Billy’s Bar – a New York Institution
Sleuthing has unearthed further information on Billy’s (the correct spelling it seems), a long-established Manhattan bar and restaurant. I discussed the bar yesterday, including that a 1936 photo of Billy’s shows 1800s-era handpumps on the back bar.
Billy’s was founded in 1870. Initially it was on 1st Avenue approaching 56th Street, then on the southeast corner of that intersection, and finally moved three blocks south, near 52nd Street. Unfortunately it closed in 2004, a run of 134 years.
The restaurant was noted for its American menu and was a haunt of families, major domos, celebrities. It will be interesting to see, on my NYC visit this weekend, if another restaurant is still at the address. With a closing only 12 years ago, that is a possibility. Maybe the impressive wood bar is still there. By the way it was built of mahogany, not oak. And of the hand pulls, who knows…
My speculation earlier that in 1936 the bar’s furnishings dated from pre-Prohibition times is undoubtedly correct, given the founding year is 1870.
The food and restaurant writer, Ruth Reichl, reviewed Billy’s 21 years ago for the New York Times, see here.
This is likely how it was until closing in 2004.
In the Victorian image below, we see the same kind of hand pumps Billy’s still had in place in 1936 in busy Manhattan, which it probably installed in 1870. Nothing in Western culture connoted greater modernity than the New York of George Gershwin, yet as always, past and present are interwoven. (The past isn’t even past, William Faulkner said).
Hand pumps can be seen to this day in hundreds of English pubs and are used in exactly as in Victoria’s time. Many American and Canadian beer bars have brought the equipment back as part of the retro ethos in craft brewing.
Note re image: the image above was sourced from the Internet and believed in the public domain. All feedback solicited.