I recently paid what I expect to be my final visit to the Emerald Inn, the small but sweet Irish pub on Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side. Chased out by an astronomical rent hike ($17,500 to $35,000 a month, thank you very much), the 70-year-old bar will close May 1. It will be replaced by a Kate Spade store. The semi-good news is that the Emerald will relocate to a new space on W. 72nd Street.
I have an innate respect and affection for any old, weatherbeaten, New York survivor. But, that said, my main interest in the Emerald—and the reason it will hurt when it's gone—is its status as a location for my second-favorite New York movie, Billy Wilder's "The Apartment." (My favorite is "The Sweet Smell of Success.") When Jack Lemmon's C.C. Baxter learns that the love of his life, elevator operator Fran Kubelik (played by Shirley MacLaine) is the mistress of his unctuous boss, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred McMurray), he retreats to this bar and gets smashed on Christmas Eve, all the while wearing his new bowler hat.
I gave the bar a long look as I sipped at my beer. Something wasn't right. Parts of it looked like the bar in "The Apartment." But the joint wasn't nearly big enough. The scene in the movie shows a long bar, angled on either end, with stools on all three sides. The Emerald's current bar is stubby, and cuts off abruptly at the far end—the end where Baxter and his pick-up of the evening, Margie MacDougall, swilled their drinks. The website Scouting New York, which did an extensive post on the locations seen in "The Apartment" noticed the same thing. So I began asking questions.
The bartender confirmed that, around 1976, the bar had been remodeled and shortened. The Emerald has always served food. But back in the old days, when city regulations weren't so stringent, the cooking was done in a shack out back. When the City put the kibosh on that dicey arrangement, the bar was forced to bring the kitchen inside. Something had to give, so the bar was cut in half.
Not a lot remained of the old Emerald after that redo. There was once a door toward the back of the bar that led into the office building next door. That is gone. The jukebox that Baxter and Margie dance to is long gone as well. But the wooden top of the bar was preserved and is the same wood that Lemmon leaned his elbows on more than a half century ago.
The bartender said that little of the interior would likely make the move to 72nd Street. The new space is already completely outfitting and doesn't need a bar or booths or anything. Moreover, people have been in asking to buy the furnishing. So there's no chance that the new Emerald will evoke the old Emerald seen in "The Apartment."
The bartender finally said there was one possible bright spot to being forced out. Kate Spade might decided to removed the dropped ceiling and restore the original pressed tin ceiling that lies under it. If so, that will be the only part of the old Emerald that will remain in the handbag shop.