“The taste, of a Chumley’s Brew is the taste of…sun………drops. No wait, like rays of sun dripping into a glass of…What the f&$% am I saying!!???” I was told this by a friend during I think Sophomore year of college when I was at NYU. I was shooting a mini-documentary about him for an assignment. I realized yesterday that I have twice discounted his comments about a particular beer and both times I’ve been wrong. The thing is is that this person is crazy in weird in all sorts of ways so it’s a “boy who cried wolf” situation with him. The first time I was wrong was when he was telling me about Hoegaarden which just sounded like an absurd name coming out of his mouth, but turns out I like Hoegaarden. Yesterday I went to Chumley’s for the first time with some friends.

Chumley’s makes their own beer of which I only had two but they were both really really tasty. I had the Irish red beer and their pumpkin ale which was very flavorful and I felt like a little spicy sweet. Funny thing was that next to our table a bunch of tourists were having a pub crawl so we ended up hearing the history of Chumley’s by their tour guide.

Surprisingly the wikipedia article is sorely lacking in any of this information, but I’ll try to repeat it as best as I can remember. First of all Chumley’s is definitely a local bar for New Yorkers because it’s impossible to stumble upon if you’re walking down the street. The reason being there are no signs or distinguishing markings, plus to get to it you have to go through an initial walkway so you can’t even see people in it from the street. There’s good reason for this, because Chumley’s used to be a speakeasy during Prohibition. It’s also the origin of the term “86’d” because people would get thrown out of the secret exit on 86 Barrow.

As the tour guy said, during Prohibition Chumley’s was a “tea” shop but if there were certain code named teas that would actually be things like gin, vodka, whiskey and whatnot. Since it was a speakeasy that meant that there were several secret exits so that people could slip out when the police arrived. But apparently when the police were coming they would forewarn Chumley’s so then people would go down into trap doors through tunnels to get out. One of the tunnels apparently had a still in it so you could still get alcohol even while escaping.

The bar is well known for being a home to a number of celebrities especially literary talents. A short list I found online included: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Arthur Miller, James Agee, e.e. cummings, John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, Allen Ginsberg, Erica Jong, Jack Kerouac, Sinclair Lewis, Norman Mailer, W. Somerset Maugham, Margaret Mead, J.D. Salinger, Orson Welles, and Thornton Wilder. Apparently Orson Welles left for Los Angeles leaving behind a $1500 bar tab which is no insignificant number now, but this was a very long time ago so it was a lot more if you adjust for inflation.

On the walls you find book covers of famous authors who probably consumed a copious amount of alcohol while working there. There are also photographs of fire fighters who have died in the line of duty, because apparently some of the bartenders there were fire fighters or while they were fire fighters would have shifts at Chumley’s when they weren’t on duty. There’re also navy pictures because during fleet week the bar is “a sea of white.”

Long story short, if you’re in New York and don’t already know about this place you should check it out. But don’t believe the Citysearch page which says their homemade brews are unremarkable.


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