James Barron | April 29, 2012
t is a question that has been asked before: Whatever happened to Chumley’s?
It has been five years and three weeks since a wall collapsed and the famous bar in a 19th-century building in Greenwich Village closed for repairs.
Days turned into months, months into years. Now the owner of the building and the owner of the bar — two different players caught in an unexpectedly long-running drama of rebuilding, waiting, more rebuilding and more waiting — are saying what they have said before: It won’t be long.
The owner of the bar is Jim Miller, a firefighter who started as a part-time bartender and ended up running the establishment. He said he hoped to have the taps flowing by the end of the year.
“I’m going to shoot for the holidays,” he said. “I am pushing very hard for that. I wish I could give you a solid timeline, but I’m so gun-shy because of unforeseen obstacles. But I think we will be able to pull that off.”
The owner of the building, Margaret Streicker Porres, said she looked forward to drinking Champagne at Chumley’s to celebrate the end of “a long and hard road.”
“I think everyone’s looking to see the end in sight,” she said, “and I hope with the summer months, we will complete all exterior work and be in a position to allow Chumley’s to do the interior fit-out that they are so keenly interested in doing.” By that, she meant completing the kitchen and the plumbing and bringing back the bar, the tables and the photographs and book jackets that were on the walls. All of that property was lovingly packed up and put in storage in 2008.
For now, though, the construction barriers remain in place, and work remains to be done. Mr. Miller said he and Ms. Streicker Porres were relying on the same architect, engineers and general contractor “in an effort not to hit any more bumps.”
“It’s just been a nightmare, one delay after the other after the other,” Mr. Miller said. “Permits and submissions. Everything had to be filed with the Buildings Department. Our design for the plumbing and the electric and the gas, all that stuff has been filed and is ready to go. It’s a matter of the building getting to a point where it’s ready to let us come in and do our end.”
Ms. Streicker Porres said the facade, hidden behind plywood paneling, would be finished. “We’ve been holding off on the lower level of the facade so people could bring in construction materials,” she said. “We decided it’s time to finish out the exterior.”
Chumley’s, a speakeasy during the Depression, had a reputation as a literary hangout for John Steinbeck, E.E. Cummings and Norman Mailer. It was also a favorite for generations of New York University students, and remains a destination for tourists with maps and guidebooks who wonder at why they cannot walk in and order a beer.
“I think that if the stars align and if everything goes as planned, there should be no more obstacles,” Mr. Miller said. “But I don’t want to tempt fate.”