Last Call at Holiday Cocktail Lounge

IMG_0684Stephen Rex Brown Louis Fugazy kept the drinks coming last night at Holiday Cocktail Lounge.

Word had gotten around by the time the regulars started arriving: after 47 years, the Holiday Cocktail Lounge will close on Saturday. Not surprisingly, the shots just kept coming.

“Everybody that ever stepped foot in this bar is going to come through in the next three days,” said bartender Louis Fugazy. Over the years, those characters have included W. H. Auden, Leon Trotsky, and Allen Ginsberg, when they lived on the block. And urban legend has it that Madonna named “Holiday” after the bar (this much is certain: punk-pop band the Bouncing Souls immortalized the dive in a song that shares its name).

Over drinks, many of the regulars sitting around the semicircular bar bemoanded the state of the neighborhood, which recently has endured the loss of Mars Bar, another beloved dive. “Gentrification is moving out all the old standbys,” said Jeff Tendler, who was working the door. “The neighborhood is becoming full of chains, and the little guy is getting pushed out.”

Mr. Fugazy said that on Wednesday he found out that the bar had to close. The short notice came as little surprise, though. A “For Sale” had been on the building at 75 St. Marks Place for some time.

Rumors swirled that a meatball shop or bland restaurant would replace Holiday, but no one knew for sure. A new liquor license application for the lounge is on the Community Board 3 calendar next month, so whoever is taking over will still sell booze.

But it’s unlikely that the new owner can maintain the bar’s welcoming aura after the trauma of Thursday’s news, which was first reported by EV Grieve.

Perhaps no one can better sum up the years of hospitality and history than Stefan Lutak, the Ukrainian immigrant who bought the bar in 1965 and died in 2009. His undated manifesto (of sorts) is framed on one of the walls in the lounge.

IMG_0687Stephen Rex Brown A manifesto of sorts by the original owner of Holiday.

It was an all Italian place when we took over. The customers played cards, pool and bet on the horses. We soon became friends with these people because we asked them to continue to enjoy themselves as before.

People from many countries meet here. Polish people hear about us in Poland. They know to come here to find out about good jobs and apartments. Also, their money goes further here.

A few years ago a lot of ‘Punk Rockers’ drinking beer and making noise, began crowding all the time in front of the deli. People were getting very nervous. One night I invited them all into our bar and they come all the time now and behave very well. I still remember one young man who came in with terrible clothes on. I told him to go home and dress better. His face was red with anger. He left. But you know what, he came back and his clothes were better.”

Mr. Tendler was disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to carry on his predecessor’s legacy, but hinted that he is discussing a new endeavor around the neighborhood. He wouldn’t say much more. It was too early, and he was still mourning, along with his regulars.

One of those regulars waxed poetic about the good old days, recalling Holiday as an “intermission bar” that hosted the Off Broadway crowd from Theatre 80 across the street. Things had slowed down quite a bit in recent years.

“There was an edge to it then,” said David Transom, who lives in Stuyvesant Town, gesturing to the crowd at the bar. In a corner booth, a young woman ate frozen yogurt as she chatted with a friend. On the wall above her, a football game played on a flat-screen television. “I don’t think you’d call this an ‘edge.’ This is more like ‘Cheers.’”

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 18, 2012

An earlier version of this post misidentified Jeff Tendler as the owner of Holiday Cocktail Lounge. The owner was in fact Roman Lutak.