I stumbled upon the work of this photographer, Bill Barvin, by way of one of those “NYC in the ‘90s Was a City ON THE EDGE” articles that cull together a bunch of familiar shots from whichever decade to drive home a point. But when I followed one specific image therefrom (a pre-gentrification shot of Jersey Street in SoHo between Mulberry and Lafayette) back to a digital collection on the New York Public Library site, I was thrilled.
Basically, it looks like Mr. Barvin -- who evidently passed away in 2000 –- pursued a project not unlike the ambitious Dan Weeks, who I spoke about not too long back. In an age before digital photography and easily accessible panning functionality for still photography, our Mr. Barvin strove to document myriad New York and New Jersey locales via wide angle lenses and a resourceful use of adhesive tape. His resulting images provide comparatively sprawling, bay-window vistas that required a bit more spit, polish and elbow grease than the shots we casually take today with our smart phones.
Beyond his novel approach, Barvin also just happened to presciently target the interiors of a few choice establishments that, two decades later, simply do not exist anymore. As such, you can peruse though his collection and find wide, detailed shots of the interiors of the old Limelight (before it transformed into a shopping mall/gym), the Palladium before it was demolished and/or the original, storied Harlem drinking institution, The Lenox Lounge.
The one that caught my eye, however, was the series of shots below that showcase the insides of McHale’s Bar at 46th and 8th, an establishment that shuttered for good in 2006.
I wrote about McHale’s here upon learning of its then-impending demise in January of 2006. Here’s a bit of overwritten crap I typed about it:
You can't invent bars like McHale's. Its character comes from its rich, somewhat seedy history. It looked like the type of bar you were likely to encounter a professional hit-man in, sitting quietly in a booth, drowning his sorrows in yet another beer as he stared betwen the wooden blinds at the mean city streets just behind the glass. Despite its placement in the theatre district, it didn't immediately ooze the tourist-friendly aura of, say, McSorley's. It may lack the sneery mystique of CBGB's (its days also numbered) or the cinematic panache of Chumley's (though McHale's did make a fleeting cameo in one of those dreadful Ed Burns romantic comedies from the mid-90s), but McHale's boasted a warm vibe of old New York authenticity which is quickly going the way of all flesh. When McHale's goes, a part of that neighborhood will be irretrievably gone. And that's a damn shame.
Indeed, it remains a damn shame that McHale’s is gone, but thanks to Bill Barvin, here’s a little glimpse of what it used to look like inside. Squint, and you can probably see Don Draper and Roger Sterling knocking back Old Fashioneds in a rear booth.
Click on both to enlarge, but for the full effect, go check out Bill Barvin's full page on the NYPL. Some great stuff awaits.