Sunday, December 7, 2014

Goodbye Subway Inn

Last Friday night I had a last drink at the Subway Inn on East 60th Street. The property owners was evicting the 77-year-old Manhattan bar to erect a towering luxury condo. I first drank in the Subway back in 1977. It was a classic dive bar then and most recently my boss frowned upon hearing that I was heading there after work.

"People get killed at the Subay every weekend." Jeri comes from a good Upper East Side family. Those people don't associated with the lower classes in fear that they might be reminded of their roots.

"They do?" I quickly googled 'subway inn killings' only to find 'Yuppies Are Killing the Dive Bar'.

"It's a hellhole."

"Have you ever been in it?"

"Me?" The Suzanne Pleshette lookalike grimaced in horror.

"Then we're going after work. It's closing next week and you'll be able to thrill your friends with a slumming tale. When was the last time you slummed it?"

"A long time." Jeri was no square and she checked her Patek diamond watch. "Just one drink. Let's close."

The two of us walked the short distance from her jewelry store and she hesitated before entering.

"What if my husband sees me?"

"I know your husband. He's not a drinker. Certainly not in the Subway Inn, but I'll check first."

I stepped inside the bar. The crowd was mostly workers from Bloomingdales. Jeri's husband was not with them. I walked outside half-expecting for jerk to have cut out, but she was smoking a cigarette.

"He's not there."

"Then that's a plus." She loved her husband, but long relationship bred the urge to be alone for a few hours a day. "Drinks on me."

We sat at the bar. She ordered us gin-tonics.

With Bombay Gin.

"The glasses look clean."

"Who can tell in his light?" Night was eternal in the Subway Inn. "Here's to my first and last time at this dump."

We sipped at the gin-tonics. The first one went down smoothly. Jeri told me a story about her mother killing a diamond sale by telling the customer, "This ring isn't you."

"Your mother has a lot of character."

"That's a good word for it."

I liked Jeri's mother. The diminutive octogenarian regularly drove into the city from the Island. Ruth was a scary driver, but could find a parking space in front of our store like the space had her name on it. We talked to our drinking neighbors. Jeri had them in stitches about her performing a violin concerto at Carniege Hall in a state of shock.

"I don't remember playing a single note, but everyone applauded wildly at the end. My mother said, "Don't quit your day job."

"What was your day job? asked the young female Chinese bartender. Jeri and she and spent a good the minutes talking about men. Little of their conversation was good.

"Being my mother's daughter. Talk about working." Jeri heard a buzz. Someone was calling her. "My husband. I got to go."

She threw money on the bar.

"Keep the change." Jeri wasn't accustomed to hard liquor and I walked her several blocks home. The phone kept ringing, which she ignored,while smoking a cigarette. "Gin doesn't smell, does it?"

"Not at all."

"What about the Subway Inn?"

"A little. What dive doesn't?"

"And we didn't get killed either."

"No one gets killed at the Subway. Only a little Shitskah."

"You goys are never shitskahed."

"Not on Shabbas." The night was deep night this close to the solstice.

"It's Shabbas?" Jeri wasn't that religious.

"Until tomorrow night. Don't worry about opening the store tomorrow. I'll be your Shabbas goy." I was a good gentile to the Jews, although I preferred to think of myself as the Shabbas starker. We grew up tough on the South Shore of Boston.

"Thanks." Jeri liked to sleep in late.

Her doorman opened the door. He nodded to me. I wasn't coming up and caught the train back to Brooklyn.

I never made it back to the Subway Inn until today.

A steel gate covered the windows.

Closed for good after three-quarters of a century.

The Subway Inn opened a few years after the end of Prohibition.

The original owner, Charlie Ackerman, was reputed to be a cranky piece of work without a good word for anyone, which reminded me of Manny, my old boss man on 47th Street.

Supposedly Joe Dimaggio slummed there with Marilyn Monroe, would drop by after a dinner at the nearby restaurant Gino.

During the 1978 Blackout I took refuge at the bar after a failed attempt to break Fiorucci's front window to loot a gold lame Elvis Suit.

Gone, but not gone 100%, because the owner, Steven Salinas, will dislodge everything in the bar to a new location.; the bar stools, booths and neon sign will move two blocks east on 60th Street, to a spot near Second Avenue.

“The space will look exactly the same. Colors, floor and all! In fact, our replication architect is hard at work making sure our new home will be nearly identical.”

As for the hoity-toity residents of the Subway Inn Tower.


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