Volume 77 / Number 39 - Feb. 27 - March 04, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photos by Shoshanna Bettencourt

Left, Pat Mendicino standing in the spot where he fondly recalls passing out “for about an hour” outside Chumley’s 15 years ago. Right, magazine covers, newspaper articles, book covers and artwork still grace Chumley’s walls, though some are hidden behind plastic sheeting.

Another round as Chumley’s vows to reopen, again

By Patrick Hedlund

Work crews have returned to Chumley’s bar in the West Village for another apparent resurrection attempt after the 80-year-old former speakeasy had to close following a partial building collapse last spring.

But speculation over whether the famed tavern at 86 Bedford St. will actually start serving patrons again — after previously scheduled reopenings over the past year didn’t happen — has some questioning the pub’s ultimate fate in the neighborhood.

Bloggers first buzzed with reports about resumed activity at the site, where plywood currently covers the Bedford St. entrance, which reputedly welcomed such literary luminaries as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Workers had gathered inside on Monday after Chumley’s owner Steve Schlopak reported last week that the saloon would open this May, according to the blog Lost City. Schlopak told The Villager over the summer that he expected the bar to reopen in October 2007.

A look inside the space reveals scaffolding erected around the crumbling walls — which are still festooned with framed memorabilia. Local tour guide and Chumley’s historian Michael Karp said Schlopak also told him the establishment would be back on its feet come May.

But Karp opined that the property’s landlord is “at the very best ambivalent” about reopening Chumley’s, and that neighborhood whisperings have revealed not everyone is onboard with the restoration. Karp pointed to the fact that the building next door to Chumley’s, at 84 Bedford St., looks to have been “effectively abandoned” and that the property’s owners could capitalize more on different uses at the site.

The landmark Chumley’s building, constructed in 1831, lies on the boundary of the Greenwich Village Historic District and is therefore prohibited from demolition. Its rickety brickwork would only be cause for demolition in the rare event it posed imminent danger to surrounding buildings, said Lisi de Bourbon, spokesperson for the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Otherwise, the commission would have to approve any changes to the building’s appearance for appropriateness in the district. The owner of Chumley’s building already received permission from L.P.C. to fix its facade and the collapsed portion last year, de Bourbon noted.

“There’s a suspicion that Chumley’s won’t come back as it is,” Karp said, adding the owners could “have more revenue-generated things in mind” for the space. “[Restoration] would be done probably more begrudgingly than not.”

That’s bad news for former patrons like Pat Mendicino, 44, who returned to the legendary tavern on Monday to revisit the place he once “crawled” out of 15 years ago — only to pass out in a nearby stairwell “for about an hour.”

“This was the best place that I found in New York City,” said the Hemingway devotee, who lives in Pittsburgh but was in town for a concert this week. “This place was heaven to me. It was always what I thought New York was all about.”

Mendicino recalled Chumley’s as packed to the gills with literary types back then, and that he had even felt inspired to write poetry on a visit to the smoky haunt.

“It was crazy,” he exclaimed. “There was nothing like it.”

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