This vest pocket garden at Sixth and West 4th commemorates the Golden Swan Cafe, also known as The Hell Hole, a sawdust-floored dive with a gilded, weather-beaten stuffed swan mounted in the back room. Who was drinking at the bar? Eugene O’Neill was a regular patron in the mid-teens getting ideas for plays like The Iceman Cometh. The Hell Hole was demolished in 1928 when the IND subway was built and 6th Avenue was widened.
In a 1919 letter to his first wife Agnes, O’Neill recounts a trip to the Hell Hole in the midst of the Prohibition era, where he says there was no whiskey at the time but sherry was still relatively cheap at 20 cents a drink. On hearing that a song by Lefty Louie, a Hell Hole bartender, would soon be performed on Broadway, O’Neill wrote, “I think all the hours seemingly wasted in the H.H. would be justified if they had resulted in only this.” His astute observations about human nature came to influence his many works and brought him widespread recognition on Broadway and around the world. NYC Parks
The Golden Swan: a ‘hell hole’ for Village inspiration [Bowery Boys]
The Golden Swan Garden [Art Nerd New York]