Reader Leonardo Urbina writes in to let us know that Kenn Reisdorff, owner of Bob & Kenn's Broome Street Bar recently passed away--and that the bar will go with him. Leonardo writes, "It will be closing after the year finishes. The lease would renew in January and one of the two daughters doesn't want to maintain it. There goes another neighborhood institution."
*Update: Mr. Riesdorff's obituary calls him "a gentlemanly fixture in the neighborhood, recognizable by his
custom-made cowboy hats from a hatmaker in New Mexico, turquoise
jewelry, cowboy boots and friendly demeanor."
Located in a landmarked building that might be the oldest structure in Soho, dating back to 1825, the Broome Street Bar opened in 1972.
There's been a bar here since the 1850s. According to The Historic Shops & Restaurants of New York, the stained glass windows and panels around the bar come from the time when it was a German beer hall in the 1880s. I don't know where the lion heads come from -- they're on the sign that hangs outside and they flank the bar, a pair of them above the brass rail, with signs that read, "Last Man's Chance."
In 2005, journalism student Dana Lerner visited the bar and wrote in detail about it, including its colorful history:
"According to Reisdorff, the building used to be a 'sleaze joint,' or a house of prostitution, in the early 40s. The windows in the back of the bar were covered and blocked off so that women could perform sex acts. Reisdorff described the women as having puffed-out hair, high heels and wearing little clothing as they walked past the windows to 'market' themselves to customers... Reisdorff believed the establishment to be a German restaurant in the 1920s and an Italian restaurant called The 7 Wagner Bar until he took ownership. He declined to give the name of the owner before him, because he 'was not a good man' and shot and killed a customer who was sleeping with his girlfriend. However, he was not alive long after the shooting. The brother of the deceased customer gunned down the owner right outside his bar in the late sixties. After the owner was killed, the business went bankrupt."
Under Kenn and his brother Bob, the bar became an artists' hangout--De Kooning, Oldenburg, Haring, to name a few. Said Kenn to Lerner, “I opened up for the artist community, and lived here long before the Soho we know. My customers were all kinds of artists, from sculptors and painters, to what I call pretenders."
As the neighborhood changed and became more upscale, as the galleries moved out to Chelsea and other parts of town, the artists vanished. But remnants of their presence remain, here and there, throughout the bar. And, yes, the delicious burgers are still served in pita bread.
What happens next for this long-time survivor is anyone's guess. Soho Memory Project wrote of the place a couple years ago, saying, "the day I turn the corner onto West Broadway and find that Bob and Kenn’s has been taken over by TGI Friday’s, I’m outta here."