Friday, August 29, 2014

Arthur's Tavern

VANISHING?

Some terrible news to kick off your holiday weekend: It looks like the great and venerable Arthur's Tavern is about to vanish.



A reader alerted me to a new real-estate listing, where the jazz club's building is for sale at $6,250,000.

This "Newly available mixed use building in the heart of the West Village," writes the broker, is located "off the high-end retail district of Bleecker Street." It will be "delivered 100% vacant" and includes a "ground floor commercial space."



Of course, that ground-floor space has been Arthur's Tavern since 1937. "Called the 'Home of the Bird,'" reads the website, "this historic West Village entertainment nightclub is the last continuously operating New York City jazz club once regular host to the legendary Charlie Parker and the great Roy Hargrove."

There is no cover charge at Arthur's Tavern and it's a wonderful place to just sit at the bar, listen to good music, and talk to interesting people. It's truly one of the few spots left in the Village that still feels like the Village--and still feels like New York.

I've worried about it for some time, ever since its neighbor Rose's Turn was turned into the digs of a luxury designer (known as "the darling of young Wall Streeters ... the go-to decorator for a great many of today's young titans of finance and technology"). Next to that, how could scrappy, divey Arthur's hold out?



In 1978, New York magazine's Paul Gardner described a night here with piano singer Mable Godwin:

"Her syncopating rhythm and honeyed voice make Arthur's Tavern the kind of storybook joint where characters from a John O'Hara novel, caught between despair and desire, might perch on a ragged bar stool all through the night... The liverish yellow lighting and glitzy mirrors behind Mable's piano make everyone look positively sleazy. And that's exactly how it should be."

Mable is gone, but not much else has changed. The bar stools are ragged, the light is good and sleazy, and the music plays on. The Grove Street Stompers are still here--every Monday night for more than 40 years.



In his book, Discovering Vintage New York, Mitch Broder writes about Arthur's history. He notes that it was owned for decades by the Maisano family, and then sold--along with its building--to Danny Bensusan. The Bensusan Restaurant Corporation runs several clubs, including the Blue Note and B.B. King's.

A phone call to the bar yielded no information or confirmation about the sale. From the listing, which also includes a shot of the bar's interior, it looks like this will be the end for the historic Village spot. The realtor calls it "an ideal property for an individual seeking a great rent roll, an ultra private live-work space, or a renovation project."

A second listing on the same property hails the club, and notes that it is currently on a "month to month lease rented at $10,000/month." The listing reads: "The possibilities are wide open to create a dream owner’s duplex apartment in the heart of the Greenwich Village with your own private patio and rooftop terrace, plus generate income from the prime commercial space/retail on the ground floor!"

Of course, a community-minded multi-millionaire who loves jazz and New York history could buy the building and choose to maintain Arthur's Tavern at the current rent, right?



With that unlikelihood in mind, here's another one to worry about: With Rose's Turn gone and Arthur's going, what hope could we possibly have for good old Marie's Crisis?



25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Devastating. Nothing is sacred in the town. I was just walking by yesterday looking at the rusted steak and chops sign wondering how much longer it would be there

JAZ said...

Good lord, you've got to be joking.

I guess when the new arrivals here are all robots who crave 'music' as sounds created on a laptop placed in front of an idiot wearing a paper mache mouse head, there's no need for anything using actual musical instruments.

Dosing on MDMA and flailing around next to every other sheep doing the exact same thing passes for Generation Selfie's idea of socializing. Add the bloodlust of the property lords to the mix, and the rest of the us don't have a chance.


Jesus fucking christ

Stuart Chamberlain said...

Arthur's was the first place I played the piano in public in NYC. In 1968 I went there and was thoroughly entranced by the late Mable Godwin. During her break, I asked if I could play and she said yes. When she came back from the break, she asked if I could cover her vacation! From a legend like her to a young tourist like me, that was one of the best compliments I ever received. Rest in peace, Mable, and Arthur's too. (For more on Mable, see the documentary "The Ladies of Grove Street," which I believe is on YouTube.)

Anonymous said...

This one hurts. I love Arthur's. I only go there once or twice a year, but I love it. I'd hate to see Marie's Crisis go as well, but to be honest, it really has gone to hell. It used to be one of my regular haunts, but as of a year ago or so, the drink prices went up, the beverages got smaller, and the regulars are now all recent transplants that sing from lyrics on their phones and ignore classic tunes.

Michael Garin said...

440Were it not for Mabel Godwin and Arthur's Tavern, I would never have become a professional musician. I play the piano and sing because of Mabel and Arthur's. Now why do we live here?

Anonymous said...

...sadly, the experiences and places that so many of us cherish are going, going, gone. Watch and listen -- what interests young people and hedge funders -- albeit not the same things all of the time -- are what drive business decisions here and many other places.

Sad but ... there are places (somewhere?) that have creativity, community, joy...

Now, if we can find them.

Anonymous said...

Marie's should be fine -- the difference between them and all the other neighborhood joints is that they actually own the building.

jason said...

Owning the building can give a business a huge advantage. But, they still need to turn a profit in this vapid anti-culture to stay alive. It is hard to compete when a lot of the consumer base wants something sterile, predictable and juvenile.

While a lot of us see Arthur's as a treasure, the new breed think that places like this are "gross".

Steven Lowenthal said...

Truth is, there have always been those who could never say "dive" with any respect, who never got Grove Street. That was their own pitiful problem, and now I suppose they buy West Village apartments too. Look what's become of Christopher Street by now -- how does old Grove Street even fit into the surrounding culture anymore, except possibly as a theme park? Real estate commenced to become a living nightmare in the mid-1980s; and this block is over.
So - Marie's is a great no-mic room, great people went there, some great moments, we helped many to open up and sing there (and vice versa); no further comment. I don't think I ever got over my alma mater, the 5 Oaks, and for many it was the same for Rose's Turn (I still often forget and call it the Duplex).
But re Jeremiah's wonderful description, there's a certain extra poignancy about losing Arthur's, dammit. Condolences to Eve Silber and Co, and fond memories of honey-voiced Al Bundy on piano with our sassy sweetheart Laurel Watson.
(About "The Ladies of Grove Street" - I did see it on Youtube. What a sensational night that was, with Mable, Marie and Gladys Easter in their glamor and glory at the 5 Oaks piano. Amazing job by "Alaska Bill" Repicci, who filmed and boiled it all down to half an hour, including interviews.)

Yank said...

This is sick-making. So sad.
Thank you Stuart Chamberlain for pointing me 'The Ladies Of Grove Street'. I'd never seen it.
I lived in The Five Oaks for years. Some of the best nights of my life. There exist no photo's of The Oaks at all online. Also sad.

DrBOP said...

Don't want to romanticize it too much here......after all, at least back in the 60s, there were still some (let's call them) rough customers there.....but I would use Arthur's when I was really down in the dumps, and needed a shot of feeling "at home" someplace. Not flashy, just comfortable. Some of the evenings around Christmas were especially wonderful.
Beyond sad.

Anonymous said...

This turn of events hurts and makes me angry. In the 1990s Arthur's became a home for me for many years when I had lost the only home I had known. It was a wonderful place to meet people from all over the world and I became friends with many of the staff, helping them close up at night and getting together in our off time. They were my family along with a few of the regulars. It was quiet, too, where you could hear what someone wanted to say and still enjoy the music. Nowadays, there seems to be no quiet piano bars, just noise. It was a special, very special place.

Anonymous said...

The original owner apparently sold the place and cashed in years ago. Save your venom for them- but commenters never do that. Why? The new owners decided to sell now when the market is insane. Also how profitable is this place in 2014? How many lamenting its demise spend money there? I read lots of "I love that place- used to there back in 1965" That's great but is jazz popular in 2014? Sorry its the end of their era. There are lots of places in NYC that have joy and creativity- maybe not to you.
What is sterile, predictable and juvenile are the typical knee jerk comments. There was the old saying about not trusting anyone over 30- well you folks are the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Fuck this city

Pat said...

@Anonymous 5:18: Jazz at Lincoln Center in the Time Warner Center opened 2004 with over a thousand seats in the Rose Theater, clearly jazz is popular with some people. I myself have been listening to WBGO-FM radio from Newark, NJ for decades. Thanks to the internet, support for those radios programs have come in from all over the world. I wish more Americans loved the music that was birthed in this country, but there are still some of us around. Sometimes quality outweighs quantity.

Anonymous said...

I miss the way NYC used to be. I can never truly go home again. This is so sad.

Anonymous said...

I used to be a regular at Roses Turn,I hated it when I found out via a realtor that Henry had sold the place weeks before the employees knew. When I asked him about it he explained that business was down(and it was,only the weekends had a crowd)and that he would be crazy not to except a 3 million offer for something he paid 250,000 for.I know then that the place was doomed,but he was there to turn a profit,not to be part of a money losing west village museum.So can I blame him?I still do every time I am thirsty.

Anonymous said...

Calling it a "jazz club" is a bit of a stretch. At one time maybe that was true, but in the 25 yrs I've lived here, it's been pretty corny, low-level, "jazz-like" music, mostly bordering on cabaret. Can't compare it to the Village Vanguard or Smalls, et al.
That being said, it is another landmark, and a slice of old NYC, which, sadly, will be just another memory.

Anonymous said...

I've been dreading this post since I started reading this blog in 2007. I stumbled in by accident 10 years ago and it quickly became my favorite spot in the city. Believe it or not, some of the under 40 crowd who've moved to NYC came here for what it was, not for what it's turning into. Being part of the wave (at least from a generational standpoint) that's destroying these places is gut-wrenching. Such a sad sad day.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:18 are you for real ? Jazz is THRIVING in new york city ! New jazz clubs are opening all the time. Mezzrow on 10th street is the most recent opening. On a latge scale as mentioned jazz at lincoln center was built within thr last ten years, san fransisco just built the sfjazz center. The largest in the world. New orleans the birthplace of jazz is booming with jazz tourist dollars and host the largest jazz feat in the world and internationally jazz is thriving !

Get a clue !

I wont even respond to the rest of your malarky.

Anonymous said...

As of this morning, the listing no longer appears when one clicks on the link. Has the building sold already? Owner/s changed their minds? Anyone know?

Anonymous said...

A new twist...maybe they aren't saying goodbye just yet...

http://thevillager.com/2014/09/04/arthurs-plays-a-different-tune-not-for-sale-now-a-source-says/

Anonymous said...

Arthur's is one of those "serene and
triumphant reminders that the world is an older and better place than most assume." That's it: I'm going to see the Stompers tonight. Who'd have thought they would outlast the venue that dreamt them up.

Anonymous said...

i am from the UK and approx 12 years ago was in NY with the Stones.myself and a friend stumbled in to Arthurs,frankie paris and cold sweat were playing,incredible.To this day i remember that night so fondly,in a long and varied life,goes down as one of the greatest ever!
sad sad news,a real loss.

Anonymous said...

I became friends with the Maisano clan in the 1960's when I lived on West 4th St. Later when I moved to Jackson Heights, Vinny's wonderful wife, Joan, took care of my daughter. A few years later, I went to work at Arthur's and spent many, many nights on both sides of the bar; had birthday celebrations there; lovingly recall Mabel singing "What a Difference a Day Makes" each and every time I entered the premises with the love of my life, and still have and wear a blue sweatshirt bearing a drawing of Mabel and her piano! I live in NC now but every time I return to the Village, I go by Arthur's & take a picture or two for memory's sake. I am so saddened to hear this news, but perhaps it's one more sign that "you can't go home again". What a fabulous time it was....Arthur's, The Duplex, Marie's Crisis, Jack Delaney's, Aldo's, Village West and so many more (even Riker's for us locals)! Lots of pictures; I must make an ARTHUR'S TAVERN album. Also can't wait to view Mabel on YouTube. Thanks for the memories.