I can’t remember the first time I visited Julius’ on W10th Street, but it’s been in New York significantly longer than I have. When people talk about “old New York”, Julius’ is what I see in my head. There are craft pubs today in Peckham that are indistinguishable from their counterparts in Brooklyn, but you can’t fake Julius’: this is a place that could only exist in New York City. And one day it will close. And when it does, I may leave New York for good.
To walk into Julius’ is to step off one stage set – Greenwich Village’s prettiest intersection – and straight onto another, a fragrant Edward Hopper painting brought to life
To walk into Julius’ is to step off one stage set – Greenwich Village’s prettiest intersection – and straight onto another, a fragrant Edward Hopper painting brought to life. There’s the long, long, long dark wood bar that’s been here since the mid 19th century, and looks it; there’s the jukebox and tables at the back, with low-slung lighting. And there’s the open kitchen, where someone in an apron is constantly flipping the rank-smelling burgers that have kept many an impoverished young homosexual going through student days.
It always feels like it’s 3am at Julius. Which is the charm. Time simultaneously stands still, and speeds up. I have put Idlewild songs on the jukebox and announced my intention to wait for them to come on before leaving, and suddenly it’s nearly 4am. But, unlike many of Manhattan’s more notorious, sexually charged bars and clubs for gentleman, the accent at Julius’ is on socialising rather than screwing. It’s old, and dark, but the atmosphere is somehow light at the same time.
If you do find yourself here during the day, you can head straight to the tables at the back, where you won’t be troubled by sunshine. On your way, you’ll pass a wall full of posters from films that used the bar as a location – from 1970’s The Boys in the Band (a rerelease tagline could be “You gents think you have reason to bitch now? Just wait until you see what’s around the corner in the 1980s!”) to the recent John Lithgow and Alfred Molina vehicle Love is Strange.
There are also posters commemorating the Mattachine Society, the first gay rights group in the US, members of which visited Julius’ on 21st April 1966, announced their sexual orientation and requested a drink. At the time, the State Liquor Authority had a pre-Stonewall regulation banning bartenders from serving homosexuals, and Julius’, which had been raided only 10 days earlier, refused them service. The ensuing “Sip-In” protest ended with the courts declaring that the Liquor Authority were in the wrong… and the rest is history (via the rioting drag queens up the road at the Stonewall Inn, of course).
Today, things are different, but the bar still has the wonderfully less-than-salubrious atmosphere one suspects it’s always had. For a time last year, there was a glass collector with shoes held together with duct tape. And rumours about some of the barmen at Julius’ can’t be published.
For a time last year, there was a glass collector with shoes held together with duct tape
The magic here is in the unexpected. You never know who you might get chatting to at the bar; you might be at the table next to Murray Bartlett, or John Cameron Mitchell might be throwing a party. One of my favourite nights of recent years started with a group of 20-somethings putting on what could be described as an impromptu vogue ball beside the juke box, and ended with a conga line to Gloria Estefan all around the bar. A peculiarly glamorous seediness, and devil-may-care fun being had: that’s Julius’, and there’s nowhere else in the world quite like it. C
Julius’, 159 W 10th Street, New York, NY 10014 USA
+1 212 243 1928; juliusbarny.com