The location, in what was then a run-down part of New York City, first hosted a Ukrainian restaurant and bar, and later a bar that served as a meeting point for drug dealers. In 1964, Jerry Schultz opened it as a club and initially called it "Slugs' Saloon", the "slugs" being a reference to the "three-centered beings" and "terrestrial three-brained beings" mentioned in the book Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson by George Gurdjieff. Due to New York City regulations, the word "saloon" had to be dropped from the name. The venue was called "Slugs' in the Far East", due to its easterly location in the East Village. The interior of the club was longer than it was wide and the bandstand all the way in the back. It could fit 75 people but often held twice that. The bar was on the left side as one entered the venue. The wooden sign that hung outside the venue was carved by James Jackson.
During the mid-1960s it slowly started attracting regular jazz performances, developing a reputation as a musician's bar. In this period it became closely associated with free-jazz musician Sun Ra: from March 1966 through late 1967, Sun Ra and his Arkestra (billed as "Sun Ra and His Astro-Infinity Music") played regular gigs every Monday, and continued to play the venue irregularly thereafter.
By the late 1960s the club had grown a vibrant scene in its out-of-the-way location, with performances from prominent jazz musicians including Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman, among many others. Some of these performances were recorded, often surreptitiously, and appear on officially released or on bootleg albums. Audiences included a number of well-known artists and musicians, ranging from Larry Rivers to Paul H. Brown to Bob Thompson and Salvador Dalí. The venue saw the death of Lee Morgan on February 19, 1972, when he was shot at the bar by his common-law wife Helen More. The general demise of the neighborhood and his hard lifestyle as a club owner led Jerry Schulz to leave, and the club shut down in late 1972.
- Interview with Jerry Schulz (originally aired on Radio NZ National Music, Saturday 9 August 2014)
- Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson by G. I. Gurdjieff
- "Inside Slugs' Saloon, Jazz's Most Notorious Nightclub," JazzTimes 10 September 2015
- Interview with Jerry Schulz
- "Where was Slugs' located in NYC?" forum discussion
- John F. Szwed (1998). Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra. Da Capo Press. pp. 218–228. ISBN 0306808552.
- John F. Szwed (2000). Jazz 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Jazz. Hyperion. pp. 69–70. ISBN 0786884967.