Chumley's is a historic pub and former speakeasy at 86 Bedford Street between Grove and Barrow Streets in the West Village neighborhood of Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City. It was established in 1922 by the socialist activist Leland Stanford Chumley, who converted a former blacksmith's shop near the corner of Bedford and Barrow Streets into a Prohibition-era drinking establishment. The speakeasy became a favorite spot for influential writers, poets, playwrights, journalists, and activists, including members of the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation movements.
Some features remain from Chumley's Prohibition-era history. Notably, the Barrow Street entrance has no exterior sign, being located at the end of a nondescript courtyard ("The Garden Door"), while the Bedford Street entrance, which opens to the sidewalk, is also unmarked. Inside, Chumley's is still equipped with the trap doors and secret stairs that composed part of its elaborate subterfuge.
It is also rumored that the term "86" originated when an unruly guest was escorted out the Bedford St. door, which held the address "86 Bedford St." A different version referencing Chumley's is offered in Jef Klein's book The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York: "When the cops would very kindly call ahead before a [prohibition-era] raid, they'd tell the bartender to '86' his customers, meaning they should scram out the 86 Bedford door, while the police would come to the Pamela Court entrance."
A plaque at the tavern, dated September 22, 2000, and placed by Friends of Librarie USA, stated that Chumley's has been placed on a Literary Landmarks Register and goes on to describe Chumley's as:
A celebrated haven frequented by poets, novelists and playwrights, who helped define twentieth century American literature. These writers include Willa Cather, E.E. Cummings, Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Ring Lardner, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O'Neill, John Dos Passos, and John Steinbeck.
Posted on the walls of Chumley's were the covers of books supposedly worked on there. Because of its historical significance, Chumley's is a stopping-place for various literary tours.
Chumley's was closed after the chimney in its dining room collapsed on April 5, 2007.
A New York Times article on December 31, 2012 details the rebuilding process. The building that houses Chumley's is linked to four others, all damaged since the wall collapse in 2007. Several buildings are completed and are now condominiums. The space that housed Chumley's needed to obtain a new permit before it could re-open as a bar.
After extensive renovation, Chumley's officially re-opened on October 18, 2016 as a reservations-only dinner restaurant featuring upscale bar food and "mixology" drinks. The dining room is about 10% smaller in height and width than it was, because of the extent of the damage done by the collapse, and the "Garden Door" is permanently closed. The new owner is Alessandro Borgognone, who also owns the nearby Sushi Nakazawa, and the chef is Victoria Blamey.
In popular culture
Chumley's was mentioned in Mad Men (episode 7) as a place where the creative staff was going for after-work drinks. It was also mentioned in Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir, Fun Home, when Alison recalls being "eighty-sixed".
Chumley's played a part in an episode of the American TV series Elementary (Season 3, Episode 14) where Ben Reynolds, who stole two pregnant zebras from the zoo to de-extinct the quagga equine species, slipped out of his apartment, which was being watched by the police, by using the tunnels that were used to deliver liquor to Chumley's during Prohibition.
- Klein, Jef (2006). The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York.
- "Krader, Kate (October 18, 2016) "The Reborn Chumley’s Speakeasy Has a Burger Worthy of Hemingway" Bloomberg
- InspirationLine.com (2004). "Where did the term 'You've been 86'ed" come from?'".
- "The Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl". Archived from the original on May 31, 2007. Retrieved June 11, 2007.
- Harris, Elizabeth A. (December 31, 2012) "Slow Return for a Former Speakeasy That Crumpled" The New York Times
- Crowley, Chris (October 18, 2016) "After 9 Excruciating Years, Chumley’s Is Finally Open Again" Grub Street]
- Dai, Serena (October 18, 2016) "Historic Speakeasy Chumley’s Finally Reopens as a Restaurant Tonight" Eater New York
- Bechdel, Alison (2006). Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-618-87171-1.
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