Disappearing LGBT History: The Ninth Circle Steakhouse, New York City, NY (1961 – 1990)
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.