Photo by Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr.
As 6sqft reported earlier this year, the building that is home to White Horse Tavern, the 140-year-old West Village bar famous for its notable literary and artist clientele, was recently purchased by Steve Croman, a notorious landlord who served prison time for tenant harassment. The tavern, which opened on Hudson Street in 1880, is also under new management; the historic bar will be run by restauranteur Eytan Sugarman, who, as Gothamist reports, was behind Midtown’s Hunt and Fish Club. The latest development raises new fears: The bar has been closed, according to a sign posted on the door, for “much needed repairs and upgrades.” Readers are assured, “Have no fear, we have no intention of changing any of the historical elements that make the White Horse Tavern the landmark that it is.”
White Horse Tavern in 1961 Via Wikimedia
During the 1950s, the bar became popular with writers and artists, with literary patrons including James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, and Dylan Thomas, who allegedly downed 18 shots of whiskey in 1953, stumbled outside and collapsed, and later died at St. Vincent Hospital. Pictures of him still adorn the walls today, with a plaque commemorating his final trip to the bar found above the counter.
Sugarman signed a 15-year lease for 2,000 square feet, which includes the bar, two retail spaces, and 32 apartments; he has said that he’ll run the bar just as it has been for the last 140 years, and that he’s taking the bar’s historic details into account: “We are only focused on preserving the rich history and legacy of this iconic institution for New Yorkers.”
White Horse Tavern interior via Wikimedia
But patrons and fans of the bar and Village history in general have expressed concerns, and preservation groups have tried get the tavern’s interior declared a city landmark. While the exterior of the bar is landmarked, the interior of “The Horse” contains woodwork, tin ceilings and fixtures “dating back generations,” according to Village Preservation, who wrote in a letter to LPC Chair Sarah Carroll emphasizing the importance of landmarking the bar’s interior that “the potential loss of the interior of this tavern from a recent change in ownership would be a devastating loss, not only to New York City, but to the country and the world.”
Though the bar was known more in recent years for its new-New-York mix of finance types and diverse, if generic, mixed bag of patrons, its symbolism is undeniable. And rumors have begun to fly regarding what may become of its interiors. Of this latest chapter, Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation, said in a statement, “It’s past time for the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to act, as we have received eyewitness reports of elements of the White Horse Tavern’s historic interior being ripped out and removed. This is one of the most singularly important cultural landmarks in New York, and until today it was more or less intact to how it has appeared for the last hundred years, when the likes of Dylan Thomas, James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, and Jane Jacobs regularly drank, argued, and caroused here. The City must act swiftly to ensure that this great piece of New York and world history is not destroyed.”
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