Monday, January 5, 2009

Holiday Cocktail Lounge

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."

*1/19 UPDATE
*2/6 UPDATE: Stefan has passed on

my flickr

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:
Blarney Cove
Mars Bar
Holland Bar (gutted)
Dick's (vanished)
George's (vanished)

Grieve visits Port 41 and the Subway Inn
Ken snaps Dublin House and Smith's
Lost City lists 8 dives


Ken Mac said...

seems like some enterprising hipster would take this as his own personal cause. I mean, what a great place to entertain anyone you can possibly think of. How freaking sad.

esquared™ said...

Walked passed-by there on Friday night thinking I can get a drink and perhaps catch Sheila, and I saw the doors were closed. I thought Holiday Cocktail lounge was just on a holiday. Didn't think it was going to close so soon, without warning. I go there to drink away my sorrows 'coz of the gentrification of EV. Now, where am I gonna do that? I can't even get a 40 and drink that in Tompkins Square Park, either. And there's no way in hell I'm going to a hotel or wine bar.

henry said...

Ken, I think the problem with that is that the bartender hated everyone. Not as much as his son, who hated everyone and also seemed to hate Stefan because he wouldn't sell the building, but part of what made the Holiday the Holiday was the possibility that you'd go in, and Stefan would just refuse to serve you. So I don't think that a person could necessarily decide to save this place and do it.

I once went in with some friends, and Stefan wanted us to sing with him and we tried, and some of us did it well enough that he served us, but some of us didn't. I didn't. I tried, and tried, but that night, he just hated me. It was one of the best nights out I ever had.

And one sunday afternoon, we went and there was a woman there who claimed to be Peg from the Steely Dan song. That's the kind of place this is (was?).

Parth said...

It'd really suck if this had to close down. I love that bar. It was a perfect place to get drunk for cheap and not be annoyed (well fine on weekdays) by midtown yuppies.

Anonymous said...

Sad. I moved out of the city saveral years ago and when I would visit I would try to hit up at least one of my favorite bars. Scrap Bar, Kettle of Fish, Holiday & The Punch Bowl (in the Bronx). Well 1 out of 4 isn't bad.. oh wait it sucks. I feel older somehow.

Anonymous said...

Mother of mercy. There is no God.

Anonymous said...

Sutek, it looks like Scrapbar closed too:

esquared, there's always Mars Bar, or Blue & Gold.

But the Holiday was my favorite dive of all. Every day a little death.

Kevin Walsh said...

I was last in there 3 years ago. Shame if Stefan and the Lounge are gone..

Anonymous said...

i go there every other friday :( this past friday i stood there quite confused. said...

I had some good afternoons in the Holiday when I was a drinker. I learned there at the bar about Celine ("He sounds like Celine!") and discovered a very funny & conflicted but honest writer. That is one day in the Holiday that was a good one. They weren't all.

Anonymous said...

I don't really understand the attraction of these places ie. dive bars--maybe because I don't drink??but the smell of beer and old piss are not attractive to me --coffee houses are better to me. BUT dark,smokey mystery is still good--and debauchery is the goal.

Silence said...


"Maybe because I don't drink"

That is exactly the reason you don't can't won't ever understand.

Though you should also realize that the smell of beer and old piss didnt occur in these bars until 2003 when the NYC smoking ban went into effect.

The smell was always just cigarettes.
And that will never come back unfortunately no matter how long these bars last.

Grade "A" Fancy said...

Something about the term "dive bar" really bugs me. There are neighborhood bars, and saloons, and taverns, and some of them are dives, but it seems that when I started reading "dive bar" in places like Time Out those joints (like, say, Peter McManus or the Subway Inn) would then often be infested with frat-boy types who wanted to take them over, or guffawing hipsters.

Can anyone open a neighborhood bar any more? The closest we can come seems to be pre-fab Irish bars.

Unknown said...

Call me optimistic but I feel he will be out of the hospital and opening those doors again. Also, I hope he is ok but I thought he owned the whole building and one would think whomever obtains the deed would keep the bar alive upon his passing as a tribute. After all the lounge is a staple here.

Anonymous said...

Truly one of the last vestiges of the old EV. I remember particular nights from 1982, 1984, 1988.....
The only bar where I didn't need to speak English with the bartender.

Syd The Squid said...

this makes me so sad... i consider Stefan a friend, or at least a friendly supplier of vodka... many, many hours were spent there... do you know of any links to photos of the ghost people on the booth walls?

Jeremiah Moss said...

sorry, don't know where to find the ghost people

Sam said...

Is the East Village as a whole vanishing into the night, along with NYC?

Anonymous said...

What a drag. Holiday was one of those places you could go to drink, smoke and relax without being jostled or annoyed by loudmouths. When the last of these places closes, New York will move closer to being the white-washed characterless city it's already becoming. Rage, rage against the dying of the dark!

Anonymous said...

I rember the joy of finding a $3 cocktail on Manhatten island. However, I remeber the pain of ordering a vodka soda and recieving an Amstel Light from the old man behind the bar. One of the greatest jukebox lists I've ever seen with a bathroom that really made you wonder if civilization has progressed much since Roman times. Holiday Cocktail Lounge will be missed. Who will duct tape the lounge chairs of our favorite St Mark's dive now? I know I won't.

Miss you more than you know,


Jesse Archer said...

0h yes, the duct taped booths! 89 year old Stefan was so surly sweet, smelled like a rotting carcass, spoke with a whisper, and the last time I was in there he was asked about his health, and he produced a can of "ensure" - that drink old people are told to drink to keep on weight.
When I walk by, I peek in on a "death watch" and always find myself smiling to see that old fossil tending bar. When I came from holidays, I found the place shuttered. Goodnight, old man.

Anonymous said...

I drank there on Saturday. There was a blond woman tending the bar. So hold out hope.

Anonymous said...

He is gone...may he rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

Here's to you Stefan.

spackle said...

I know this is a dead thread but just had to comment. I spent the latter half of the 80's in that joint and will always remember it. I met one of the loves of my life there. I remember about five years after we broke up I stopped in on a rainy tuesday afternoon for a drink. The place was empty except for a few old bar flies. I sat at one of my favorite booths with the duct tape, sloping seat and old lighting when in walked my ex. She looked at me I looked at her and we cracked up. We shared a drink and reminisced. The table where I picked her up many years before was still there.

After she left I had one more drink. As I walked out the door I took one last look around. I knew I would never come back. And now it appears I couldn't even if I wanted to. RIP Stefan. RIP Holidays. Thank you for being a part of a young mans life.

joystick said...

Oh Lord, I discovered the Holiday way back in the day. Maybe 1980 when the East Village was 'edgy' Stefan used to not charge me for drinks and many a great night was spent there. It was perfect, seedy enough to be interesting, but safe for an English 20 year old to let her hair down a little. God Bless Stefan.

EVLGroovyChick said...

I practically lived at the Holiday from 1987-1993. I used to avoid amateur nights like Halloween, New Years Eve and the dreaded St. Patrick's Day. My friend Darrell painted the group painting which is in photos of the place, I hope was saved. I though it really captured the space. Stefan and his dog were in the painting. The folks in that painting were real regulars, unfortunately I forgot some of their names. Legend had it that the Rolling Stones wanted to shoot just waiting on a friend at the Holiday. Stefan said "NO". So, they moved to the St. Mark's Bar across the street and shot the video there. Madonna used to hang out there, before I arrived on the scene. I heard she was a "real piece of work"... Anyway, I was surprised to see that the Holiday was in the Basketball Diaries. (I guess Roman had the final say on that one.) I remember Stefan and Peter the best. Peter looked like Alfred Hitchcock. Both tended bar, both were cranky old guys. But, if you would just smile and say "please" and "thank you" and showed respect, the good times & drinks would flow. Stefan used to have his dogs in the bar. I started hanging out there because of his dogs. If a person showed up early enough, you could bring in food. There was even a stretch when I couldn't drink because of health problems. I'd go to the bodega around the corner, buy a big ass bottle of Evian and bring it into the bar and sit with my friends. I was the only person allowed to do that... Before I left town in '93, the place was really going to the Yupsters. Thanks to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video, you couldn't even go into a bar without some bridge and tunnel kids moshing to juke box tunes. (Of course I still love Nirvana.) Needless to say that didn't go over well when the NYU kids got their mosh on. I was blessed to be friends with Stefan, George, Roman, Peter and Mike. I was even fortunate to get "Punk Rock Girl" put on the juke box! I used to manage East Village Leather and when I wasn't at work, I'd be at the Holiday or Finnian's Rainbow, then on to King Tut's Wah Wah Hut, Alcatraz, Downtown Beruit, the Village Idiot and then on to the Limelight, Cat Club, or Continental if a good band was playing. The 6 1/2 years I called the East Village home were a blur, but what a great blur it was! Thank you Lutak family! I hope you all are on the next great chapter of life. Every time I hear REM's "End of the World" and Dead Milkmen's, "Punk Rock Girl", I'm instantly transported back in time to the glory days of my "booth time" at the Holiday. We even discerned that there was a "Booth From Hell" at the Holiday. It was the booth on the back right corner. Every time we'd sit in that booth, bad times were had by one and all for the evening. We used to say it was cursed. Folks would break-up, hook-up with the wrong people, get overly drunk, get into fights. That booth was truly from Hell!

Sounds like Stefan passed in 2009. While I've left the puzzle palace of binge drinking behind, I often think of my time at the Holiday. Friends I've lost touch with and glimpses of "classic" nights. I miss the ghosts of the Holiday. (There was so much cigarette smoke over the years that there were outlines of where people sat etched on the walls.) My clothes would stink of cigarettes even when people weren't smoking... With all that being said, the holiday was not a dive! It was a great old-man Ukrainian bar! Long Live the Holiday Cocktail Lounge! Thanks for the memories and lack there of! xoxo Shonda

R.Lutak said...

Thank You Shonda...I really appreciate the memories you brought up...yes the Rolling Stones wanted to but I didn't allow a free ride for a video they expected to do without ante up.
Basketball Diaries was my call..looking back it was fun doing that one...And yes...Craig got the painting since I knew he'd give it a good home...only left in painting[alive] Walter and Susan[at far right]....It was a tough decision but it ended at the right time[even though there is no right time] Campfire stories from a diffrent time.

Warren Bobrow said...

I walked by the Holiday the other day. The ghosts of the past are still there, just a bit further out of reach. There was construction going on inside. The awning was still intact. It still is always a Holiday at the Holiday. I fear for my dreams of the past. When I saw William Burroughs and he invited a group of us up to his hell hole of an apartment- more of a flop house- off the Bowery. He shot up and proceeded to read naked lunch from memory. it was riveting and humbling. The Holiday brought people from all walks of life. From punks who fell in from a night of hanging out. To authors and dreamers. To down on their luck men broken by the street. to kids like myself who knew it was cool to be there at 16.

Dante Ross said...

I learnt how to drink here when i was 15 years old. I had a fake ID, 5 bucks in my pocket and game faced myself passed Walter the lanky "Bouncer/Doorman". I was six feet and 135 pounds of punk rock mischief. Me and my friend circa 1980 made this our home away from home and hung here hardcore for the next several years. It was my pre gaming favorite, it closed early and it's were I learnt the science of drinking boilermakers the marvels of John Dewars Black Label and a Cold Beer back.

I eventually ran a tab there at 16 years of age, borrowed money from Roman, Walter and Stefan at various times and sold dimes of dirt weed in the back booth upon occasion. It was an amazing place to sew my oats. I knew all the bartenders raised a ruckus there, learnt how to score with older chicks and had a blast. It was more more educational than HS thats for sure.

It prepare me for my career later in life. The Holiday along with the long gone Park Inn tavern, the still standing Lucys ( Blanchards to me buddy!) and Blue and Gold it was where I lost my innocence. What a great scene in those early 80's before NY got corny. God bless