Monday, October 27, 2014

Smith's Bar & Restaurant

VANISHING

Smith's Bar & Restaurant will be closing this week after 60 years off Times Square.

Tipster Louis Shapiro wrote in: "The venerable Broadway bar Smith's (8th & 44th) will be closing this week because of (surprise) lease issues. If you try their webpage, you get bumped to their sister bar, Social. Yet another sad loss."

An employee at the bar confirmed that Thursday will be their last day in business.



Smith's opened in 1954. For decades, it was a deep, dark dive off Times Square. People committed suicide in their booths. Well, at least one person.

They sold "hand-carved" hot sandwiches and hot plates from a steam tray. Corned beef. Brisket. Knockwurst.


2004

Then, sometime around 2009 or so, they were bought by a chain of anonymous pubs. The inside was renovated, the clientele changed. They printed t-shirts and became a sports bar filled with big-screen TVs and tourists.

Out went the weird, meat-cluttered steam table. Out went Smith's old Times Square vibe.

I stopped eating there.


2007

It hasn't really been Smith's since.

But we still had that gorgeous neon signage glowing over 8th Avenue. You could look up at it and, if you squinted hard, pretend Travis Bickle was still cruising the Deuce.

When its neighbors The Playpen and The Funny Store were demolished and replaced with yet another hotel tower and yet another Shake Shack, we knew Smith's would not last much longer. I won't be surprised if the whole building goes with it and we see another glass box rise on its grave.



Here's a bit on what Smith's used to be--from the Times in 2005:

"Smith's Bar and Restaurant has held down the northwest corner of 44th Street and Eighth Avenue for 50 years, its name written in soot-coated neon script outside, in a style of sign once seen above countless New York bars and liquor stores but now largely extinct. While renovation has afflicted the separate dining room next door, the cavernous bar area of Smith's seems untouched by the wave of renewal that has brought the likes of Red Lobster and Bubba Gump to nearby Times Square.

A bright green menu panel above the steam tables opposite the bar advertises pigs' knuckles, knockwurst and lamb stew, and the Irish barmen, in ties and white shirts, serve their lunchtime customers--a scattering of men bent over newspapers and racing forms--with curt, dishrag-snapping efficiency. As traffic hurtles by on Eighth Avenue and Midtown sandwich shops fill with office workers clutching cellphones, the thick air of Smith's murky depths seems to retard one's movements and slow the day's cascade of thoughts.

That a place like Smith's still exists in Midtown is a testament to the bipolar nature of New Yorkers, who are obsessed with the new and trendy and yet fiercely protective of old haunts and habits."

18 comments:

Gregoire Alessandrini said...

This the saddest piece of news of the month ! Loved this place when hanging out in the old Times Square...It was maybe the last real old New York dive bnar of the area with the crowd of locals that goes with it ! I have a shot of the bar taken in the 90's on my blog... Whatever happened to My Manhattan ?

GA
NY in the 1990's Photo Archives:http://galessandrini.blogspot.fr/

Dennis Barbarito said...

I awaken and find this as one of the saddest stories to start my my. I lived down the block on 44th street for many years.Smith's was without a doubt a shelter and an oasis to escape the ever visiting crowds coming ti New York City. They had the old Irish bartenders
who wore ties and who bought you a drink back after you bought three drinks. I would take people inside and tell them that Smith's at one point had at least one murder a year inside. One year a rookie cop on New Years Eve sat down in a booth in the back depressed and shot his head off. Another time a German tourist was shot dead in Smith's because he didn't understand English and didn't understand to hand over his wallet to the mugger. One of the most famous incidents is that a stripper who worked at then Show World was murdered and dumped behind Smith's back. I also had the luck to pick up a Show World stripper when drinking in there one night. The bathroom always had piss on the floor and the old pull down cloth to dry your hands which never worked. They dried to gentrify the place by bringing in young girls as bartenders with their breasts sticking out. They had no idea of the history or the area , and the place went downhill.I was in there the night with JOBA and the mites in the Yankee playoffs. I can truly say that this was my single favorite bar in New York City for many years. A single great loss for New York City, the now homw of white bread.

Walter said...

This is truly heartbreaking! From the mid 70s through the late 90s I used to patronize this place, while waiting for dailies at Technicolor at 123 West 44th Street. Just another nail in the coffin.

Anonymous said...

I walk past here a couple of times a week because I love old neon signs and theirs is a great, classic one. Will sorely be missed. That whole block/area is so different from just 6-7 years ago. There's just one smut shop & strip joint left. No Travis Bickle round here anymore. Ohhhh New York, sadly you've changed.

Richard Federico said...

@ Anonymous 3:50, Funny you should mention Travis Bickle, because it was his fantasy a big fain would come to clean up this city and get rid of all the scum. Well Travis, How do you like your city now?

Anonymous said...

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

This was one of the best, last dives left. THIS was a great place to drink cheaply, in a semi-seedy environment, and get wrecked before heading to a show.

Now it's all clean, cookie-cutter pubs.

I hate this city more every day.

StevePhilly said...

Bummer. I used to have a late night/early morning drink after getting off work at The NY Times back in the summer of 1970. Been back only once or twice since, but it was truly "old" New York.

Anonymous said...

No great loss. Old man hang out. Good riddance.

Anonymous said...

Late 70's Smiths was a great place to get drunk if you only had a few bucks in your pocket,but always had to look over your shoulder when in the area. I used to take off my watch while commuting thru port authority back then. Dangerous sure, but do miss immensely.

ShatteredMonocle said...

You can see the sign in the intro to Night Court. What would Dan Fielding think of today's New York?

laura r. said...

woudnt ever step in a place like that. i will definitly miss seeing it from the window on the 8th ave bus. these are markers, you know where you are. how do you know if every other street has a rite aid? havnt been to NYC in 6 years, is it still there?

Anonymous said...

The last of the great dive bar institutions - ocasionally came in from Jersey to hang out. Another case of landlord greed forcing out the places that made Manhattan great. My kids even frequented the place(unbeknownst to me). I will miss Smith's. Here's one for you guys.

John said...

I live and hang out in the area, word is it is not closing but being renovated but we shall see.

Anonymous said...

Aaaagh!

The original Oak Bar closing was one thing, but this is a bridge too far.

I think Carl from the Simpsons said it best when he conferred with Moe:
Carl: You ain't thinking of getting rid of the dank, are you, Moe?
Moe: Ehh...maybe I am.
Carl: Oh but Moe, the dank. The dank!

The dank has officially been removed from Times Square, and we're all the poorer for it.

Sofia Cardenas Tanaskovic said...

O no

John Zucco said...

Real sad to hear that this place is closing. First time I went there was 1969. I used to love just sitting there and watching all the crazy people walking by on 8th Ave. I spent many a night there 1, 2, 3 in the morning just hanging out. Dam, I could always count on Smiths Bar to be there when I hit NYC, but no more. Real sad.

Joris said...

A sad surprise on another first NY morning. It used to be a tradition to me to start off a new NY trip with breakfast at Smith's...

NewYorkerToo said...

Please forgive me... as I am a gentrification hating New Yorker as well... but why are we glorifying and glamorizing this place?

Every time I go to blogs like this posting about how "New York isn't the same", I want to agree but it seems like the blog and comment section are full of all these people sympathizing with and missing the Manhattan bars where where rockstars were shooting up, committing suicide, and getting mugged like it was the best NYC it could be.

Yeah, I am only 25 years old so I can't maybe "truly understand" old NYC but something tells me that if a bar like this vanished in East New York, Brooklyn the people would be applauding how we've cleaned up the streets of where thugs and vandals gather...

I hate the fact that NYC is getting way superficial and too expensive for average people. I'm especially not here for the crimes against marginalized/minority groups. I'm not rooting for Taylor Swift's New York but I can't miss places like this either.

I'm open to any thoughts on this.