Artsy's Backyard: Theatre 80

Howdy!  Artsy Guy here.  As a wee departure from my usual topic (beer), I'll occasionally shed some light on a historical locale or other unique hotspot.  Speakeasies.  There's currently a well-established neo movement of hidden mixologist havens for those in the know, but I'm particularly enamored with old school joints of the jazz age that have survived in one form or another.  My brother's groom's dinner was held at a former speakeasy in Stillwater, Minnesota and we've also visted the Wabasha Street Caves in St. Paul.  I feel fortunate to have visited Chumley's in NYC's West Village before it disappeared in 2007.  I was happy to visit another place with a storied past at 80 St. Mark's Place in the East Village...

Theatre 80 was once (Walter) Sheib's Place and throughout Prohibition provided liquid nourishment to such infamous folks as Al Capone.  On the back wall of the theatre, you can see the boarded up door where the hooch made its way into the place via the alley.  And evidently there are still tunnels underneath.  Years after, the place became The Jazz Gallery where allegedly a young Frank Sinatra sang and waited tables.  In the 1960s Howard Otway bought the place, renovated, and opened Theatre 80 which soon thereafter presented the premiere of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown.  In addition to propelling careers of such talents as Bob Balaban and Gary Burghoff, also found an usher in a young Billy Crystal.  After a stint as a rear-projection classic and independent movie house, Theatre 80 returned to live theatre and became the home of Pearl Theatre Company for 15 years and rental productions since.  On the night of my visit, I experienced the amazing campy and delightfully raw Silence! The Musical.

In addition to the happenings the main space, current Theatre 80 owner Lorcan Otway (keeping it in the family) has opened the tiny but potent Museum of the American Gangster in an upstairs apartment (allegedly once rented by Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky), featuring many artifacts including bullets tied to Clyde Barrow, Pretty Boy Floyd, and the Valentine's Day Massacre.  The pub connected to the theatre lobby has recently opened as William Barnacle and specializes in absinthe (and where I was poured a proper pint of Guinness by Mr. Otway himself).  And along the sidewalk in front of the pub, you'll find handprints and signatures in the cement (a la Hollywood's Chinese Theatre)... Myrna Loy, Gloria Swanson, and Dom DeLuise(?).  The night I was there, Joan Rivers added her mark (and bling).

L: William Barnacle's forecourt. C: Illegal photo (oops) showing the boarded up alley door (just right of the photo's center). R: William Barnacle.You can really feel the history around this place.  It is just riddled with strings tied to the past, and of course many of those strings are tied to booze... legal, illegal, and in-between.  Cheers, y'all!