Alarmed by the rumors swirling around the classic Manhattan bar Bill's Gay Nineties, I paid a call on the former speakeasy to raise a glass, stare at the old boxing posters and theatrical bills and see what I could learn. The blue-blazered swells around me were swilling their Cutty and waters and dirty Martinis as if nothing were amiss. Very likely, they had not read the reports in the New York Post and Crain's that Bill's had declared bankruptcy and was being courted by the oily downtown scene-meister John DeLucie (The Lion, Waverly Inn, etc.)
I asked the bartender how much peril Bill's was facing exactly. He intimated in so many words that the owner of the old tavern—who as sitting there at the bar—wanted nothing to do with DeLucie, and that they were the victim of a spiteful landlord who was messing around with the fate of the bar. "We're not going anywhere," he said.
This confused me all the more. So, this is my guess. Bill's, wrestling with the recession, got behind in their rent. The rankled landlord, trying to scare Bill's into ponying up, started pimping the joint to carpetbaggers.
Meanwhile, just in case things go south, I took a few photos of the wonderful interior. The intricate weave of that swinging door above is pure, unbroken carved wood. Beautiful. The wooden phone booth is still there, but, alas, no longer has a phone in it, like so many other phone booths around town.