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By Caroline Benveniste

On April 5, 2007, a chimney detached from a wall at 86 Bedford Street, the building that housed Chumley’s, and crashed into the bar area. Almost nine years later, the bar has yet to reopen, although many announcements of an imminent reopening were made throughout the years. The latest came last month when Jim Miller, former fireman and now Managing Partner of Chumley’s, announced a partnership with Alex Borgognone, the owner of Sushi Nakazawa, and projected a reopening date of May 2016.

Chumley’s history is long and interesting. The story begins in 1926 when Leland Chumley bought the property at 86 Bedford Street and combined the stable and house, dating from 1831, to form a speakeasy. According to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), the building’s configuration, its location, which abuts courtyards (as anyone who entered Chumley’s through the secret back door knows), and the addition of secret passageways, made it an ideal location for this use. Later, the bar became a popular literary hangout for such notable writers as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, and Norman Mailer. Rumor has it that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote parts of The Great Gatsby at Chumley’s.

The day the chimney collapsed, the Department of Buildings (DOB) issued a statement that said a number of things: 1) They were not considering demolition of the building, 2) There was a permit to remove and replace the landmarked façade, and 3) The owner had filed an application for interior work but no permit had been issued. As a result, the DOB issued three violations for working without a permit and unsafe construction practices. Other than the violations, things did not look that bad for Chumley’s, and the next day, The New York Times quoted a broker for the owners predicting that the bar would reopen in a month or two.

However, those who rejoiced at the news celebrated prematurely. As repairs proceeded, it became clear that the building would have to be razed. To make matters worse, the owner of Chumley’s also owned the adjacent building, at 84 Bedford Street, where a year earlier an almost identical collapse took place; that building had to be completely rebuilt as well.

Hope glimmered again in 2009, when Eater reported that Chumley’s was applying for a liquor license—a fact which led some to believe that it might be reopening soon. But Eater later reported that, according to a foreman at the site, the repairs would take at least another year.

The next news item came at the end of 2012, when the Times reported that the DOB had declared the building structurally sound. Grub Street followed up in early 2013 with a post entitled “Will Chumley’s Reopen in 2013?” stating that the bar was “practically ready to start serving cocktails and burgers.”

But Chumley’s did not reopen in 2013. In February 2014, the New York Post reported that some neighbors had formed a group called Bar Free Bedford which brought a lawsuit against the bar and the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA), hoping to force the SLA to revoke the bar’s liquor license. I spoke to some of these neighbors who said that, when they purchased their apartments, no one mentioned that a bar might be reopening at 86 Bedford. In fact, they say their brokers told them that the building would be residential.

In June 2014, the Post reported that the judge in the case encouraged the plaintiffs to settle, and on August 22, 2014, the judge dismissed the suit—a decision that Bar Free Bedford is appealing.

In April 2015, Bar Free Bedford was back with a new suit: this time they claimed that Chumley’s had lost its legal right to be grandfathered into that location because the business had been closed for more than two years.

In September 2015, Steven Schlopak, one of the owners of Chumley’s passed away after a year-long battle with brain cancer. On October 15th, the SLA Licensing Committee of Community Board 2 voted to grant Chumley’s a liquor license with stipulations; the full board endorsed Chumley’s liquor license application on October 22nd. On December 12th, Chumley’s submitted their application to the SLA and a 500 Foot hearing was held on January 7, 2016. The license is currently pending.

Jim Miller told me that he’d like people to understand what they are trying to accomplish—to bring back everyone’s beloved Chumley’s, and how special it was. By recruiting the Sushi Nakazawa team he probably hoped to mollify the neighbors. But the folks at Bar Free Bedford are not swayed. They have told me tales of noisy drunken patrons leaving existing bars late in the evening and urinating, vomiting, and engaging in lewd acts in the surrounding streets. They are against any bar at that location, and are continuing to fight.

When I last stopped by Chumley’s, I saw the Sushi Nakazawa folks inside looking at plans. But the interior is still completely empty. Only time will tell whether or
not Chumley’s will have a Spring 2016 reopening.

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1 thought on “Chumley’s: A History

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      To the Editors,

      In response to the BarFree Bedford full page advertisement opposing the Chumley’s Liquor License which ran in the WestView of March, 2016 issue I wrote the following and broadcast it on numerous social and other media. In response, we received at least 100 local letters of support for Chumley’s emailed to the NYS Liquor Authority, an increase in the Change.org petition to above 2,300 signatures and the opportunity to ask the question again: Who is BarFree Bedford?
      “The last blockade to opening Chumley’s is before the New York State Liquor Authority this week. We have become aware that the faceless group calling itself “BarFree Bedford” is now claiming there is no “local support” for the opening of Chumley’s. And have placed a full page ad in the local press stating they “represent the immediate community” that would be impacted.
 What all Friends of Chumley’s can do is to personally and directly respond to the action asked for in the scurrilous advertisement paid for by these monied real estate interests.
Immediately please email:
Mr. Raymond Di Luglio and Mr. Michael Jones of the NY State Liquor Authority
 with the subject line 
“#openchumleys” 
and express your whole hearted support for an on-premises liquor license at 86 Bedford in the name of Chumley’s (Reference: Chumley’s 86 LLC; Serial Number 1268115).
Please provide your name and address in the body of the email to:
”Raymond Di Luglio” ,
”Michael Jones” ,
and please copy me at “Monroe Smith” 

      Thanks for hanging in with us for these nine years.
      Please make no mistake, there are two seperate groups against the opening of Chumley’s. One are our neighbors who have legitimate concerns about local quality of life issues. Being a resident of 55 Barrow Street for 27 years, I share this concern. These concerns have been fully addressed and compromises made. The other group are principally speculators and financiers. Their goals and concerns can only be addressed by maximum profit.”

      Steven Monroe Smith steviepesce@gmail.com

      The following three emails are among the over 100 submitted to the NYS Liquor Authority:

      “I am writing to express my support for the SLA application and re-opening of Chumley’s Bar & Restaurant located at 86 Bedford Street in Manhattan. I have lived around the corner from Chumley’s since 1999. I have never once been disturbed by loud or rowdy crowds or drunk people bothering anyone coming from Chumley’s. I say this as a neighbor, even though I rarely drink and have only been to Chumley’s a few times.

      Chumley’s is a neighborhood institution and should be allowed to operate with a liquor license There are no other bars on this section of Bedford Street (between 7th Ave South and Christopher St.) The only other liquor licenses within these 4 block are for 2 quiet restaurants that close at 11:00. Prior to Chumley’s closing due to structural problems within the building, all three establishments operated in harmony for 20+ years.

      I truly hope the SLA will approve their license and help restore Chumley’s to it’s original glory. It’s long overdue.

      Thank you for your consideration.”

      Brian Fisher briandfisher@yahoo.com
      Thu, Mar 10, 2016

      “As a 30-plus year resident of 55 Barrow Street, I am writing to express my whole hearted and enthusiastic support for an on-premises liquor license at 86 Bedford for Chumley’s (Reference: Chumley’s 86 LLC; Serial Number 1268115).

      As a lifetime resident of these few blocks around Chumley’s, I am well aware of what neighborhood benefits come from active restaurants. Rather than the nightmare scenario the invisible “BarFree Bedford” non-group has invented, Chumley’s was always a stabilizing and positive influence in the neighborhood.

      The Barrow, Bedford, Commerce Block Association, our 300-plus family neighborhood group, is almost unanimous in support of Chumley’s. Meanwhile, nobody seems to know who makes up the membership of “BarFree Bedford.”

      I urge you to issue the requested license as soon as possible. “

      Sincerely,

      Victoria M. Lewis vicado5510@gmail.com
      Thu, March 10, 2016

      “To Whom It May Concern:

      I am writing to express my whole hearted support for an on-premises liquor license at 86 Bedford in the name of Chumley’s (Reference: Chumley’s 86; Serial Number 1268115).

      As resident of the West Village for over a decade, and an owner at 87 Barrow Street for 4 years now, for me the re-opening of Chumley’s will mean the return of an iconic and beloved neighborhood gathering spot that not only reminds us of our city’s history, but continues to bring the community together. Chumley’s is a treasure and I have missed it greatly since its closing soon after I moved to the neighborhood in 2003.

      Chumley’s is a block from my current home and I view it as a piece of history that enhances my community, the West Village and New York City experience, and my investment.

      Thank you for your consideration. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions.”

      All best,
      Elizabeth Petrelli petrelliea@yahoo.com
      Thurs, March 10, 2016

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