Passerby Passes On, and We Mourn

The hipster's Coyote Ugly.
The hipster’s Coyote Ugly.

Saturday marked the closing of Passerby, which is to West Side nightlife what Florent is to its restaurant scene. In classic form, the party went till at least 7 a.m.: You can see photos here and here. A fitting eulogy comes from Pat Willard’s upcoming book America Eats!, in which Willard laments the homogenization of New York City.

Further uptown in the meat-packing district, near enough to the Hudson River that it is always a presence, there was until earlier in 2008 a modern-day McSorley’s, a bar called Passerby, run by a guy named Tony Cecchini. Passerby looked like a working-class bar: it was nestled among factories and a pock-marked rundown street, and was tiny tiny tiny, its walls plywood, its bar what looked like a hunk of wood, and its floor strange lighted cubes that could have been salvaged from a defunct disco joint. Everything in it, though, was a verifiable work of art, and the duality of the place — its high and low fashion that mirrored its owner’s character — made the bar a comfortable place to settle into and nurse a drink, especially in the few quiet hours early in the evening or sometime before dawn.

The deception was due to Cecchini’s own peculiar sensibilities — his love of the working-class bars his dad used to take him to in his Midwestern hometown, as well as the artistic romance of a fabled New York City — and as much a peculiar character (he’s a grouchy literate handsome touchy funny artistic endearing down-to-earth snob) as John McSorley ever was. Despite the fact that his bar was phenomenally successful, an important hub of that neighborhood’s hip gallery/auction house scene, and that Cecchini is famous for reinventing the modern-day Cosmopolitan cocktail and has a loyal following of people who are addicted to his inventive drinks (many made with fresh fruits and unusual liquors), Passerby was forced to close. Why? Because the landlord severed his lease to turn the space into something more lucrative, and upmarket: condos. This is how things are progressively going in our cities. All you have to do is step outside McSorley’s door to see that the old working-class, immigrant neighborhood the saloon once served is nearly gone.
Passerby Passes On, and We Mourn