Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chumley's Was and Will Be - or Will It?




This is my Navy cube-mate Ray entering into Chumley’s Restaurant in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan, c 1964.

I don’t remember how we learned of Chumley’s. However we found it, we knew we discovered a gem. There is no sign, advertising, or directions. If you didn’t know it was there you would walk right by. First you go through an outer gate to a small courtyard then, into a door, which, if you didn’t know otherwise, would think it was a door go a street level apartment.

We liked it so much we told our friends who made it a point to visit it when they went up to the Big Apple. And they probably told their friends.

I read someplace that it was a speakeasy during days of prohibition – the reason there are no signs – they were still doing fine without signs.

The prices were reasonable – which might have explained why it was always crowded there.

The walls were covered with book jackets of their clientele. We saw Shel Silverstein there – at a distance. My friend Sam once talked to William Price Fox, the famous southern writer, there.

In the early 1970s I returned to Chumley’s with Anna. I remember we had beef stroganoff there and with very delicious with a tingly alcohol flavor.

The building collapsed and now it is being rebuilt – but I doubt if it will be the same atmosphere – but again, the atmosphere I knew has probably been long gone because it became a tourist attraction… hmmmm? Die we start that?

This is what I found on Wikipedia:

Chumley's is a pub and cultural landmark in New York City's West Village, established in the 1920s, that has been a gathering place for writers, poets, journalists and activists of the Lost Generation, the Beat Generation, and others. Located at 86 Bedford Street, it has a "secret" entrance on Barrow St with no exterior sign, giving it the air of the speakeasy it once was. Purportedly, the expression "to 86" (meaning to hide or get rid of something, or to stop serving a person) comes from the police warning Chumley's before raids by Prohibition agents to "86 everyone out the back door" ("86" being the Bedford Street address number on the door). [1]
A plaque at the tavern, dated September 22, 2000, and placed by Friends of Libraries USA, states that Chumley's has been placed on a Literary Landmarks Register and goes on to describe Chumley's as:
A celebrated haven frequented by poets, novelists and playwrights, who helped define twentieth century American literature. These writers include Willa Cather, E.E. Cummings, Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Ring Lardner, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O'Neill, John Dos Passos, and John Steinbeck.[2]
Posted on the walls of Chumley's are the covers of books supposedly worked on there. Because of its historical significance, Chumley's is a stopping-place for various literary tours.[3]
[edit] Collapse
On April 5, 2007 there was a major structural collapse of the chimney inside Chumley's, causing the Greenwich Village landmark to close temporarily along with some surrounding buildings and 12 apartments above.[4]

Chumley's has closed. The building has been torn down. The building is being reconstructed and it is anticipated that Chumley's will reopen sometime in the future.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Si's blog said...

When they put up a new plaque, they need to add your name to it: "ET, renowned blogger and Georgia historian. Noted for his library of memorable photographs and knowledge of Mad magazine."

10:53 AM  
Blogger ET said...

Si,
Aw shucks!

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://empirezone.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/04/06/remembering-chumleys/
That website has interesting info on Chumley's with about 64 messages from people who used to go there. All are good reading. Interesting is the fact that many say they met their husbands and wives to be at Chumley's. I went there back in the early 60s. And again 3 or 4 years ago. Nice place. They used to have in the late 50s and early 60s playbills from the old Provincetown Theater from the 20s and 30s on the walls. Those were gone and replaced with book covers of books by Chumley's patrons. I read on other places that Chumley's may reopen in April 2009. Hope so. It would be a great loss to lose it. 86.

7:22 AM  
Blogger ET said...

Anonymous,
It seems just about every time something old and traditional rebuilds itself it just isn't the same.... you can't go back.

But, hopefully I am wrong this time.

8:38 AM  
Blogger ET said...

Anonymous,
P.S.
Thanks for the link.

8:39 AM  

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