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New York Minute

A friend of mine sent me this New York Times piece by Corey Kilgannon the other day:

Thirty-three years ago, an office worker named Ludwika Mickevicius left her native Poland and became Lucy the bartender in the East Village.

Her proletarian toughness and heavy Polish accent played well with the punks and rebels at Blanche’s bar on Avenue A, near Seventh Street. Ms. Mickevicius became so synonymous with the place, the owner renamed it Lucy’s and then sold her the business 15 years ago.

As the East Village cleaned up around it, Lucy’s remained the prototypical dive bar: a comfortable cave bathed in low red light, with a dingy dropped ceiling and worn linoleum on the floor. One arcade game, one jukebox, two pool tables, two small drinking tables, a dozen stools and a heavy oak bar. All are steeped in the character of Ms. Mickevicius: straightforward and practical. No frills, no nonsense, no whining.

“Many people hear about me and they come in and say, ‘Lucy, don’t change anything; we like it like this,’ ” she said. “Plus, change costs a lot of money.”

The story would have made Joseph Mitchell smile.

My friend used to go to Lucy’s years ago. He told me:

A past relationship of mine, we were a pair of heavy users, and recognized that we were in love. We hung out  at Lucy’s, never called it more than that, in the bag, leaning on the bar making sure we continued the “feeling better” part. We squeezed each other and made out. We loved to scream at each other.  Lucy had to break us up or shut us up. Her advice: “Why don’t you both get married”! Stoned and drunk we looked and said “why not?”

From that point forward we were going to get married. Started speaking to each other about living together. But within two weeks, I could not find her. I spoke to a friend of hers who had told me that she couldn’t handle it and just got in her car and drove west, ending up in San Francisco. She cleaned up and I finally heard from her, apologetic. She ended up marrying another artist/grease monkey out there and seemed happy.

Within a year I got a call, Her husband dryly stated that she died of an overdose, in a corner of a room with the needle stuck in her arm. He sent me her driver’s license and her death certificate along with one photo I always loved of her.

I still miss her, or maybe I really miss what could have been.

[Photo Credit: Robert Simonson]


1 TheGreenMan   ~  Feb 29, 2012 10:58 am

Had many a fine time at Lucy's. Usually right at that first barstool in the foreground of that pic. Weird how you often gravitate to the same spot in a familiar bar.

It was my second-favorite dive bar in that neighborhood after the Holiday Cocktail Lounge on St. Mark's. I haven't been around there in several years, and I heard it might be gone now. But, for a while, Stefan Lutek held sway over the grimiest dive bar I ever came across. Ever since he passed away at 89 a couple of years ago, a friend and I start off every night of drinking with a salute to the oldest, crabbiest bartender we ever met.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 29, 2012 11:09 am

Chin chin.

3 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Feb 29, 2012 8:16 pm

Do any of these old NYC dives still exist? I imagine the smoking ban didn't go down too well with the customers.

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