For the last two years, the Holiday Cocktail Lounge, hailed by some to be New York’s grimiest, sloppiest and most dastardly dive bar — i.e. New York’s best dive bar — has soldiered forward with its captain, Stefan Lutek, gone. He died at the age of 89 after decades of tending bar at the joint, which he opened in 1965.
The place now may be on its last legs. Corcoran put the listing for its building, 75 St. Marks place, on its website today. Yes, the listing notes the Holiday Lounge’s notoriety, but focuses on the important thing here: this building can be your condo.
EV Grieve alerted us to the warning signs, and though there’s no definitive plans or anything, whoever buys the place would have little trouble emptying the glasses downstairs. Or, as EV Grieve puts it: “Might as well set up the dumpster out front tomorrow morning.”
There’s no shortage of poesy penned about the bar’s drab elegance. “Even in Manhattan it can exist, quiet amid the chaos, authentic beside a cab-riddled road,” reads a story in The New York Times, printed on New Year’s Eve 2006. “The dive is un-self-conscious, beautiful in its gloom. Greater than the sum of its parts, it is as spare as a Raymond Carver story, as lean as a haiku. Sentiment condensed, it is a poem, an elegy, perhaps, that hangs in the air as a testament to an anachronistic New York.”
Pretty words for a place populated by rotting drunks and whiskey-swilling malcontents (who are, full disclosure, joined by The Observer on certain nights). But there’s a literary tradition that could justify the reverence. Regulars included Allen Ginsberg, Leon Trotsky and most prominently, W.H. Auden. Before he passed, Lutek spoke with the New York Press about just how sloppy one of the century’s great poets grew when the Holiday Cocktail Lounge was pouring the drinks.
The modernist master W.H. Auden, author of “The Shield of Achilles,” was the star drunk. He drank here with Allen Ginsberg, among others, living on cognac, V.S.O.P.—whole bottles in an afternoon as he sat by the window, writing with a stubby pencil, constantly erasing and rewriting. “When he sober, he can’t write,” Lutak recalls. “When he too drunk he can’t write. You could never say when he was drunk, because he drinking all the time.”
Who else would you see? Frank Sinatra came by, as his agent lived a few blocks down. Madonna, too, in her early days. But mostly you’ll see the regulars, guys with bad gums and stories for days, sitting silently in the corner nursing whiskys as NYU kids or other passersby enjoy, oh, a Budweiser or something.
“He disappeared in the dead of winter,” Auden wrote, in verse, upon the death of Yeats. “The day of his death was a dark cold day.”
Winter is coming, so if the Holiday Cocktail Bar does close, it will be doubly cold and doubly dark that day. Warm up with a whiskey soon, guys.