Bill’s Gay Nineties

bills1This is probably my favorite bar in NYC. While many hot spots are trying to mimic speakeasys, Bill’s is the real thing. In 1924, Bill Hardy “opened” for clandestine business, and thus began the legend. Having been a boxer, a jockey, a dance instructor, a Broadway dandy and married to one of the Ziegfield girls from the legendary Ziegfield Follies, who better than Mr. Bill Hardy. Evoking the “Gay Nineties” as his theme (as in 1890’s), you’ll see everything from an autographed Buffalo Bill poster, boxers, to century-old playbills, to a bevy of famous Ziegfield girls, to a very young Al Jolson. Hardy exhumed the careers of many famous vaudevillians and hired them to rework their magic for a whole new generation in the 20’s. At its height, Bill’s featured three floors of rotating entertainers doing their act on one floor, taking a break, then moving on to the next. Every night was a party at Bill’s and every table a part of it. The infectious group sing-along  continues to today. And yes, you really did have to ring a buzzer and whisper the correct password to get in. (Back then this wasn’t just a gimmick) After Prohibition Bill’s was often mentioned in many of the high profile columns of the day – Walter Winchell, Hedda Hopper, Jack O’Brien. And if you ask the 45-year-veteran maitre d’ Aldo, he’ll tell you exactly where  Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio once sat.  Today, the piano still plays, as people of all ages sing along. The Monkey Bar is just across the street, but Bill’s is where you’ll want to stay. When it comes to bars, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Live Piano: Mon.–Wed., 8 p.m.; Thu.–Sat., 8:30 p.m.

Hours Mon-Fri, 11:30am-1:30am; Sat, 5pm-1:30am; Sun, closed

57 E. 54th St., nr. Madison Ave. 10022    212-355-0243


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Filed under faves, food, history, midtown, piano bar, speakeasy-ish

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