May 22, 2012

An eager Greenwich Village neighborhood and City can expect Chumley’s much-anticipated, and at times troubled, return “in Spring to late-Spring of ’09,” said owner Jimmy Miller. Construction has progressed since an April 5, 2007 chimney collapse closed the storied former speakeasy and haunt of literary legends F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and others. The unique, multi-leveled, wood-paneled bar and burger joint, with the nondescript door — simply numbered 86 — kept its customers comfortably close together, well-fed and surrounded by photos and memorabilia of its long history serving New York and the neighborhood. Many etymologists even believe the bar’s address at 86 Bedford Street gave rise to the expression: to be “86’ed from a bar.” “It’s really painful for Chumley’s to be down this long,” Miller said, but “we can’t go back in until the building is restored and rendered safe,” he emphasized. More recently the cozy, well-attended and well-worn bar was less a favorite of literary heroes as it was for neighborhood types, informed tourists and local heroes, including former part-time bartender Firefighter Bobby Beddia of the nearby Engine Company 24, Ladder Company 5 who was killed battling the Deutsche Bank blaze. Miller, himself a firefighter with Engine 24, is insistent that Chumley’s will be restored to its former glory. “We’re anxious to get back and reassemble the place exactly as it was in the 1920s,” Miller said. “I have about a dozen firefighters standing by ready to put it all back together,” he said, adding that at one time 10 members of Engine 24, Ladder 5 worked at the bar, with plenty more stopping in to enjoy an after-work pint. Still, after their “meticulous” removal, the old photographs, the bulldog mascot and firemen’s memorial will have to stay in storage until the reconstruction is complete. “We’re all disappointed in the fact that this has taken so long, but if you knew the inside story you could understand why,” Miller said. After the chimney collapse along the South wall, construction crews, “just encountered more and more problems,” Miller said about the nearly 177-year-old building. The buildings at 86 and 84 Bedford Street were “almost, kind of, holding each other up,” Miller said. Other walls had to come down and be replaced as new problems arose, he said. One problem Miller, and his partner Steve Shlopak, have not encountered is grief from their often disparaged landlord Margaret Streicker Porres. Streicker Porres is known to many as a landlord who has filed a number of lawsuits to remove some of her rent-stabilized tenants. “No,” Miller said quickly when asked if he had found himself at odds with Streicker Porres, “and it would be great if you could even mention that.” “I’ve heard that because people have mentioned that to me,” Miller said about the reputation Streicker Porres has accumulated, but “I meet with her periodically to talk about programs; they show us plans and keep us in the loop.” “I can only speak from my experience and we have a good rapport,” he said, “there’s no kind of ill-will or mal-intent that we’ve encountered.” “She does have this great relationship with Mr. Miller,” said a spokesman for Streicker Porres’ Newcastle Realty Services. Speaking for everyone involved, “we’re all in the spirit of bringing Chumley’s back,” Miller said, and at this point in the restoration process, “I don’t believe there are too many more surprises that could pop up.” The bar’s owners are ready to get back to business, but “the public is even more anxious. They’re still dropping by…tour groups still coming by” to stand in front of the scaffolding and hear the story of a Greenwich Village bulwark of local culture.Currently, the work is focused on the internal integrity of the building, but as the weather warms, crews will be able to work on the building’s facade and people will be able to see the progress for themselves, Miller said. There will always be pessimists in the crowd, but “don’t believe the rumors that we’re not coming back,” Miller said. “We’re still alive.”