Bill’s Gay Nineties, in Midtown Manhattan, opened during the Prohibition and has not closed since. Sadly, the much loved bar is set to be shut down on 24th March as Noel Tynan, the Ireland-based landlord, refuses to negotiate the bar’s lease.
The current tenant, Barbara Bart Olmsted, took over the business from her father, who had bought the bar from Bill himself. She told the New York Times that while she plans to open another bar elsewhere, she and her staff are mourning the loss of Bill’s Gay Nineties.
Olmsted said “It’s like losing a loved one...It’s all so surreal. We’re operating. We’re busy. Yet we’re not going to be here after March.”
Last summer, Olmstead told her landlord in Dublin that she would match any competitor’s rent. He refused her offer and was unavailable to speak with the Times on the matter.
There are unconfirmed rumors that John DeLucie, the chef and trendy restaurant owner, may take the spot.
Brian Trainor (68) a greeter at Bill’s Gay Nineties said, “When you think of a place that has been through so much for so long...and then you go out and look at all these cookie-cutter places, they have no heart. They have no soul.”
Most of the bar’s staff has been with them for decades. Aldo Leone (88), for example, started working there in 1965 and still works one night a week as a greeter. He is a close relative of the famed restaurateur Mama Leone.
Sergio Gobbi (48) has worked as a waiter in the bar for 16 years and is among one of the youngest staff members.
The establishment’s patrons include generations of family members as well as younger clientele. In fact, one of their piano players, Elliot Paul, who is in his 70s, has recently learned to play Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” and Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” to keep with the times.
Inside Bill’s Gay Nineties is described as “museumlike”. The walls are lined with playbills dating back to the 1910s, including stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and a signed poster of “Buffalo Bill”.
In 1924, Bill Hardy, a jockey and boxer, and his wife opened the bar and restaurant as a speakeasy. He modelled it on the 1890s, creating what may have been New York’s first retro bar.
It was built with a trick bar so it could withstand raids during the Prohibition. A lever at the side of the bar, when used, would shuttle the bottles of liquor down a chute into a sand-filled pit in the basement. A false brick wall in the basement masks the room where the liquor landed.
O.B. Bart bought the business from Hardy in 1965 and a year later, Barbara joined him in running it. She fell in love with it and now lives on the top floor of the building. She’s even married to one of the bars patrons, Jack Sheehy. In 1979, her father died and since then she’s barely changed a thing.
Olmsted plans to move the restaurant including the woodwork, bar, and pictures, to a new location.