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You Are Here: Home » LGBT History » Disappearing LGBT History: The Ninth Circle Steakhouse, New York City, NY (1961 – 2000)

Gone, but not forgotten, the Ninth Circle Steakhouse which closed in early 2002 was located in the West Village on 10th Street right off Greenwich Avenue.  And yes, at one time it really was a Steakhouse that seriously rocked in the 1960′s.

Originally opened and owned by Mickey Ruskin of Max’s Kansas City fame the Ninth Circle Steahouse played host to array of singers and musicians and  literati including the likes Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Mingus and others who gathered there nightly to drink and eat.

But in the 1970s what little starpower and cysomets that remained were not enough to keep business going.  Ruskin sold full ownership of The Circle to Bobby Krivitz.  (Oh the drug and mob stories I have)

The restaurant section downstairs was closed  and became a disco starting out completely straight but realizing that there were some mucho bucks to be made of the newly liberated gay crowd in NYC, the Ninth Circle literally became a gay bar and club overnight.

After a few years the disco floor was replaced by a pool table.   And now instead of Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendricks the 9th Circles celebrity clientel changed to Rock Hudson and Jack Wrangler.

Today ou’ll be hard pressed today to find out much about the Ninth Circle.  Very little can be found via internet and the picture above seems to be one of the last surviving images taken around the time of its popularity.  What little nfo you can find on iot today calls The Circle  a hustler bar. But it was far from that and  lets be real in NYC in the 70′s and 80′s EVERY gay bar in NYC had a few hustlers in it. But to be honest as its nusiness began to fade in its final few years there were more working boys. (Thanks Tree and Sonny)

But for over 20 years The Ninth Circle was THE PLACE to drink and cruise.  Weekends would be literally packed people wall to wall.  And customers wanting to get in would be held at the door until some patrons left.  And The Ciircle was a large bar.  It was literally a sea of men on the make. All ages, all types.  Clones, twinks, and trolls all getting drunk, trying to get laid, and having a great time doing it.

The Circle was so busy that one night in the late 70′s a man walked in the front door and made his way up to the crowded bar pointed a gun at the bartender and demanded money.  The  bartender who was so busy pouring 4-5 drinks at a time glanced at the robber and  without missing a beat told the gunman that he had to wait his turn.  The gunman was so shocked by this he turned around and left the bar.

I worked at The Ninth Circle as a coctail waiter for a few years in the late 70′s/early 80′s.   I was extremely young just making the 18 year old drinking age before it changed to 21 and being grandfathered in when the drinking age did go up I was able to still drink at the Circle and eventually work there despite being 21.  But after working there for awhile let me tell you  I was far from naive.

Upon entering The Ninth Circle you looked at a long wooden bar leading down 1/2 the length of room.  A long wooden bench ran down the opposite wall  and over the bar was an equally long mirror so you could sit drinking your cocktail and look up at the mirror to see who entered or who might be behind you worth checking out.  At the end of the bar was the waiters station and a jukebox.  Opposite the jukebox was the entrance to the downstairs bar.  On the other side of the jukebox against the wall were chairs and tables and a small square area with more chairs and tables and a pinball machine.  At the end of the room stood a  doorway with a small staircase that led to the dimly candlelit “garden”.  Which was aptly named despite being fenced in by cinderblock walls, because there was much green in that garden being the copious amounts of marijuana that was smoked and sold back there (along with other pharmaceuticals.)  I cannot even tell you how many times I was tipped in joints, nickle bags and qualudes.  Remember those?  Ah memories.

When you ventured downstairs there was a much smaller bar, a pool table, pinball machine, a video game and the bathrooms.  This is where most of the “twinks” hung out along with the bartender Fred Tree who told the worst jokes in the entire world, celebrated Russian Christmas, had a taste for straight trade and spent more time in the back (closed off) kitchen with a customer than he did behind the bar.

It was really was the best of times to be young and gay.  But it also turned into the worst  because of what was loomed on the horizon that would make many of the people who I think about when I write this and loved disappear from my life forever.

But looking back now, even mixed it wit the tragedy and loss  are some of the best memories of my life.  C’mon what compares to serving cocktails and hanging out with Jack Wrangler when he was young? (Oh by the way and the reason his cock looked so big was because he was really short) Or dancing the night away at Crisco’s Disco, or The Anvil and leaving their drenched in sweat on a Sunday morning at sunrise.  Noting beat going to Fire Island back then, The Bartenders Ball or being on the guest list at Studo 54 and snorting coke with Elizabeth Montgomery?  Could ANYTHING today beat that?  (Take that you A List: New York bitches) 

Tree, John Koch, Micheal, Portia, Randy,  Sonny, Don and Craig (whatever happened to you man you were my first huge crush) and many more I miss to this day and if you ever read this and are still around PLEASE CONTACT ME. (Jerry the upstairs bartender on the other hand if you are reading this, PLEASE DON’T.  You were a REAL DOUCHEBAG back then

The Ninth Circle which was my institute of higher learning (literally) and will always be a part of who I am today

They say what gets posted on the Internet is there forever.  This is just my way of making sure that the memory of The Ninth Circle never disappears.

36 Comments

  1. GDM says:

    I worked at both The 9th Circle and Uncle Charlies in the 80's and recently I started writing about my experiences there.
    http://themantisproject.org/a-day-in-the-life/

    I have recently been in touch with a couple of people who worked there.

  2. Will Kohl says:

    GDM

    You must ahve worked there after I left and was working at/or right befor I was working at Uncle Charlies South. When you were at 9 Circle had Lou Katz done that bad thing yet?

    • Greg says:

      I think I am the ‘Craig’ you mentioned in your story. I worked at the Circle from ’78/9? to ’83. Moved up to Julius’ in ’85 until ’88.
      YES, I remember all those people and ‘good’ times! Do I have stories….you betcha!!!!!! Also have some pictures I wish to post! Looking forward to hearing from you!

  3. Mark Olmsted says:

    I gave the Ninth Circle the best years of my youth. From when I first walked in in 1975, at 17, though the year I left New York, in 1989. The first, pre-AIDS, post-Stonewall years were sheer glory, the most fun I ever had. (Also the Spike on Freidays, and the Minseshaft or Anvil on Saturdays.)
    I also worked at Uncles Charlies South as a waiter during the Lew Katz years, and never missed Wednesdays 2-1 during the Dynasty years at Uncle Charlies Downtown. What fun. We should start a Facebook page.

  4. Barry Johnson says:

    I met Jack at the Circle in late ’73. We hung out there ’till its closing night. Many incredible memories. Loved Tree and still run into him at Cherry Grove. Jerry was a douche. But John Koch was an extreme right winger when you got to know him. Jack and I are about to celebrate our 38th anniversary! We’re happy and healthy, thank goodness.
    Barry

  5. Chuck says:

    Lived on West 4th from ’76-’85 and the Ninth was one of the first places I hit. Whatever happend to that WONDERFUL picture of Joplin between the two front windows? Guy named Gary was the Manager, or one of them at least. Remember Beauty from Julius’?

  6. JoizeFnF says:

    The Ninth Circle was my first gay bar in 1983. I also just made the drinking age with my birthday being in December of 1963. I so remember the long bar on the left (if memory is correct) and the stairs leading to a very exciting downstairs. Thanks for a great trip down memory lane!!
    :-)

  7. Madmike says:

    I used to go here alot in the late 80′s – early 90′s..
    I was mistaken for being a hustler all the time. I was shy and quite. ha God memories! I remember the guy who hung out showing people his newspaper clippings of when he was arrested for that notorious bank robing, that became a film in the 70′s with Al Pacino, who also portrayed him. I don’t know to this day if that was really him.
    I hung out alot downstairs at the bar.. I forgot everyone’s name. I had a crush on one of the bouncers, whom I was told was straight.. ha
    The bartender I would talk to worked the downstairs bar mainly.. I forgot his name! Not this Jerry was it? ha ha He had dark curly hair? :)
    It was one of the 1st gay bars I walked into.

    • I totally remember that guy from Dog Day Afternoon who called himself Dog Day! He always wandered about with those clippings in his wallet. He was really that guy. I worked at Gay Treasures on Hudson St. and ‘worked’ the Ninth Circle from 1989 – 95. Dog Day used to come in to Gay Treasures looking for pics of some prison tranny he was in love with, claiming that when she was a he, he did a lot of modeling. Dog Day would spend hours looking through porn older than I was and waiting for a chance to tell his ‘Dog Day’ stories.
      I worked the main bar at 9th Circle for a while and everyone knew me from the porn store so it was good for an easy local trick but not much money. For better paying gigs, you needs to go up to Rounds.
      Two things your excellent article did not mention – Edward Albee got the name for his play ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ from the bathroom wall; and thanks to the very odd signage, the place was appropriately nicknamed ‘Ooo Ooo Oog’

      • Will Kohler says:

        Thanks actually I am brushing up the post now. LOL

        Oh the stories I could tell. If anyone were interested.

        • Michael says:

          Hi, I’m Michael. I worked at the circle in the late 70s; first in coat check, than waiter, and lastly bartender (downstairs on weekdays and upstairs Sunday days). I was going out with Patia, the only true woman to dance at the Anvil (I don’t think most of the late night Anvil customers knew;))

          Towards the end I was too deep into the 9Circle >> Crisco’s >> Julius’ daily cycle and I crashed in the early 80′s. I went back to my roots in computers and recently retired after 27 years as a computer nerd.

          Patia and I are living in Florida with fond memories of that time, and those friends. I don’t regret a day!!

        • Greg says:

          I have written about 1,000 rough pages of a book I hope to publish some day. The NYC/9th Circle days are a prominent part of it. (I believe I am the ‘Craig’ you mentioned in your original article?)

  8. Bill B says:

    I remember walking back and forth from Julius to the Ninth to see what was happening. lots of cuties in the Ninth I think half of the cute young guys in NYC frequented the Ninth str8 and gay both.

  9. Philip Gennaro says:

    A great Place, many wonderful memories of great people , many sadly gone! The best of times in my youth! Many laughs!

  10. TONY BALDI says:

    Met my first full time BF there, I was only 20 but there was a doorman there who would let me in because we were neighbors, always said he was a photographer and wanted to shoot me nude (I never did lol but always said I was open to it to keep getting in lol) I CANNOT remember his name but he was really tall and we called him “Tree”. Ring any bells for anyone????

  11. Will Kohler says:

    Hahaha Tony. Last I heard Tree was still going string and working at the Stonewall Inn

  12. roy says:

    I used to go there all the time I really miss it a lot!! Meet all my x’s there, a few were so to say working boys.

  13. Jim Hlavac says:

    As someone who was in the Ninth Circle from 1975 when I was 17 at least 2 or 3 times a week, or more, until 1990 — when it closed — it certainly didn’t stay open until 2002. By 1994 and the Big Gay Games it was already an Italian Restaurant —

    Still, thanks for the memories.

  14. Andy says:

    Hey folks! Thanks for sharing all the great memories about the Ninth Circle. I recall being introduced to the “Circle” as an 18 year old hailing from upper Westchester county. Infact, the Ninth Circle was my “coming out” bar in 1984. I can clearly recall getting a little buzzed on Metro North as my friend and I ventured into the city on that warm Friday night. Not knowing what to expect, I soon found myself walking up those concrete steps and into a smoke-filled bar as David Bowie was playing on the jukebox. My friend gave me a brief tour of the place as Skip the waiter took our drink order. I recall just sitting there in awe admiring all the cute young dudes, most of whom were clad in denim jackets, jeans and sneakers. On my visit to the bathroom downstairs, I recall inspecting the place a little closer, saying wow, I found a new hangout. All the craziness that night seemed so appealing. Finally, a bar I can call “home”. I would frequent the bar a few times a month for the next six years. In that six year period I always had a great time while there and met so many people from different walks of life. Don from Alabama, Joey from California, Jean-Pierre from France and Paulo from Brazil, not to mention the locals. Doug from Jersey (now deceased) Steve from Long Island and countless others. Of course I remember the staff as well. Skip, Tree, Charlie & John (both day bartenders) Jerry, Garrett and Don the doorman. And who can forget patron Fred Lutz who owned Julius’.

    A year later I introduced my straight friends to the Ninth Circle, and after visiting once they were urging me to take them back. What other bar would serve 17- 18 year olds? Again, thanks for the memories, as there will never be another Ninth Circle.

    P.S. It would be great to have a reunion. I’d love to see everyone again.

  15. Alan says:

    Thanks for this piece and the memories! It was like my 2nd home from 1977 for the next 8 years. The 9th Circle was the capital of a wonderfully heady era of new found freedom and sense of community. (Btw I’m pretty sure it was not open past 1990.) We should have a reunion!

  16. Will K. says:

    “Craig (whatever happened to you man you were my first huge crush) ”

    Craig was a crush of mine….. last I heard a long time back he had moved midwest and went on to be a Veterinarian. Lord he made the best drinks. What fun nice guy…

    • Greg says:

      I think it’s might be me you’re talking about? I returned to the Midwest after 9/11, but did not become a vet. I live quietly by myself now in Colorado Springs, CO….quite a contrast from THOSE DAYS !!!! I have pictures?!?!?

  17. Arthur says:

    Wow these are some astonishing comments about the once infamous Ninth Circle! I really enjoyed reading them, of course one person with a greedy appetite for recoginition, (that depraved soul already knows who he is) couldn’t help seizing the opportunity of using this blog to promote his own webpage, but that is to be expected when dealing wirh shallow and vainglorious intellectual witlings, such as he is.
    Aside from that unpleasant distraction, I must say that this was quite a walk through memory lane. I certainly remember Don, the doorman, I use to bring him his dinner some times from the Greek diner. I also worked in a few gay clubs in the city, and I played chess for hours in the garden in the back with my best friend, while avoiding a contact high from the weed people would be smoking. I remember Tree, he was always a gentleman towards me, well most of the time. And back in the early 80′s before the yuppies started to gentrify the village because they got tired of clubs like Uncle Charlie’s and Tracts- that just wanted a more subdued environment without the bar politics of having to buy a drink, or kiss up to some employee for free drinks or drugs- usually snorting cocaine, there were clubs like the Ninth circle, and you didn’t have to pander to any particular “clique.”
    Even my days working as a bouncer at Uncle Charlies, I can remember how people, especially coworkers, who I thought were my friends, really hated me because I didn’t fit into their little Gay circle.
    In fact, I see comments about hustlers who were supposingly straight, who cares, maybe your broke ass could never afford them, so you hated on the whole social interaction-too bad, stop being a hater, and stop acting so squemish, and if you can’t then, stop being so cheap the next time you really want to sleep with that hustler, and spend a couple of dollars- cheap ass queen!
    Whew, not that I got that out of the way, I really liked a few people that frequent the Ninth Circle, I remembered Bruce, he was Bruuswe, because he spoke with a lisp- always good for a pool table fight, and he’d bring me along with him as protection, when he’d get into a fight.
    yes those were the days when I could be enthused with an entourage of friends without having to live up to anyone’s expectations, just drink, get high, have a great time, and if you didnt like me then you could kiss my Italian ass- thats if you were lucky enough!!

  18. Adrian S Duarte says:

    I was a hustler back in 92, Julius was my main bar but I often wandered down to the circle to hang out with Sonny. I was 16 at the time and prefered both the circle and Julius over the rest of the bars in the city, not because I was way underaged but because they were down to earth and slower paced establishments. The Ninth Circle closed in 1993, shortly after I left NYC. Sonny Oz was extremely sick from the fall of 1992 until he passed away in the spring of 1993. I would do anything to have another chance for him to send me to the Korean grocery for a hot tea with 2 bags and honey poured into the cup before water goes in.
    I never worked the circle for johns, the clientel were more not as desperate or just cheap compared to the crowd down the street. On the nights the downstairs bar was closed and Sonny was off I would mainly fill the jukebox with tunes from Madonna’s Erotica album, play pinball and nurse one can of Bud for hours and write. I have countless stories from my days as a hustler, maybe one day I will put them together and publish them.
    I am grateful I am not alone in the nostalgic memories of the circle. BTW does anyone remember the trippy videos they would play of random stuff just switching back and forth like someone changing channels every 2 seconds?

    • casey says:

      Adrian: I’m a book designer and spent much, much time at the Circle back in the late 70s and 80s through the early 90s. If you’d ever like to try to put a book together I can help you, at least get you started. “artandcolour@yahoo.com”

  19. Alan says:

    Here is an image of that great Janis Joplin photo at the entrance to the Circle which might bring back some memories: http://tomorrowswarriors.blogspot.com/2012/05/janis-joplin-inspired-photo-shoot.html

  20. casey says:

    I still cry when I think about the way our lives were in the ’70s-’90s. The Ninth Circle was definitely a part of most of my nights, whether it was the happy hour before Uncle Charlie’s happy hour, lol, or if it was the last call after everyone else’s last call. Memories abound. I hope to find a way to make people understand just what our life and culture was all about someday, it’s so much more than has been portrayed so far from what I’ve seen. Peace and love to all on this post.

  21. Bernie says:

    Wow. My name is Bernie and I starting working there in 1980; coatcheck then waiter, I went on to bartend and teh Last Resort…every guy mentioned here including The Douche were friends of mine. I also loved reading everyone’s comments. Jesus, DOn the Doorman? haha and that crazy man living upstairs used to give me the hardest time. John, although he was conservative was actually a sweet and shy guy. Skip was a doll RIP to all of them.

  22. Greetings! These posts certainly brought back some wonderful memories. I used to hang-out at the “Circle” from 1984 to 1990 (mostly in 1986). In 1986 I was 21-years-old, and I must say that I had a blast at the “Circle”. Everyone thought I was a hustler. Anyway, does anyone know whatever happened to Tree, Skip and that blond whom I believe was a hustler (I think his name was Bobby?). He would always be playing pool.

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