Posts Tagged ‘legendary bars New York City’

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]

Old neon bar signs that lit up the New York sky

January 21, 2013

As more of the city’s legendary bars and taverns fall by the wayside (good-bye after 70 years, Lenox Lounge), their wonderfully evocative neon signs do too.

These examples are still giving the city its enchanting glow—or at least marking the space where an old-school dive or haunt once stood.

Barsignjoestavern

All that’s left of Joe’s Tavern Bar on 25th Street and 10th Avenue is its battered neon sign. It’s been shuttered for at least a few years; amazing that a developer hasn’t snapped up the space, considering how close it is to next-big-thing West Chelsea.

Barsignsoldtownbar

At least the Old Town Bar, on East 18th Street, is still in business, and the inside is as old-school as the sign out front. It got its start in 1892 and weathered Prohibition as a speakeasy with the help of political bosses at nearby Tammany Hall on 17th Street and Union Square.

Here’s a photo, with the same sign, that looks like it was taken in the 1920s or 1930s.

Barsignsarthurs

Arthur’s Tavern is still going strong after 76 years as a bar and jazz club on Grove Street in the West Village. The sign is in shambles and I’m not sure if it actually works.

Either way, it’s an enchanting piece of an older New York and I hope it doesn’t change.