Friday, December 21, 2007

Julius' Bar



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.

27 comments:

Romy Ashby said...

Some of the photos on the walls there of the famous guys you can find in a really great book called The Eddie Condon Scrapbook of Jazz, by Eddie and Hank O'Neal. When they were putting the book together, Eddie said, "Let's go over to Julius, they'll have some pictures we should use." Because back in the 1940s, Julius’s was a favorite place of the jazzmen who were playing at Nick's in the Village on 7th Ave and 10th Street, they'd go to Julius on their breaks because the drinks were cheaper than at the bar at Nick's So a lot of their pictures ended up on the walls.

Anonymous said...

Those hounds ain't beagles! By their long bodies and short legs, they look morelike bassett hounds.

MyMyMichl said...

The bar rail: they are definitely Bassets. I remember those wonderful dogs well. The stories they could tell. It was 1963 when I discovered Julius after some abortive visits to a few of the gayer, more frightening, very dimly lit bars, including the one with a spotlit plaster statue of David sans fig leaf. Weekends away from college in Cambridge were only worthwhile by visiting Julius, where one could rub elbows with sweet hearts and great minds like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and later on, Malcolm Forbes. There was cold beer, gin tonic, and those wonderful beefy burgers.

Filled with a thirst for nostalgia, a visit a few years ago disappointed. Fey hookers, older men drinking too much, and the burgers were not at all what I remember. I guess I've changed as well.

Jeremiah Moss said...

truman and tennessee? do tell. we want to hear more. and, yes, the old fellas do drink too much. it's a real alkie bar, which can lead to some interesting conversations. also, i'll buy the basset diagnosis...

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks romy! someone should make a project out of going in there and identifying everyone on that wall of faded fame.

Barbara said...

I dropped in there now and again during my AIDS activist days; sadly, I had to give it up. All my friends died and I couldn't take it any more. It was a fun bar, particularly when we all ran out of money. Given the work that we were doing--and some of the cute boys we were doing it with--we could almost always cadge a drink or two.

kingofnycabbies said...

from "American Big Bands Database":
In 1945, Condon and Pete Pesci - manager of Julius's Bar - came up with a plan to open a jointly owned Club and this became the first "Eddie Condon's" (on West 3rd Street - Greenwich Village area).

No surprise that's now an NYU building. I think I would have liked it better at Condon's, where the motto was: "We don't throw anyone in, and we don't throw anyone out."

MyMyMichl said...

Thank you Barbara; for reminding me. I so well remember those days.when we were careless, silly, and horny. I was around when the boys were creating GMHC, and as one by one, they fell prey to AIDS. For me, going back to past places causes me pain, but also keeps alive my anger and determination.

Please don't ever lose those memories, the images of their faces, their names, and the fun you had together. As long as we remember it will live. As long as we tell the true story, never allowing them to forget, we're solid. Those who write history will never include the important things. You can be sure they will include facts, statistics, cold and heartless, but you will--you must remember the blood and guts of that fight, and how much Life meant to us then and I hope now too.

To tell you the truth, I've been uneasy about returning, afraid almost, because I'll be looking for the faces and the sounds I know now only exist in a ghostly world. Hers'a a hug for old time's sake. Keep loving.

- Michael

DH said...

It's my favorite bar in New York. They decorate it for every holiday. There's a terrific, diva-heavy jukebox (Liza, Barbra, Judy, Madonna, Cher--all the big ones). On New Year's Eve, they served an impromptu breakfast at 2 a.m. (biscuits and gravy, bacon, eggs, etc.). It was heaven! They've just signed a two-year lease, so it's not going anywhere. Julius' is the last of its breed in the West Village. It is New York history.

MyMyMichl said...

Thanks to the posts here, I made a visit to Julius' last week. It was around six o'clock, and the bar was comfortably populated with just the sort of quiet, pleasant guys at the bar I'd hoped for. I got lost on a reverie of past times, people, and the me I was so long ago. The bartender interrupted by sternly asking, "Can I help you?" indicating I was not welcome to just stand there. I began to explain, but instead just left a fiver on the bar and eased on down the road, happy to know there was still a Julius. What ever. I knew I'd go back when I had the time for a beer and a sit me down.

Kirk said...

What a fantastic bar. I live near Las Vegas and we don't have places with any real character. I wish I had a place like this to belly up to and soak up the air. BTW, those definately are Basset Hounds for foot rests under the bar. The ears are too long for Beagles. Kirk

Anonymous said...

the dog depicted in the bar rail is the original "julius". The original owner named the place after his bassett hound.

Todd HellsKitchen said...

I used to hang there in the late afternoons in the early 1980's... To have a burger and a beer after a day of auditioning... Used to be a major place to meet up with friends before moving on and making the rounds to Ninth Circle, Uncle Charlies, and more and etc...

Your post reminds me, I should drop by for old time's sake!!

Anonymous said...

I go back to the early 1960's when it was a straight bar, full of artists like myself. After a day of working in my studio around the corner, I would have dinner, which was always a burger cooked by a big German-American guy have a beer and talk with my artist buddies. What I remember most is the stuff hanging from the ceiling. Who knows what it was.Probably years of dirt! I miss the old place. I grew up there.

MyMyMichl said...

It kind of broke my heart when I went back years ago to see that ceiling cleaned of all that wonderful moss, or whatever it was, and please don't tell me.

Anonymous said...

Great photos of my favorite GV bar. Was just sent the link to this post by a friend. The burgers are still some of the best to be found! And a great bunch of folks there as well. Love it!

pitbossLV said...

I wandered into Julius one night in the summer of 1964 at the age of 18 , I sipped a drink looked around and said " what;s this place all about " In no time I was a regular, the ppl I met there were the salt of the earth , the famous ppl I've seen there in the decade's I hung there, I visited recently, It's still a fun bar with nice ppl , you wont meet any phonies at Julius, just decent and real PPL , look at the front of the bar the pictures on the back wall are some of the regular's that hung there just ask any older person about them , it'll sound like a Damon Runyon script. Bill Las Vegas

Michael said...

Last month I went back for a burger, medium rare delicious as ever. The crowd of now current barfly/buddies was there, but I only listened, too shy to intrude. They were really friends, looking out for one another, talking about what and where they were doing and going. They had a life beyond the bar, but centered around it. Had I remained in that neighborhood, I'd be one of them fer sure.

Kimkwat said...

I remember Julius from the 70' into the late 80's: Summer nights when it was so crowded that if you were near the front, you had to exit out the front door and re-enter through the side door to hit the head in the back. The front area was called the "Press Box" because of us regulars crammed in there (we named it) and one of the group was Vinny L a pressman at the NY Times and he'd sit there in the paper hat that only pressmen were allowed to make and wear (kept the ink out of their hair). I'd ask Vinny to show me how to make the hat and he answer, "it's a secret kid, you gotta be a member of the pressmen's union." Big Ed A (in TV but had once been an instructor at West Point) had the bronze casting done (we 'members' contributed for it and it remains over the coat hooks, memorializing the "Press Box"). Ed also 'framed' pressbox member extraordinaire, Herbert F in the port hole after he died in 84 and then Ed went too and he's on the wall. Nathan M of the Nippon Club and Hank "the cop" are on the side wall near the back door - and other friends long gone but living on in our memories and on the walls of Julius. Of the 'old' photos on the back wall, I always liked the big cat ringing up the register - smartest of them all and by the way, when the building was sagging in the early 80's and that pictures were removed, behind the paneling is a street scene from the 19 century painted on the wall, now recovered with the "newer" 70 to 80 year old photos! At the corner of the bar near the juke box (and photo wall), the "Irish Mafia" held forth - great guys all and I was an honorary member, as I alternated between the Press Box and Irish Mafia - having drinks in place at both ends of the bar with Jamie L or Terry (Tim) T the bartenders watching out for me. Bill D (Fulton Mkrt) was the center of gravity for the Irish Mafia and Danny K was the gravitas for Bill and there was George M a friend and others but I think only Dennis (Moose) still survives. A night in the Press Box: after hours of convivality - Steve (Dr. H) launches a well aimed drink at Fred B (of party fame at the 'Vodka Towers' on 14th). Fred screeches "that was a CREAM drink!" at Dr H and then turns to Herbert who was slightly rocking back and forth while emitting bird like cooing sounds. The slap to Herbert's shoulder wakes him and he says, "Me dear, what was that about?" Fred B, "Cream drinks stain!" Observing the festivities, Jamie L gives us all that one eyed stare and enquires, "Are you all ready for another round?" And we were and when the Sun rose on the next day, we were all up in Fred's apt in the Vodka Towers, Dr H included, having a "night cap" to greet the morning, as we did so many times over the decade and back in "the Club" as we called "J's" at the time, the next night - same place, same location, same drama! And I loved every minute and I miss all of it and all the people these 3 decades later. Thanks for reading this, perhaps I'll add some more stories at a later time but for now, let's thank the owner of the building FKL "Sr" for allowing the bar to remain - even if he didn't finish that top floor rent controlled unit for years! Good drinks there too. I'll sign as Kimkwat - in memory of Fred's roommate, Jimmie H, who called me that much to my then irritation but now he could call me that all day if only it would invoke the place and time once again, even for but one crazy night, at Julius' on West 10 and Waverly.

Jeremiah Moss said...

wow kimkwat--is that really the same bar?

Anonymous said...

It is funny what you remember. I was there every night in the early 60's. Behind the bar was a photo of a photo finsh or 3 or 4 horses nose to nose at the finish line. I loved the place. Me and my artist buddies wouud meet there every night have a few drinks and bullshit for hours.Roy Lichtenstein was one of the regulars as was George Siegal. Siegal showed his stuff around the corner at a small gallery, and for $ 50. you could own a piece of his work. Ahhhh, the good old days.

Bill S said...

I spent many happy hours at Julius in the sixties. The chef, Bob Hoffman, served a juicy, rare hamburger. He had led an earlier life in a much more prestigious establishment whose name I forget.

After three beers, the bartender served a fourth for free.

It was gay, for sure. But the bright lights and no dancing policy scared off the queens. I met actors, athletes, and college boys.

The jukebox featured tunes by Marlene Dietrich, Vicki Carr, Edith Piaf, Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone, and Gilbert Becaud.

Ah, to be young again ...

bobby cormier said...

my favorite bar. i worked at "greetings" card and gift shop at 45 christopher street in the 1990s. me and the owner and manager of the shop would go there, just around the corner, for our lunch breaks. these turned into EXTENDED lunch breaks and sometimes other staff at the card shop would have to come and get us. a historical place, i hope it's there always. - bobby cormier

PegOMyCart said...

Wow... I found Julius' after figuring it must have disappeared by now. I go WAY back to when it was a joint where all the jazz musicians hung out after hours. My 2 boyfriends and I would follow Eddie Condon and the rest of the gang from Nick's over to Julius' and hear some of the greatest music ever played. We'd order hamburgers and beer (food at Nick's was too expensive) and stay into the morning hours. I may just be in those photos on the wall with Condon, Muggsie Spanier, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceras, Pops Foster, and all the rest of the Condon gang. They're all gone now, but I'm still alive, in San Francisco, where it's warm, but I wish I could see those photos. Betcha I could identify a lot of the people in them.

laura said...

so is julius still there? sounds like they did renew the lease. i remember it from mid 60s, & by then it was gay gay gay. older gay, as i recall.

Bob Brown said...

My name is Bob Brown and I lived at 145 W. 10th Street, between Waverly Place & Greenwich Ave. I knew Julius' Bar very well way back when I was a kid in the early 1950's. The owners (managers ?) were the Pesky's and I was friendly with their son, John. When I was old enough to drink (almost) my friends and I hung out there. This was long before it became a gay bar. The bartender was my upstairs neighbor, Harry Whiting. There was an older character who I think managed the place named "Packy" That was when Julius' had the sawdust on the floors and the hanging artificial dirt (artificial?) from the ceiling. At the time those great, rare hamburgers were served on rye bread and cost 0.50 each. There along with the many pictures displayed were some of the famous 6ft plus stripper, Lois DeFee. I was friends with her daughter, Starr who was a real beauty too. I am now 76 years old, and it seems like only yesterday that I and my buddies drank the nights away at that wonderful bar.

Anonymous said...

Used to drive from pa to go to Julius s every other weekend always had a great time it was the late 70's early 80' s.