I'm nervous. A reader wrote in this weekend to say: "One of my favorite EV bars appears to have closed--the Holiday Cocktail Lounge, on St. Mark's Place, between First and Second Avenues. Stefan, the proprietor, was a very old man, so it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he'd given up the ghost."
*2/6 UPDATE: Stefan has passed on
I went by a couple of times at night to find the door shuttered, the stools upside-down on the bar, and the only light coming from the blue glow of a Budweiser clock on a far wall. While I was loitering outside, I talked to a neighbor who informed me that Stefan went into the hospital recently.
If the Holiday Lounge has closed, if Stefan has "given up the ghost," this is a major loss for the East Village and the city.
from bunglehugo's flickr
One of our greatest dive bars, the Holiday was opened by Stefan Lutak in 1965. Wrote NY Press: "it quickly became a haunt for poets and intellectuals, or, as Lutak likes to refer to them, 'bullshitters and faggots.' The modernist master W.H. Auden, author of 'The Shield of Achilles,' was the star drunk. He drank here with Allen Ginsberg, among others, living on cognac, V.S.O.P.—whole bottles in an afternoon as he sat by the window, writing with a stubby pencil, constantly erasing and rewriting. 'When he sober, he can't write,' Lutak recalls. 'When he too drunk he can't write. You could never say when he was drunk, because he drinking all the time.'"
Over the decades, the bar remained a favorite of hard-drinkers, artists, and eccentrics. Madonna hung out there before she was big, and rumor has it the dive inspired her song by the same name. Ask Stefan what mixed drinks he offered and he might answer, "Wodka-tonic, wodka-soda, wodka-Coke." All of them heavy on the "wodka."
Gawker visited this summer, painting a scene in which a recently released prisoner of some kind returns to the bar after 30 years and the 89-year-old Stefan says that all he wants to do is sleep.
from adm's flickr
In 2006, Caroline Dworin wrote a lovely piece on the Holiday for the New York Times, saying: "There is great poignancy to the case of the New York dive bar. In such an ever-shifting metropolis, whose streets, like rivers, are never the same streets twice, whose heights rise ever upward into taller, better, sleeker plains of steel, those small and stagnant pools may be the only place left where a man can see his reflection."
Every day, that reflection fades more and more.
As my eloquent tipster wrote, "Increasingly, the city is like one of those terrible dreams, where the face of a beloved person is all wrong."
More dive bars:
Holland Bar (gutted)
Grieve visits Port 41 and the Subway Inn
Ken snaps Dublin House and Smith's
Lost City lists 8 dives