I posted my teary paean to the impending demise of the great Lakeside Lounge on Facebook at the beginning of this week, and my friend Paul Wallfisch (he of Botanica, late of Firewater, among myriad other pursuits) had this to say.....
Fair point, I thought, but I'm still sad about it. The whole episode got me thinking about some of the other great, divey bars that used to pepper this fine city's shadowy backstreets and less lustrous avenues.
Sure, I've repeatedly lamented the vanishing of my beloved Cedar Tavern, the dissolution of the P&G and the gutting of the collapsed former-speak-easy Chumley's here on many an occasion, but in this instance, I'm talking more about the less established drinking institutions. Here's a quick list -- in no particular order -- of some of my old favorites. Don't bother looking for them today, as they're all gone.
1. Alcatraz (132 St. Marks Place): It's a brightly-painted sushi bar today, but back in the late 80's and into the 90's, this corner of Avenue A was home to an endearingly seedy joint that catered to acolytes of all things loud, boozy and rude. Largely patronized by the East Village's populace of punks, bikers, metalheads and barflies, Alcatraz was a regular stop for my friend Rob and I. Of course, it didn't last. By the way, I prized the photo above from this weblog.
2. The Hog Pit (22 9th Avenue): I already wrote a lengthy post about this favorite place of mine. Today, much like the neighborhood that surrounds it, it's gone pointedly upscale as an outlet of Billy's Burger Bar. They opened a new incarnation of the Hog Pit over in the 20s between Sixth and Fifth Avenues, but I'm just not really interested in that. As far as I'm concerned, the Hog Pit is dead.
3. Siberia Bar: (West 50th Street 1 or 9 stop/40th Street & 9th Avenue): There were actually two incarnations of Siberia, and I miss them both quite a bit. The original one was tucked discreetly away in a subway station right near my old office at TIME Magazine. Legend has it that this tiny little space used to be a clandestine meeting place for KGB agents during the Cold War. It was here in this decrepit closet that they'd exchange microfilm and secrets about national security, like some creepy scene in "Marathon Man" or "Three Days of the Condor." In any case, sometime in the 90's, the place was opened up as a disarmingly intimate but incredibly cool dive bar (with an amazing juke box) that was decked out in entirely in Russian art and Soviet propaganda posters. It was just way too cool.
Typically, it didn't last. Today, that space plays host to either a Subway sandwich shop or a Dunkin' Donuts, and it's a damn shame. In any case, the proprietor of Siberia moved to a great new location in Hell's Kitchen that was vast compared to its former locale. I had my doubts about it, but it ended up being just as cool, albeit in a different way, than its previous incarnation. There was, however, a strange policy wherein they'd actually throw you out of the place for cursing and/or gratuitously hitting on women. I'm not kidding. They'd totally do it. Regardless, they closed the place in 2007.
Here's a little documentary about the original location. Enjoy:
4. Bellevue Bar (538 Ninth Avenue): The Bellevue was a truly enjoyable place right around the corner from the second location of Siberia. I believe there was a rumor that there was a secret passage that connected to two, but who knows? In any case, this was yet another place with an awesome jukebox and a cool vibe. My fondest memory of the Bellevue is pumping the jukebox full of coin and watching a retired mailman in his sixites frug like a madman to "Mother" by Danzig. This place was so goddamn cool. And, of course, it's gone. The awesome photo above comes from this MySpace page.
5. Scrap Bar (116 MacDougal Street): The Scrap Bar, in retrospect, was a bit goofy, but in the early 90's, it was quite a scene. High on style, it was not at all uncommon to run into local heavy metal luminaries hanging about. Losing the Scrap Bar wasn't the end of the world, but I did kinda enjoy it for a little while. The lovely photo above comes courtesy of this weblog.
6. King Tut's Wah-Wah Hut (112 Avenue A at 7th Street) After it was hardcore hotbed A7 and before it was Jesse Malin's Niagara (which it continues to be today), this corner space on the edge of Tompkins Square Park was a funky, arty little bar called King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. Much like many of the other bars cited here, the accent was on rock. I remember propping up the bar one night and hearing "You Got Another Thing Comin'" by Judas Priest come on, and the entirety of the establishment's patronage began banging their heads in unison. It was a beautiful thing. Speaking of beautiful things, see more amazing photos of King Tut's at this Facebook page.
I know I'm omitting a veritable ton of other spots. Some other old, vanished faves include Barramundi and the Ludlow Street Cafe on Ludlow Street, McGovern's on Prince Street, The Village Idiot on West 14th Street, Downtown Beirut and The Lismar Lounge on First Avenue (pictured up at the top of this post), Beowulf on Avenue A, McHale's on Eighth Avenue and many, many more.
Which ones do you miss?