I am headed to NYC next month for a biz-ness trip (staying a fancy mid-town hotel shockingly enough) and my amigo out there pointed me to the private stash of all bars boasting a history of runaway slaves, literary heroes, illicit alcohol and haunting poltergeists. I am totally going.
Heck, I even made google map to the secret libation locale (though i’ll probably still have to find the stealthy entrance in the alley).
The bar is up for sale (3.75 million USD in case you are wondering) and the place doesn’t necessarily have a name. ‘Chumley’s‘ or ’86 Bedford’ seem to be the parlance of choice.
Anyhow, here is a snippet from the article 86 Bedford Street in NY Resident magazine by Rachel B. Doyle filling in the pieces of the stories,
Despite the building going on the block, Chumley’s isn’t going anywhere since its lease isn’t up until 2085. Touted as “the oldest speakeasy in the country to retain its original ambiance,” Chumley’s has been around since 1926 —when it was purchased by Leland Stanford Chumley, who remodeled the front of the former blacksmith’s shop with innocuous garage-like doors.
Behind this obscure facade, lay the favorite illicit watering hole of literary luminaries such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, Anaïs Nin, Simone de Beauvoir and J.D. Salinger (before he became a recluse). The original incarnation contained kitchen entrances disguised as bookshelves, two trapdoors to conceal spirits, and a trick staircase designed to foil the police.
“It’s supposed to give the illusion that we’re in a basement, when in reality we’re on street level. It allowed the bartenders some time to clear away alcohol during Prohibition,” said John Lefebvre, a waiter at Chumley’s.
The entrance remains the same as it was in the ‘20s: unmarked and only accessible by a clandestine rear passageway leading from Barrow Street. And Chumley’s will likely never have a sign, as landmark designation restricts anything having to do with physical changes.
A little known fact about 86 Bedford St. is that its seditious reputation actually precedes Prohibition. According to legend, the building was also a refuge for runaway slaves – due in part to it’s proximity to Gay Street, which had a large pre-Civil War era free black community.
“In the floor of the bar there is a trapdoor that lifts up. These same tunnels that may have been used to transport slaves were later used to transport the alcohol into the restaurant during Prohibition,” said Lefebvre, who also just completed a documentary about Chumley’s. “I’m looking right at it.”
While some reviews speak disparagingly about the Chumley’s micro brews (flat and lifeless) and the meat heads (read fratboys) who have found the enclave (to high five in) while others mention the proximity to a firehall which suffered major casualties during the WTC incident or the discussion if this is where the term “getting 86’ed” originated and yet one more talks about the dog patrons – (geez i though it was just Oly’s Eastside Club which allowed dogs) – in a post What’s up with the dogs at Chumley’s?
Here’s the door – is there a secret knock?
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