29 November 2011

More Sad Bill's Gay Nineties News

This article in Crain's may explain the upsetting recent news that a snazzy local restauranteur John DeLucie has been talking to the owners of the former midtown speakeasy Bill's Gay Nineties about renovating and taking over the W. 54th Street saloon: 

One of the city's oldest restaurants, Bill's Gay Nineties, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The Prohibition-era establishment, located in a five-story townhouse at 57 E. 54th St., has been unable to negotiate a lease extension with the building's landlord, according to the filing.
Its owner, Barbara Olmsted, wrote in the filing that she still hopes to reach an agreement with the landlord or to move the business to a nearby location.
Ms. Olmstead owes just $40,000 in back rent. The business' other debts are relatively small, as well. The estimated total liabilities are between $100,000 and $500,000.
“It looks like it's a straight-up landlord dispute, in which the tenant is trying to buy more time” said bankruptcy attorney Fred Stevens, a partner of Klestadt & Winters.
The filing also blames the bankruptcy on the recession and “the difficult climate facing New York restaurants.”
Ms. Olmsted did not return several phone calls nor did her attorney, Lawrence Morrison. Her father, O.B. Bart bought Bill's Gay Nineties in 1965 and she took over the business in 1979. The Bart family is only the second owner of the speakeasy, once a watering hole for some of Hollywood's most famous names including Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe.

This news came as a surprise to me. I always assumed Bill's owned the building and that was one of the reasons it had stayed in business for so long.


upstate Johnny G said...

This is some of the WORST NEWS I have heard in many many years. A few years ago I had a very nice conversation there with the owner's partner who told me that she did not own the building but that because the air rights had been sold long ago they believed there was no development pressure that would force them out. And now this. If I were a Wall St wolf I'd jump in and bail them out. I would. 40 grand is about 5 percent of the bonus that your typical mid-level Streeter got last year for crying out loud. If you saw the movie "Michael Clayton" you saw Bill's, because that was where the wake was held for the murdered partner. It's an incredible place, absolutely dripping with history. The day I had the conversation mentioned above Barbara's partner took me upstairs to the second floor dining room, where the walls are covered with framed posters from Broadway shows circa the teens thru the twenties. ARRGGGHHHH!!!!

Another time friend of mine from Nepal was visiting the USA for the first time. He's a trekking/mountain guide and had never been at sea level before, and he was just bursting with energy all day and night, so one night we went out for a walk starting up at 80th and York. We ended up at Bill's, where the piano singalong was going strong. As we sipped our drinks someone requested a Billy Joel song and my friend turned to me and said, "that Mr. Joel is a nice guy....always singing as we hiked and in the evening he would play this little guitar he brought with him." Knock me down with a feather, but what are the chances of that? That sums up the kind of stuff that always seems to happen to me at Bill's.

I'll be heading down there as soon as I can....to spend some money and soak up as much of the place as I can all the while hoping this can be staved off. Go early, go late, spend money help save Bill's!!

Grade "A" Fancy said...

I could have sworn they told me they owned the building. Arrgh. It was always ominous to see the 2nd and 3rd floors empty. Bill's is perhaps the only place I'm happy about climbing two sets of stairs to get to the ladies' room.

Marty Wombacher said...

This is bad news indeed! I agree with Johhny G, go and spend some dough! I'm going tonight. Thanks for your reports on this, Brooks, great work!