The Final Nights at Subway Inn

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Update, August 20, 2014: "Judge Keeps Subway Inn's Doors Open For Now"

It's a quarter to midnight on a Saturday. It could be Subway Inn's last Saturday night if the bar closes on August 15, as its owners have announced it will. Right now, no one seems particularly concerned by the oversized "Save Subway Inn" poster hanging behind the bar. For their purposes it could be any bar, anywhere.

There are 20-somethings on a double date in the back corner and, beside them, a quartet of burly Latino men draining a beer tower. An anemic-looking white couple is gazing into one another's eyes over the remnants of two $5 beer-and-shot combos. Behind them is a rowdy bachelorette party.

None of them seem to notice when the tail end of a Mets game gives way to the late-night newscast, and a two-minute segment on legendary bar's closure plays on all five TVs. If either of the bartenders is aware of the news story — which was filmed at the bar the night before — neither is letting on. No one turns up the volume. In fact, there's no sound on at all.

For 77 years Subway Inn has been fixture on the Upper East Side, located on 60th Street opposite the Bloomingdale's loading dock and just above the entrance to the 59th Street/Lexington Avenue subway station.

It opened in 1937, and for a while, it was the kind of the place where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio would stop by for a nightcap; the kind of place where, in the early '90s, Julia Roberts could be found slow dancing to a Willie Nelson song with some anonymous old-timer, while Jay McInerney, on assignment for Harper's Bazaar, scribbled notes in the corner.

Today, a film of dust coats the flotsam adorning the bar: the hard hat perched on a neon Coors Light sign; the Godzilla doll with a bra dangling from the crook of its arm; the laminated photo of the bar's founder, Charlie Ackerman. The New York Times once called Ackerman "a puckered, saggy-bottomed crank. Salty as a pickled fish. Warm as a furnace without oil." But, when it came time to give up the bar, he was kind enough to hand the keys over to one of his longtime employees.

That employee, Marcello Salinas, started mopping floors at Subway Inn not long after he immigrated to the United States 40 years ago. Today he is fighting what looks to be an uphill battle to keep the bar's doors open.

In 2006, Ackerman's guardian sold the five-story building to New York-based real estate developer World-Wide Group for $5.8 million. The company now owns most buildings on the block, some 300,000 square feet, and has asked Salinas to vacate.

There has been some talk about relocating, as well as a plan to fight the new owners to stay open, but on Monday, a fundraising campaign had netted less than $700 toward a relatively modest $10,000 goal. (The money would go toward legal fees.)

Without a last-minute miracle, New York City will soon watch as another of its quirky, charming dive bars becomes a memory. -- Tessa Stuart

All photos by Timothy Fadek for the Village Voice

Published on August 13, 2014

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