A group of approximately 50 neighbors filed a lawsuit in Manhattan State Supreme Court yesterday, asking the state to revoke the liquor license at the famous speakeasy and Greenwich Village institution, which has been closed since a partial wall collapse in 2007 threatened the integrity of the building. “Bar-Free Bedford” claims that shortly before its emergency closure, Chumley’s was operating not as a highbrow bar with deep literary roots, as it’s often claimed in guidebooks, but as “a major destination for tourists, undergraduates and bar-hopping bridge-and-tunnel partygoers.”
Opposition to the bar’s reopening was mounted previously, in 2011, when a widely circulated petition falsely claimed that Chumley’s 2.0 would more closely “resemble a sports bar” than a “speakeasy.” Last January, neighbors told CB2 Manhattan that they feared owner Jim Miller, who has some 70 years left on his lease, would ineluctably draw “drunk and loud tourists/patrons talking and smoking on Bedford and Barrow streets.”
It’s never unreasonable for homeowners anywhere to expect a quiet block and puke-free thoroughfares, but the lawsuit, as well as the opposition efforts mentioned above, invoke a lazy and pseudo-romantic idea about some mythical old New York to make their case. The actual famous “speakeasy” component at Chumley’s comprised a very short portion of its decades-long history, and the bar, during that era and especially afterwards, was at times a raucous place: The police routinely called its owners to warn them of incoming raids. Chumley’s remains the most famous of all New York speakeasies precisely because it was an open secret, not because Edna St. Vincent Millay drank there. (No disrespect to Ms. St. Vincent Millay.)
More than anything else, anyone seeking to root out the deeper significance of Chumley’s as a cultural institution should realize its greatness was also informed by its post-Repeal Day history. Years and years of other stuff happened at Chumley’s beyond the cliché of the speakeasy — from the 1930s on through the millennium.
Any great bar or restaurant has to be more than the sum of its alleged glory days, a fact that Mr. Miller, who’s repeatedly vowed not to create “any quality-of-life problems,” seems acutely be aware of. These places are not museums, though the confusion is understood. Claiming that a bar that hasn’t been open for the past seven years should preemptively have its liquor license revoked because it’s somehow become the predestined domain of frat boys and obnoxious tourists is not only discriminatory, it’s un-neighborly.
West Villagers want legendary speakeasy to stay closed [New York Post]
Earlier: Opposition Mounts Against Chumley’s, Of All Places