Julius’ on West 10th Street and the Red Head on Sixth Avenue, the Pirate’s Den was more of a tourist trap than a place for locals.

“[It featured] clanking chains, clashing cutlasses, ship’s lanterns, and patch-eyed buccaneer waiters,” writes George Chauncey in his book Gay New York.

Twelve Gay Street isn’t only known for its liquor joint rep. After the Pirate’s Den closed down, Mayor Jimmy Walker, a notorious partier and playboy, moved his showgirl mistress here, turning the house into kind of a second Mayoral home.

Could he be the mysterious figure in a top hat and tails, dubbed the Gay Street Phantom, who is said to creep around the stairs at night?

“The historic Gay St. property, on the corner of Waverly Place, is rumored to be inhabited by a restless spirit who walks the creaking floorboards at night,” states a 2009 New York Daily News article.

[Top photo: Streeteasy; bottom, NYPL Digital Gallery]

Greenwich Village’s legendary Grapevine Tavern

September 30, 2009

Back in the early to mid-19th century, when the Village really was a country village north of the main city, this quaint clapboard house became a tavern known as the Old Grapevine. 

Located on the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 11th Street, it’s probably the first legendary Village bar. The Old Grapevine attracted artists, businessmen, Union officers, Southern spies, and politicians, who dropped by after visiting Jefferson Market Courthouse two blocks south.

Grapevinetavern

It was such a gathering spot that the phrase “I heard it through the grapevine” originated there. (Yep, a grapevine used to cover the 11th Street side of the tavern.)

Its closing in 1915 merited the kind of nostalgic media coverage given to CBGB or the Cedar Tavern when they shut their doors:

Grapevinenewyorktimes

“It was not only a place to warm the inner man with the fermented juice of the grape, malted beers, and fine musty ale, but a place where good fellows met, as in the more palatial clubs today, to match their wits, tell the latest story, and discuss in a friendly way the political destinies of the nation,” wrote The New York Times

Speaking of warming the inner man, one ex-owner was proud that he didn’t serve women.

“Never in my career have a sold a drink to a woman,” the Times quoted him. “No women were allowed in the place. It was no hang-out for roisterers. . . . From the day I went there in 1870 [it] was a gentleman’s cafe.”