Chumley's is a bar at 86 Bedford Street in Greenwich Village, New York City. It's an old speakeasy from the Prohibition era, and in the years following it achieved such stature as a literary hangout that its clientele reads like the syllabus for an American Literature course. It is also considered to be the origin of the use of the phrase to "eighty-six" something, meaning to get rid of it. When the police arrived, Chumley would yell "eighty-six it!" as a signal everybody should clear out using the exit on Bedford street, which was at the time a concealed back door. (The real entrance was also secret, via a plaza called Pamela Court, which was really just the yard of the house around the corner at 58 Barrow Street.) Today 86 Bedford is the main entrance, but as a nod to its history Chumley's keeps no signage whatsoever there, just a tired looking wooden door. As a rule, anyone looking lost near Bedford & Barrow is probably a tourist trying to find Chumley's.

In 1926, Lee Chumley, who had been managing a speakeasy called the Black Night on MacDougal Street, rented a space on the second floor of 86 Bedford Street. His original intent was to publish a radical worker's journal (hey, it was the 20s) but after two years he took over the blacksmith shop at street level, concealed the door, and turned it into a speakeasy of his own, complete with a working fireplace built out of the blacksmith's forge. There was originally a dumbwaiter installed which was large enough to carry two people(!), supporting the rumors that persist to this day that the second-floor apartment was used for a while as as a gambling casino.

After a while, Chumley's became a buzzing literary hangout, mostly from a tradition that Chumley initiated: writers were encouraged to bring in the dust jackets of their published works, which were framed on the walls. Many of these are still there above the oak booths in the back, though the front section just inside the door has been remodeled since then.

Lee died in 1935, two years after Prohibition ended. Lee was thought to be a bachelor, but soon after a woman named Henrietta Chumley arrived claiming to be Chumley's widow. She managed the place for the next 25 years, becoming a fixture at the bar: she would drink manhattans all night, and the waiters would find her at the end of the night wherever she had nodded off, wake her up and send her to bed. One night in 1960 she failed to wake up. Subsequent owners have tried to keep the place mostly as Mrs. Chumley kept it.

Here's a partial list of Chumley's alumni. Many of their book jackets are still there:

John Steinbeck
Ernest Hemingway
Eugene O'Neill
Sinclair Lewis
William Faulkner
Arthur Miller
Edna Ferber
Thornton Wilder
James Agee
William Styron
John Cheever
Malcolm Cowley
James Farrell
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Norman Mailer
Alfred Kazin
Dwight Macdonald
Margaret Mead
Simone de Beauvoir
J. D. Salinger
Gay Talese
Allen Ginsberg
Jack Kerouac
Gregory Corso
Horton Foote
Maxwell Bodenheim
Theodore Dreiser
E. E. Cummings
Dylan Thomas
Calvin Trillin
Edmund Wilson

Sources: Terry Miller, Greenwich Village and How it Got That Way, Crown Publishers, 1990, plus years of field research

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