Monday, February 3, 2014

Slugger Ann

Reader Joe Preston writes in with photos of a vanished gem, "I thought you might find some interest in this photo of my Grandmother’s bar, Slugger Ann’s Bar & Grill, circa 1960 on the NW [correction: NE] corner of 12th Street & 2nd Avenue."

Slugger Ann's, photo courtesy of Joe Preston

Joe says, "She owned it from the early 50s until her death in 1980. She is also the grandmother of my first cousin and godfather, Jackie Curtis of the Warhol Factory. (Our Mothers were sisters.) Slugger Ann, as she is most famously known, was not only the super for this building, but the Village East Cinema diagonally across the street as well, where Jackie and Peter Hujar also lived. Jackie also lived in a small studio in this building, which has the address of 301 East 12th St. It was a first floor apartment."

He adds, "The Naked City TV series along with Kojak was filmed here many times."

shot from Naked City

After Slugger Ann's, the bar became Dick's, a gay dive that closed without warning in 2007. Now it's the fratty-looking 12th Street Ale House.

Melba LaRose recalled the bar to Warhol Stars, "It was a typical Lower East Side bar--this was before we called it the East Village. A lot of local characters hanging out, and Slugger was the biggest character of all. Jackie could often be found at the bar, in whichever gender. His doctor said it was amazing how his body survived going back and forth so many times with the hormones. I remember when he called and was on his way to visit me in LA, a friend said, 'Aren't you going to dress up?' I said, 'For Jackie? Are you kidding? I don't even know what sex he'll arrive in.'"

Jackie grew up with Slugger Ann, and often wore her clothes. Which made sense. Slugger was quite the glamorous lady.

Slugger Ann circa 1950, photo courtesy of Joe Preston

She was also tough as nails. Joe explained how his grandmother got the name Slugger:

"She worked as a taxi dancer in dance clubs, along with my mother and my aunt, in both the Times Square area and Union Square, and when the male customers got 'fresh' with putting their hands where they shouldn't have gone, she hauled off and let them have it. She also belted her female co-workers when they got out of hand. She continued this slug fame during the 50s and 60s, and even some of the 70s when she and my grandfather Joe would physically throw patrons out of the bar when they got drunk and disorderly. She was short in height, but made up for it with a tough Sicilian demeanor and fists like cured hams. Believe me, you didn't want to mess with her."

Slugger Ann circa 1955, photo courtesy of Joe Preston

Joe Preston produced and directed Jackie's play Glamour, Glory, and Gold at LaMaMa in 2003, and was the associate producer on the movie Superstar in a Housedress, directed by Craig Highberger, about the life of Jackie Curtis.

He hopes to make a film about his family, with their hundred-year history on the Lower East Side, his cousin and the Warhol scene, and his charismatic grandmother.

Slugger and husband Joe Verra, circa 1960, photo courtesy of Joe Preston

From Superstar, here's Leee Black Childers describing his first meeting with Slugger Ann, a tough "bleach-blonde woman with this marcelled hair" and "red, red lipstick and black, black mascara...with kindness and love in her eyes."

Update: Joe just sent in this article with Slugger Ann in boxing gloves:

Updated update: Here's Slugger Ann with her pet monkey, Rufus, circa 1970, in front of the bar. Writes Joe, "Notice that 2nd Avenue is still cobblestone. Every car you drove in rumbled over those bricks! Rufus was eventually confiscated by the ASPCA for biting someone. She never got over that, kind of heartbroken."


Ms. said...

Swell remembrance. Hope the film gets made.

kingofnycabbies said...

Isn't that the NE corner?

Anonymous said...

NE corner at 2nd Ave and 12th, I think.

Mark said...

Between Slugger Ann's and Dick's, there was a bar called La Bamba's.

I lived on 12th Street and remember the old lady and her dogs sitting in lawn chairs on the sidewalk out the bar on hot days. There were several yappy chihuahuas running around and getting yelled at.

Quite a few very interesting people live(d) in that immediate vicinity.

Alex in NYC (Flaming Pablum) said...

I hate to correct you JM, but after Slugger Ann's, it was probably a number of different venues. In the early 90's, it was a bar called The Dragon Bar (the first place I ever heard both "Smells like Teen Spirit" and "There's No Other Way" by Blur). That closed by 92 or so and THEN it became Dick's.

Jeremiah Moss said...

That's okay, I don't feel corrected.

Anonymous said...

This was called something else, I think, between when it was no longer Slugger Ann's and when it became Dick's. I remember going to a couple of film-shorts showings in the back some time in the mid-eighties by M. Henry Jones and someone else. I'm pretty sure it wasn't called Dick's at the time and I'm also pretty sure that the Slugger Ann's decor was long-gone.

Anyone else remember that?

Anonymous said...

Yes! LaBamba!!! That was the name of it when I was there.

Romy Ashby said...

One of your best, JM. Wonderful.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Romy, I knew that one'd be up your alley.

Anonymous said...

Dragon Bar at one time between Slugger Ann and dick's.

Anonymous said...

Between La Bamba and Dicks it was known as WGAF (Who Give a F...).

But Dicks had the best jukebox ever. I miss that place.

Muzz said...

Wow. Now that's local color!

Poep Sa Frank Jude said...

Yeah, it was La Bamba, a drag-queen and punk spot where I worked for about two years or so. VERY colorful. The stories I could tell! Even wrote a song about the place, begins:

"Paris and Laverne, were sitting at the bar
when Donna walked in, she called Paris a whore.
It was 4 AM, closing time for a fight.
I should have known 'cause it happened most every night.
There was no time to think; I jumped across the bar;
Put myself between 'em, took a left hook to my jaw.
My head was reeling; my ass, it hit the floor.
Just a lesson they taught me, one of many more.

These women were men, and I was just a boy..."

And very briefly, before it was WGAF, we called it "Heaven" after the Talking Heads song and "Pravda" but that was only among the regulars.... no signage for either of these names.

Andy said...

La Bamba is mentioned in the David Wojnarowicz biography by Cythia Carr that every last one of your readers should read. I loved this bit about Slugger Ann's. I hung out there when it was Dick's Bar, after The Bar (also in the Wojnarowicz bio) closed after a fire in the mid-90s. Dick's was famous for strong drinks and up to 5 coke dealers blatantly dealing to all comers. It was a hoot, though there was a lull after they send Carlos up the river. When he was there, he'd take over the men's bathroom and toss out bags of coke and x like he was dealing cards. We even did lines ON the bar! Ah, halcyon memories...

Ann said...

Next door, downstairs, Mie Restaurant, still my favorite Japanese restaurant though long gone. It was there for over 35 years, 3 owners, the last owner, Mr Suzuki, was also the sushi chef and a great guy. I think he owned Mie the longest. We were there usually once a week. Slugger Ann's was next door. It was a great time.

SAYZ said...

Ahhhh, SLUGGER ANN'S! If those walls could talk, they'd be screaming! Jackie seemed to enjoy friends dropping in to help pass the time as Curtis would serve up mostly shots and beers, to truckers, cab drivers, and tough looking locals. Slugger Ann and her strange assortment of Chihuahua's would often be there, too. Slugger would warn you against letting "Chi Chi" lick your face if you bent down to pet the little beasts " Chi-Chi's a shit eater!" she'd say.
Candy Darling also had a short career bartending there but Slugger Ann told Curtis "That girl is beautiful but she's only wearing a slip to work!"
The back of the bar had photos of Slugger Ann, Aunt Josie and Jackie with lots of crazy little knick knacks scattered throughout. The Juke Box was interesting, too - including "Blood Red Roses" from a soundtrack of a movie Jackie recorded for the film.
Slugger Ann's apt. connected to the bar and was furnished in a time capsule filled with French Provincial. Occasionally Jackie would hold up in a one room little place on the other side of the bar with an entrance on 12th St.when he was between places(which was often.) Many times, after pulling an all-nighter, I'd escort Jackie to that little place.
I remember once Slugger Ann's was even listed on "Places To Visit" for out of towners.
I know everyone that lived through that period in New York says the same thing BUT it was a magic and very special time and Jackie had a lot to making it so.

Unknown said...

Only experienced 12th st during my brief 5 year stint in the east village. Though every time I return i am pleased to see it's still there, unlike so many other places that were around between 2007-2012.

Between that time, 12th st became a quasi San Francisco 49er bar on Sundays because across the street was the main 49er bar in the city and would often get packed.. so on Sunday 49er fans would fill in.

I watched the Saints - 49ers playoff game there in Jan 2012.. was probably the most exciting game ever and watching it at 12 st is a major memory of mine. Bartender and I hit it off too but I never called her.