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Public drinking, in context

Terminal Bar, from the book of the same name

Among the photos on page 105 of “Terminal Bar: A Photographic Record of New York’s Most Notorious Watering Hole” is one of a man with his chin resting ever so lightly on his closed right hand, looking like he could have been a silent screen star in the 1920s although the picture was taken in 1973.

The caption reads: “He used to come in on Saturdays, and the more he drank, the more lipstick he put on. He drank beer.”

That’s it. A reader is free to fill in the rest of the story.

Or there’s Charlie on pages 88 and 89, with beard and without; in 1977, in 1980, and at other times. “He once told me that these pictures of him were going to be valuable because he was going to do something. Every time he came in, he drank something else.”

So the description at Amazon simply doesn’t do “Terminal Bar” justice. “In 1972 Shelly Nadelman began a ten-year run bartending at one of New York City’s most notorious dives: the Terminal Bar, located across the street from the Port Authority Bus Terminal near Times Square. For ten years, right up until the bar closed for good in 1982, he shot thousands of black-and-white photographs, mostly portraits of his customers — neighborhood regulars, drag queens, thrill-seeking tourists, pimps and prostitutes, midtown office workers dropping by before catching a bus home to the suburbs — all of whom found welcome and respite at the Terminal Bar. This extraordinary archive remained unseen for twenty years until his son Stefan rescued the collection, using parts of it in a documentary short. Featuring nine hundred photographs accompanied by reminiscences in Shelly Nadelman’s inimitable voice, Terminal Bar brings back to life the 1970s presanitized Times Square, a raucous chapter of the city that never sleeps.”

At the time Termnal Bar was featured in the movie Taxi Driver it was known as being one of the roughest bars in the city. That was mostly a media fabrication, Nadelman says in this NPR interview, and instead he describes it as the gayest bar in New York.

It closed in 1982, and it appears there isn’t a sign of it remaining on Eighth Avenue. (If you were looking for a place with a wide beer selection you’d head for the nearby Beer Authority, but that’s a total aside.)

Describe “Terminal Bar” as a documentary if you’d like — 10 years in the life of a New York City bar and the lives of its regulars and its passers-through — or call it a book for the imagination.

*****

Disclosure: 1) I received this book after a PR person contacted me to see if I’d consider looking at it. 2) If I spotted it in a book store I would have bought after flipping through maybe a dozen pages. But this is a sort of book I’m predisposed to like.

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