Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Original Maruffi's Bar On Baxter And Bayard

An excerpt from the nytimes of 3/3/1996 and a follow up to the original Maruffi story of Joe's
LIVES; Bar, None, By Madison Smartt Bell
The Spring Lounge, one of the last two neighborhood bars in Little Italy (aside from private social clubs), is up for sale, which makes me scared. For years I've used the place as a rendezvous-resting place and portable office; it was also a virtual residence for a character in my first novel. The Spring Lounge isn't the only neighborhood bar I've used to shelter both myself and people who populate my books, but lately it seems as if they've all been going down like birds shot off a wire.
For sure, there is no shortage of bars in Manhattan, but the new ones are too bright, have too much glass. The bartenders are so brisk they ought to be serving double lattes instead of the waters of Lethe. In fact, you don't have to go thirsty half so long if what you want is chichi coffee -- soon enough there'll be a Starbucks on every corner, but how much enlightenment is all this caffeine producing? Coffee or booze, there's almost no one left to drink it but the gentry, and the trouble with those sorts of clients is they're too much like oneself.
The first bar I ever entered in Manhattan was at the corner of Houston Street and the Bowery. There was a blizzard; I was 20 years old, shuffling down from Chelsea in leaky cowboy boots in search of a Greenwich Village that had long ceased to exist outside of my imagination. Nothing was open and no one was on the street, no one interested in wading through knee-deep snow except for me and of course the homeless, then known as winos. When Bleecker Street ran out, I turned right and followed the winos to where they were going. Like most of the Bowery bars I later patronized, this one didn't seem to require a name. The tables and chairs were legless, which didn't matter, as the customers were sleeping in stacks on the floor, the bottommost snuffling in pools of filthy water from melted snow. There was also a bathtub-size pool table, where I was able to earn some money. I was the youngest person there by at least 20 years, but no one objected to my presence. I felt oddly at home; it was not exactly a welcoming place, but entirely uncritical. You could stay there as long as you liked. There are no bars left on the Bowery now. The last one closed at the end of 1993, foreshadowing within several weeks the death of Charles Bukowski. A nice coincidence.
Because I lived in Brooklyn, I used Manhattan bars as staging areas, and Maruffi's, on Baxter Street at the corner of Columbus Park, was a good one for sorties into either SoHo or TriBeCa. Because of its proximity to the Tombs, Maruffi's was a place where many cops unwound, and the first time I went there, they were relaxing by means of a large general fistfight. One officer (out of uniform) came over to the only table left standing, where I and my young lady companion demurely sat behind small, stout glasses of bourbon, to apologize; his friends, he said, were "a little excited." One of his friends clubbed him over the head with a shoe, and our officer roared like a bear, knocked him down, then jumped on the bar and lowered his pants to moon the entire assembly. When he had rebuttoned, he came over and apologized to us again with even more formal courtesy. But Maruffi's has been closed for years; its space is now a second-floor dining room for the restaurant next door.