A picture of change in a Brooklyn neighborhood: Jim and Andy Fruit and Produce Market gives way to a bar, Congress, which smartly keeps the beautiful old hand-painted sign. #brooklyn #cobblehill #bars #taverns #storefronts #ig_signage #signgeeks #rous_roadsigns #americana #retail #downtowns

A picture of change in a Brooklyn neighborhood: Jim and Andy Fruit and Produce Market gives way to a bar, Congress, which smartly keeps the beautiful old hand-painted sign. #brooklyn #cobblehill #bars #taverns #storefronts #ig_signage #signgeeks #rous_roadsigns #americana #retail #downtowns

Joe’s Tavern, long shuttered but still hanging on in the form of this charmingly decrepit #neonsign. #chelsea #oldsigns #vintagesigns #nyc #signgeeks #ig_signage #igsignage #typography #dives #bars #taverns #classicsigns

Joe’s Tavern, long shuttered but still hanging on in the form of this charmingly decrepit #neonsign. #chelsea #oldsigns #vintagesigns #nyc #signgeeks #ig_signage #igsignage #typography #dives #bars #taverns #classicsigns

Subway Inn is quite possibly my favorite neon sign still glowing in Gotham. I breathe a sigh of relief (and snap a photo) each time I walk by and see it humming along as it has for decades. #neon #nyc #signs #bars #divebars #manhattan #history

Subway Inn is quite possibly my favorite neon sign still glowing in Gotham. I breathe a sigh of relief (and snap a photo) each time I walk by and see it humming along as it has for decades. #neon #nyc #signs #bars #divebars #manhattan #history

Muldoon’s, a good Irish bar in Midtown with a mean burger, has something else: a functioning pay phone complete with the old Bell Atlantic logo. There’s even a Yellow Pages thrown in for good measure. #bars #nyc #phones #payphoneography

Muldoon’s, a good Irish bar in Midtown with a mean burger, has something else: a functioning pay phone complete with the old Bell Atlantic logo. There’s even a Yellow Pages thrown in for good measure. #bars #nyc #phones #payphoneography

A convivial evening at The Campbell Apartment at Grand Central Terminal. A festive way to start the holiday weekend. #nyc #christmas #thanksgiving #bars #cocktails

A convivial evening at The Campbell Apartment at Grand Central Terminal. A festive way to start the holiday weekend. #nyc #christmas #thanksgiving #bars #cocktails

The wonderful Mr. Bing’s, beloved San Francisco dive bar with a name you do not forget. #divebars #bars #sf #sanfrancisco #retro  (Taken with Instagram)

The wonderful Mr. Bing’s, beloved San Francisco dive bar with a name you do not forget. #divebars #bars #sf #sanfrancisco #retro (Taken with Instagram)

Photo essay: A tribute to the speakeasy Bill’s Gay 90s

In a city like New York, Bill’s Gay 90s was the sort of place you couldn’t believe still existed.

The townhouse on East 54th Street had been home to Bill’s since 1924, which if you do the math means it opened as a speakeasy during Prohibition.

The place was teeming with priceless antiques and treasures, and even had a cellar with a secret room to hide the hooch from the feds during Prohibition.

Bill’s has been called one of New York’s first retro bars, as it opened in the 1920s as a paean to the “Gay 1890s.” Nostalgia, therefore, had been a part of the Bill’s experience from the very beginning.

Alas, I visited for the first time when it had already been announced that the townhouse’s owners were not renewing the lease (a point they later contested), and the joint would shutter March 24.

Now that it’s closed, Bill’s management is hoping to move somewhere else, and the building’s owners are hoping to bring in a “top secret” new proprietor.  

A flashpoint has been the fate of all that amazing memorabilia — as the Times reports, the folks who ran Bill’s would like to keep it and take it to the new place; the owners insist it belongs to them.

As that drama plays out, it’s hard to escape the reality that Bill’s as we know it is no more. Lost City has some amazing pics you can see here. Below are some of my photos of Bill’s, taken over two visits in March. They’ll give you a sense of how special — and irreplaceable — the place was.

Text and photos: Rolando Pujol 

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