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The Last, Beer-Soaked Days of Grassroots Tavern

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Old-timers having a reunion by Grassroots Tavern’s dartboards, 12/20/17. (Photos: Nick McManus)

Barflies of every drinking age said their goodbyes to Grassroots Tavern last month and kept the East Village dive busy right up till its final day on New Year’s Eve. During the time I spent there during its last days, it was never empty. Even in the early afternoon, people just off from work or school, along with curious tourists, finished off pitchers and munched on dollar bowls of popcorn.

Patrons at Grassroots Tavern during its final month, 12/20/17.

Co-owner Douglas Bunton was there every day I visited. In his uniform of black shirt, vest, and slacks, he tended the bar during its early hours. Once his staff took over, he would cling to either end of the long bar, depending on which friends he ran into. When he wasn’t tossing the bull with his regulars he took greetings from more than a few old customers who came out of the woodwork to say farewell.

Patrons at Grassroots Tavern during its final month, 12/20/17.

The shuttering of Grassroots was announced early last month. A bartender told Bedford + Bowery that “the rent skyrocketed” and co-owner James Stratton said that continuing to operate the bar “would just have required a radical change for the business and the way we operate.” News of the impending closing prompted an outcry.

Bike messengers Cesar McCay and Albert Busano (left, top and bottom) with artist Jackson Lin (center) at Grassroots Tavern’s phone booth turned shrine, 12/27/17.

Douglas told me stories about opening the tavern while he was still 18 years old, how he used to bring trays of cocktails to a salon across the street, and the incredibly different relationship he had with law enforcement compared to today. He was warm towards my Polaroid documentation and was happy to pose with the friends I brought along with me.

Grassroots Tavern patrons outside during its final week, 12/28/17.

Grassroots will be taken over by the owner of Ginger Man, a Murray Hill bar that has been compared to “Euro Disney’s vision of the classic Irish watering hole.” As I shared a pitcher during the tavern’s farewell party on New Year’s Eve, I looked around at the worn wooden shelves, cabinets, booths and dartboards that were at slight angles after settling into the place over the course of 42 years. Will the next place’s furniture have the time to bond physically into the walls as they bonded spiritually into the hearts of New Yorkers?

Grassroots Tavern co-owner Douglas Bunton (second from left) with patrons during the tavern’s farewell party, 12/31/17.

Grassroots Tavern bartender Leah (left) with artists Ben Lansky and Russell Murphy (first and second from right) during the tavern’s farewell party, 12/31/17.



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