Chumley’s Doors

Chumley’s is a historic pub and former speakeasy at 86 Bedford Street between Grove and Barrow Streets in Greenwich Village, New York City. It was established in 1922 by the socialist activist Leland Stanford Chumley, who converted a former blacksmith’s shop near the corner of Bedford and Barrow Streets into a Prohibition-era drinking establishment. The speakeasy became a favorite spot for influential writers, poets, playwrights, journalists, and activists, including members of the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation movements.

Chumley’s has no exterior sign. It’s located at the end of a nondescript courtyard (“The Garden Door”), while the Bedford Street entrance, which opens to the sidewalk, is also unmarked. Inside, Chumley’s is still equipped with the trap doors and secret stairs that composed part of its elaborate subterfuge.

The term “86” may have originated when an unruly guest was escorted out of the 86 Bedford St. door. A different version in Jef Klein’s book The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York: “When the cops would very kindly call ahead before a [prohibition-era] raid, they’d tell the bartender to ’86’ his customers, meaning they should exit via the 86 Bedford door, while the police would come to the Pamela Court entrance.”

A 9/22/2020 Literary Landmarks Register plaque describes Chumley’s as: A celebrated haven frequented by poets, novelists, and playwrights, who helped define twentieth century American literature. These writers include Willa Cather, E.E. Cummings, Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Ring Lardner, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O’Neill, John Dos Passos, and John Steinbeck.

Posted on the walls of Chumley’s were the covers of books supposedly worked on there. Owing to its historical significance, Chumley’s is a stopping-place for various literary tours.

The building that houses Chumley’s is linked to four others, all damaged since the wall collapse in 2007. Several buildings are completed and are now condominiums. The space that housed Chumley’s needed to obtain a new permit before it could re-open as a bar (New York Times of December 31, 2012).

Chumley’s re-opened on October 18, 2016 as a reservations-only dinner restaurant featuring upscale bar food and “mixology” drinks. The dining room is about 10% smaller in height and width than it was, and the “Garden Door” is permanently closed. The new owner is Alessandro Borgognone, who also owns the nearby Sushi Nakazawa. (source: Wikepedia)

7 thoughts on “Chumley’s Doors

  1. shoreacres 2020-05-24 / 7:16 pm

    I’ve only known the name ‘Chumley’ from Jacquie Lawson’s e-card site. She has both a cat and a dog as characters in some of her cards, and the dog is named Chumley. Now I’m wondering if might have drawn the name from the same source. Of course, she’s British, and Chumley may be a very common name there.

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    • Sherry Felix 2020-05-24 / 7:21 pm

      Chumley is an old name. Probably Scottish. Also people can also have a chumley voice, say if it is squeaky or husky and slurred. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • shoreacres 2020-05-24 / 7:22 pm

        Now I know something more about her imaginary dog! Perhaps it’s modeled after a real one with a husky bark.

        Like

  2. Eunice 2020-05-24 / 12:23 pm

    A very interesting post. Chumley’s sound fascinating, I’d love to get in there and explore the secret stairs and I love the idea of the cops giving the bartender pre-warning of an intended raid on the place 🙂

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  3. Anne 2020-05-24 / 11:05 am

    What an interesting read!

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    • Sherry Felix 2020-05-24 / 4:38 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it. I went there in the ’90’s when it was still a bar. When things loosen up I may try a dinner ther once.

      Like

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