Hoisted a couple here myself. From the New York Times:
Playbills from the 1910s line the walls, featuring stars like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, along with a signed poster of Buffalo Bill. Ms. Olmsted sat at a Prohibition-era table, built with a hidden lower level so that tipplers could quickly hide drinks. Downstairs by the bar, beyond the heavy wood-and-stained-glass swinging doors, a plaque from a wine and spirits company saluted Bill’s for outlasting Prohibition: “Another proud survivor,” the plaque reads, “of those ‘dry’ years.”
Bill Hardy, a jockey and boxer, opened Bill’s in 1924 as a speakeasy with his wife, a Ziegfeld girl. The ’20s may have been roaring, but Mr. Hardy idealized the 1890s, and fashioned the place after that decade, creating what may have been one of New York’s first retro bars.
Still, the bar bore the trappings of its time and was outfitted to withstand raids. 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.
That’s Bill’s Gay Nineties, sadly soon to be no longer on East 54th in New York City. The landlord’s refusing to renew the lease. No explanation given. Maybe he just doesn’t like the singing of the star football player who’s said to come around Wednesday nights to warble along with the gang gathered at the piano. Bill’s owner’s looking for a new location but hasn’t committed yet so for a while the playbills and the vintage photos of once upon a time movie stars and athletes and the piano and, I hope, the beautiful wood and glass front doors and the saloon-style swinging doors leading into the downstairs bar are going into storage. Last call’s the 24th. The blonde and I are hoping to get back before then for one last round. But in case we can’t and you’re in the neighborhood please stop in and have one for us.
One of the bartenders there makes a wicked sidecar.
Oh, and read Cara Buckley’s whole story, A Bar That Survived Prohibition Is Set to Be Uprooted Over a Lease, at the New York Times.
Photo courtesy of Bill’s Gay 90s.