Monday, March 24, 2014

Broome Street Bar to Close


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."


Anonymous said...

This breaks my heart. I have such fond memories of the bar.

what a crying shame.

esquared™ said...

Maybe the Major Food Group will have another Gastronomic Recovery Project and preserve and elevate and authentrificate this place.

Caleo said...

I had one of those burgers in 1986 on my first visit to New York. The place had a great feel and look.
A shame to see it go, if that's what's happening.

michele said...

I grew up playing with Kenns younger daughter Audrey. We were greatest friends. I remember Kenns house on spring street being built, the inside an architectural gem.

The girls bathroom on the third floor had a ladder on the adjoining bedroom wall that led up to a " treehouse" situated atop the bathroom ceiling, under a skylight , if I remember correctly. Many imaginative moments were spent there.
Kenn then opened the restaurant bar many years later and it became a neighborhood institution . When this leaves, along with Miladys demise, all will be lost of the neighborhood we knew and loved....

muzz said...

How can this be...

JAZ said...


Anonymous said...

The fact that this corner has been a bar since the 1850's says a lot. It also says a lot that it's vacating.

Anonymous said...

It is also closing because the once legendary Broome St Bar burger of my childhood has been literally inedible for almost a decade. If they were still serving even remotely good food I'd be sad as I have many memories of eating here as a child, but the truth is that the food is awful and doesn't bear saving.

SoHo Knows said...

A true story of life in early SoHo, before the wussies moved in and when we had to fend for ourselves:

The bar had just opened a little while and two Italian "corner boys" from Thompson or Sullivan showed up and requested $25 a week protection money from Kenn. He refused.

A couple of days later, as he left at closing time, he got beat up.

The two Italians came back and asked if he needed protection. Reluctantly, he gave them $25.

"No, now it's $50"

(But I have to say Kenn was no pussy. I saw him stand up to some young punk and take a blow and then hit the guy back.)

I am not sure how long this protection racket flourished. I do know that a restaurant across West Bdwy got trashed when they refused to pay in the mid-late 80s.

I worked in an after-hours club in SoHo at the time, mostly gay blacks, but the owner was white.

One day, the thugs came into the storefront that we used as an entrance and began threateningly asking impertinent questions of the owner.

Some of his black friends came from the back when they heard the conversations. As soon as the bully boys saw these very muscular black gays, they turned around and left, as bullies usually do.

Still, I would take those days to the Yunnies, the hedge-funders, and trust-funders and the tourists who now infest it.

legba said...

re: Broome St. bar. Heard from a daughter that the landlord would only give a one year lease. Ken wanted a longer one. Something about wanting to sell the building. Too bad the staff can't take it over. It's really the last of the old Soho days, and there really goes the neighborhood.

TheresaKP said...

This is so sad! The Broome Street Bar has been one of my favorite restaurants for decades. The Pigwich & salad, along with a kick-a** Bloody Mary, is my dream meal. Not to mention the delightful atmosphere, decor & staff. This is a true loss for Soho.

Ian Tocher said...

I had many a good session in this bar in 1994. Mark Rigg the barman even let me watch the "soccer" as I'm English, even tho' nobody else seemed to care.

One of the best bars with some of the nicest, most genuine people I've ever encountered.

Sorry to see it closing.

Ian Tocher

PAC said...

Just saw this and my heart breaks. Many a Saturday afternoon spent at Bob and Kenn's in my youth during the 80's and 90's. Where's a white knight with a love of a cold pint, nice people, good music, great burgers and a nostalgic streak for old New York taverns when you need one.

Unknown said...

I guess things worked out, because I had lunch at the Broome Street Bar less than two months ago (October 2015) and it was in full operation, looking exactly as it always had, with the same bartender, same menu, same clientele. Since this "new:" of the closing was posted in 2014, I guess things changed.