Friday, March 23, 2012

Foodie: Bill's Gay Nineties - Last Night to Visit!

"He says, 'Son, can you play me a memory / I'm not really sure how it goes / But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete / When I wore a younger man's clothes.' / Sing us a song, you're the piano man / Sing us a song tonight / Well, we're in the mood for a melody / And you've got us feelin' alright" - Billy Joel's Piano Man

One of my favorite New York landmarks is definitely the famed piano bar, Bill's Gay Nineties.  The peculiar name actually tells a lot about its history. Bill's celebrates the 1890's (hence "Gay Nineties") and was originally opened by a man named Bill Hardy (a jockey and boxer) in 1924 as a speakeasy. Although a den of nostalgia for the 1890's, the bar had to face the realities of the 1920's. Cara Buckley of The New York Times explains, "There was a lever on the bar that, when pulled, would shuttle bottles of liquor down a chute to a basement pit filled with sand so that the glass would not break. A false brick wall in the basement still opens to a secret room where liquor was kept." 

The bar is currently owned by Barbara Bart Olmsted, the daughter of the man that originally bought the bar from Mr. Hardy in 1965. and the decor strongly reflects the Prohibition Era, with playbills from turn-of-the-century shows and tables and panels where waiters used to stash hidden spirits. The bar is a popular spot for locals seeking after-work drinks to tourists seeking a late night spot after going to the theatre. Patrons of all ages enjoy the beloved piano player on the ground floor (the restaurant is on the upper floor), shouting out song requests and singing along in unison to traditional tunes like "Sweet Caroline" and even melodies geared towards the new generations like Lady Gaga's "Telephone".

Sadly, during these hard economic times, Bill's Gay Nineties is now facing the hardest obstacle in its history - even more difficult than running a bar during the Prohibition Era! The building's owner has refused to renegotiate the bar & restaurant's lease, despite Ms. Olmsted's offer to match any competitor's rent.  So, after nearly 90 years of operation, Bill's Gay Nineties will be forced to shut its doors at 57 East 54th Street. Barbara Olmsted is hopeful that she will be able to find another location nearby and plans to move all of the beloved woodwork and decor.  However, many argue that it will not be the same.  The history and the infamous "ghosts" that created the ambiance of the bar could be lost forever.  Such seems to be the way with many of Manhattan's famed landmarks.  As you may remember, a similar sadness surrounded the closing of historic rock club CBGB's in 2005 as well as more recent closings of New York institutions such as The Plaza Hotel's Oak Room and Elaine's.

Bill's Gay Nineties will be closing its doors TOMORROW. Be sure to stop by this evening for your last chance to see this icon in its original location, with all of the charm that it has to offer! To read the full article about the closing in The New York Times, click HERE.

Have any of your favorite New York institutions closed recently? 
Tell me your memories & stories in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. Note: It was difficult, nearly impossible to get into the bar last night. My friend knew the greeter and we still had to wait for 40 minutes. It was filled to capacity. Your best bet is to go early today. It opens at 4pm I believe.


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