A piece this week in Untapped Cities about Chumley’s, the “secret speakeasy” on Bedford Street in Greenwich Village that recently reopened after 10 years of renovations got me thinking about the release of Forgotten New York the Book back in 2006 — my publisher, Harper Collins, had the book party there. It was my second and so far, final visit to Chumley’s and we made the most of it as I had dozens of folks there from my then-49 years of existence including friends of 30 years, teammates from two different jobs, and even a Weimeraner.
Chumley’s is probably the only major bar or restaurant in New York City that has never had a sign or marking of any sort on its exterior to mark its presence. Yet most Greenwich Villagers know where it is, officially 86 Bedford Street just north of Barrow, and most nights, it’s packed.
Chumley’s building dates to the 1830s and was originally a blacksmithery. According to legend, in the pre-Civil War era it was a stop where escaped slaves could find a haven (there was a black community on nearby Gay Street). At length it became a gathering place for leftist radicals. By 1922, Leland Chumley had established a speakeasy/gambling den in the old building; the tradition of not marking the entrance continues to this day.
During and after Prohibition Chumley’s became one of NYC’s many literary hangouts. The difference here is that the authors’ original dust jackets, and their portraits, line the walls of the place on all sides. You will find just about every big name in 20th Century literature here from Hemingway to Mailer to Ginsburg on the wall.
And mine, as well. The ForgottenBook cover was framed and hung during a book party in September 2006.
When I remade the site for the first time in 2011, I didn’t carry the special page I put together of the party that also features some more Chumley’s history. I thought it would be fun after so many years to put it back together and show it again. I went into the archives and made screenshots of the original pages…
The crowd included Francis Morrone, author of a gazillion New York City architecture books (compared with my two); Paul Lukas, whose Uni Watch sports uniforms website has taken off and earned him slots at ESPN and Sports Illustrated; Dawn Eden Goldstein, whose career has taken her from the rock and roll demimonde to a Doctorate of Theology; Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society. Everyone here is still with us except Nigey Lennon, a prolific author and musician who we lost 3 years ago.