Friday, December 21, 2007
Now that Dick's bar has become the fratty 12th Street Ale House, where can you go for a gay dive-bar experience? The answer is Julius' bar on 10th and Waverly. In fact, go there for the vintage-bar experience, because Julius' is one of the oldest, unchanged bars in town.
No one seems to know when exactly it opened, but the best guess is 1867 -- the same year that the Jacob Ruppert Brewery opened in Yorkville, on the Upper East Side. Julius' tables, chairs, and bar are made from the brewery's wooden barrels and they're stamped "Jacob Ruppert." (The brewery was replaced by Ruppert Towers, an example of architectural "brutalism.") The footrail at Julius' bar is a string of beagles standing nose to tail and cast in brass. "We think the original owner liked beagles," the bartender told me. (Though the breed is debatable--some say those dogs are Bassett hounds).
One wall is covered with framed photographs of the once-famous. None of them were recognizable to me. They are slick-haired men and women in furs, a few naked burly-Q girls, a couple of boxers. The bar may have come out of the Civil War and gone through days as a speakeasy, but the feeling you get is very 1950s. On another wall, Walter Winchell tells you why he loves Julius' and Eddie Condon poses with '50s burlesque queen Lois DeFee.
There is little in Julius' that marks it as a gay men's bar. A softball trophy reads, "It's not easy being the queen," and the straw I got in my mug of Coke happened to be pink. If you go on a weekday morning (Julius' opens at 11:00), you'll encounter a few regulars, older men in Yankees caps who sit and talk about the weather. In the evenings, it's livelier and gayer, but no less gray. The kitchen, a grill in the corner, is cooking delicious burgers and fries, and the TV is tuned to Jeopardy.
Unlike other old bars, like McSorley's, Corner Bistro, and Chumley's, where you can only go during the day because the nights have been overtaken by frat boys, tourists, and girls with pointy shoes, Julius' has stayed authentic. I am sure that's due to the gay factor, which protects Julius' as one of New York's best-kept secrets. The patrons will not tolerate idiotic, yuppie behavior. These guys went through Stonewall -- they are not afraid to kick some hetero ass.
The bar is quiet enough and friendly enough that, if you're chatty, you can have fantastic conversations with men who knew the Village way back when. And who knows how long this will last? Julius' has survived building collapse and seizures, and the landlord seems to support the bar. Said the bartender, "As long as the owner of the building stays alive, Julius' will stay alive." He figures at least another decade.