For those who like their evening tipple with a literary twist, Manhattan is resplendent with bars where famous writers once visited. Whether to seek inspiration over a Sazerac, or escape over a Gin Fizz, some of these bars have become synonymous with some of the great writers of the 20th century, whilst others remain unnoticed. From dark, dive bars to glitzy, hotel lounges, today it is still possible to sit on the same bar stool where your favourite author once passed a little time over a friendly drink.
There is a bar in Greenwich Village that is quite hard to find, mostly because it was designed to be that way. A small, former blacksmith’s shop on 86, Bedford Street was turned into a speakeasy during Prohibition by owner Leland Chumley. With sawdust covering a floor which included a trapdoor, the bar was peculiar in that it had two unmarked entrances on separate streets, Bedford and Barrow.
The main entrance on Barrow Street was gained by walking into an anonymous small courtyard, whilst the secret back door on Bedford could provide a speedy and convenient escape route if the bar was raided by the police. Manhattan folk lore has it that the term to “86” someone (to throw someone out), is derived from the bar’s secret door at 86, Bedford Street.
All of which subterfuge and shenanigans made Chumley’s the perfect secret swigging spot for many a famous writer, many of whose dust jackets lined the glass cases which decorated the bar. A plaque in the bar recalls, “a celebrated haven frequented by poets, novelists and playwrights who define twentieth century literature.” Those who would sneak in and out of the snug speakeasy included Willa Cather, William Faulkner and Eugene O’Neill.