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.

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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89 Responses

  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.

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

  2. Will Kohl says:


    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.

  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…

  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”

      • Thanks Casey. I didn’t see your reply until now. It’s a sweet offer. I’ve actually begun working on my book, in addition to working as a writer with a tabloid site. I’ll pop an email over to you including one of the rough drafts of a chapter.

  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.

    • Joe Rizzo says:

      Tree went to prison for a while and was tending bar at Julius for a while after his release and then disappeared after a year or so. Skip fell victim to the virus before the 90’s arrived and Bobby simply drifted and vanished.

      • Didn’t Russell work at Julius for a while? If it’s the same one, I had a crush on him but he had a girlfriend named Julie. They spent a good bit of time up in Buffalo with her family. Tree was super nice to me, I never paid for a drink when he was working…just for the record, I knew better than to climb that one. Anyone remember Erik Harden from Julius? He and I lived together for a brief time before I left the city.

      • Will Kohler says:

        Tree also tended at Sneakers on West Street and last I hear he was at Stonewall. He’s be pushing past 80 now. Bobby Goodman from downstairs I had no idea what happened to him or Kevin who he hung out with. I always wondered what happened to Randy the southern upstairs cocktail waiter from the every early 80’s and my number 1 crush Craig the curly headed blond bartender who worked upstairs on weekend nights

  23. Wasn’t there a sign outside thatsaid Diana Ross made her first New York appearance there? And that is where Serpico had an early meeting when he went undercover?

  24. I went to the Lib, a mostly lesbian bar on the East Side, with my best friend and room mate, Judy Barnett (later a famous New York cabaret singer) probably in 1972. I picked up a gay there who told me the next morning that I was a “9th Circle type,” which in my case meant young and pretty, and preppie, though the clientele was much, much broader than that. I went there the next night and never left for most of the rest of the decade. It was, without a doubt, the greatest gay pick up bar Manhattan had ever seen (and the actual year it closed was 1993.)
    By 1974, I was a reporter for the New York Times, spending virtually all of my waking hours on West 43rd or West 10th St.
    The most important person to befriend at the Circle was Stormy, the fastest and greatest bartender I have ever known, who made matches among the customers between gin and tonics poured at the speed of light. Eventually, he became John Koch’s lover as well as his partner behind the bar. My group included Barry and Jack and Chuck Gibson, a beautiful blond boy from Kentucky. Does anyone know where Chuck is? I lost track of him at the end of the 90’s; I would give a lot to find him again.
    After Stormy, the best bartender (and the best looking, by far) was Bill Carey, who still practices his exquisite craft today down the street at Julius–the only gay bar around to have lasted even longer than he has!
    EVERYONE went to the Circle–from Andy Warhol (usually for about 4 minutes) to William Burroughs (who would stay all night.) For many of us, during the first decade and a half after Stonewall, it was our church: we worshiped there (in a strictly pagan fashion), often, every night, and it taught us everything we needed to know about being gay. I met my husband, Joe Stouter there, the first night he ever walked into a gay bar, on a steamy July night in 1978. “Do you want to smoke a joint?” Every pick up for me began that way, lighting up in the back garden, where most illicit substances known to man were usually available, until the Soho Weekly News had the best taste to write about the line of customers at the dealer’s table. Last year, Joe and I finally got married.
    As the AIDS epidemic took hold, the Circle became more and more of a hustler bar. Then there was the coke bust which netted two of the bartenders. The bartenders had been suspicious of these two customers being undercover cops–but they decided they couldn’t be after they started sucking face at the bar. They had underestimated their devotion to the job.
    The most astonishing fact about the place was the rent the owner paid: $600 a month for an entire West Village townhouse.

    Here is what I wrote about the place in The Gay Metropolis, my history of gay life since 1940:

    Some Greenwich Village saloon owners decided to catch the wave of the new revolution by changing the nature of their businesses. The Ninth Circle, which occupied the bottom two floors of a row house at 139 West loth Street, had been a very successful steak house in the sixties with a slightly bohemian and overwhelmingly heterosexual clientele. In its heyday, waiters there made as much as $15o a night, a huge sum in that period. It was just a couple of blocks north of the Stonewall Inn, but the Circle was “totally straight” and “totally antigay.” John Koch started there as a dishwasher but quickly worked his way up to bar manager. “They used to get on the microphone, and say, `If you’re gay go away,’ Koch recalled. “Everybody would laugh. I don’t know if it was meant seriously or what.” The rent was a bargain: the restaurant owner, Bobby Krivit, who was a veteran of the carnival business on the Jersey Shore, leased the entire building for $60o a month. But by the end of 1971, business had dropped off sharply, and Krivit decided to go in a new direction. His partner had already left him to found Max’s Kansas City, a famous East Village watering hole.
    In January 1972 Krivit told Koch he wanted the Ninth Circle to become a gay bar. At the time, Koch wasn’t sure whether Krivit, who was straight, knew that Koch was gay. The owner asked Koch if he could hire a whole new staff within two weeks, and his manager told him he thought he could. Koch believed this was the first straight establishment in Greenwich Village to “go gay” overnight in the seventies. The old staff was fired, and the bar bought an ad in Michael’s Thing, a guide to New York nightlife, to announce the makeover. The response was instantaneous-and “overwhelming.” The owner hedged his bets a bit by keeping the restaurant going for a while on the lower floor after he converted the upstairs into a gay bar. This transition caused a certain amount of amusement because the men’s room was downstairs, forcing gay bar-goers to walk through the straight restaurant to relieve themselves. But within a few weeks the gay part of the business had taken over the whole place. However, the big black and white sign outside announcing the “Ninth Circle Steakhouse” remained unaltered; no one saw any need to change it. Within a month, it was the hottest gay bar in Manhattan, a distinction it retained for most of the decade. Practically every night of the week, both floors were jammed from wall to wall with beautiful young men, eager to sample the spoils of the Stonewall revolution. “It was like a victory for gay people or something,” said Koch. “They conquered this straight bastion. We really weren’t ready for it. And it just went up and up and up from that.” There were two separate bars, a long one upstairs with a row of low tables in front of it, and a smaller one below, with a dance floor and a pool table. Everyone from Andy Warhol to Harvey Fierstein was an occasional customer. An autographed poster of Janis Joplin next to the front door nurtured the myth that the singer had once been a customer.
    The garden in the back provided a third place to sit on languid summer evenings, and patrons lined up at the same table every night to purchase their drug of choice. Nearly everyone smoked joints outdoors, and no one bothered to be discreet about it. When Koch suggested to the owner that such flagrant commerce in illicit substances might be imprudent, Krivit was always dismissive. “You don’t understand this younger generation,” the owner would say. “It’s good for business.” Koch never witnessed any payoffs, but he was certain there were “Christmas gifts” for the local precinct, and he believed the owner had “big dealings” with police headquarters. “That cost him some money. He’d make a pretty big contribution there, which protected him all the way down.” Everyone remembered Stormy the bartender, whose real name was Norman Sabine. He had walked into the bar for an interview in 1974, and Koch was immediately beguiled by him; he started work that same night. Eventually, Koch broke his own rule against sleeping with a staff member and became Stormy’s lover after the bartender seduced him on Fire Island. Stormy was the fastest bartender most customers had ever seen, serving drinks with amazing speed-and making matches among his customers between almost every two pours. From where the customer stood, Stormy always looked utterly smooth. But he benefited from the camouflage provided by a dark bar, which hid his shortcuts; after washing a glass, he never bothered to dry his hands. As a result, “When we’d take his drawer out at the end of the night it would be half full of water,” said Koch. “All the money was soaking wet. And when he came home from the bar, he was literally soaked from the waist down. He was the messiest bartender I ever knew in my life. But he got it done.” Eventually Stormy and Koch worked behind the bar together on Wednesdays and Thursdays. “We made so much. We used to take the money home and we would just throw it in a dresser drawer. And it used to be such a pain in the ass, like once a month, to count that damned money. We hated counting that damned money! We’d always argue about it: `It’s your turn to count the money. I’m not counting it!”‘ Naturally the owner was delighted with his booming new business, but success was not without its consequences. “He ended up going to a psychiatrist over this,” said Koch. “Bobby was so freaked out that his friends were going to think that he had turned gay.” According to others, Krivit also spent all of his profits on drugs, gambling and girlfriends.
    Krivit died in 1990, and the bar finally closed in 1993.

    Charles Kaiser. The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America (Kindle Location 3497). Kindle Edition.

  25. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.That place became alive again for me as I read this. This article had me thinking of the young men I had known and with whom I had shared wonderful times then. Re: Chuck .. I have one lead on which I have to follow. I will update you with whatever I find out.

  26. Joe Rizzo says:

    I am Sure that All of You remember Neil Murphy And Russell.

  27. Mrozinski says:

    My home away from home in the 70s when I lived at 95 Christopher. Used to hang out in the back smoking 🙂 area/tent, or was playing pinball with Stephen Kent or sometimes downstairs with Freddie Tree.

  28. Jim Hlavac says:

    would you people kindly correct this post to reflect the fact that the Ninth Circle closed in 1990 and not the year 2000 — thank you very much …

    • Actually it didn’t close until 93 or 94. I hung out there in 92. I still remember many of the cds that were in the jukebox at the time, Madonna’s Erotica and Roxy Music were my favorites. Not sure when good service stopped but it was definitely before 92. I probably never would have gone there had my friend Sergio not insisted on hitting every bar in the village one night…or at these the ones he knew a16 year old could walk in with no issues.

      • Jim Hlavac says:

        It closed in 1990 — you could NOT have hung out there in 92 or 93 – I was there … it was my bar – until it closed … in 1990 🙂

        • Will Kohler says:

          It was my bar. I owned it first! LOL. 1000 princess points to anyone that can provide the exact date!

          • Alan says:

            There seems to be general agreement it closed in the early 1990’s. Perhaps you could change that part about closing in 2002 in the introduction to this site? But much more importantly, Will – thanks for this site!!

      • Jim Hlavac says:

        “food service”? Huh?

        • From what I was told, by several people that had gone there for years was they served food at one time. I’m not sure how true it was but the layout seemed believable to me. Unless someone else started up the place after 1990, I swear to you I was in 1992. I remember the sign outside. The stairs leading to the front door, which I slipped and smacked my head on the first time I’d ever been in snow. I also remember the pictures on the walls including ones of Bardot and Joplin. I also remember in the dark little alcove were there was a little sitting area next to the stairs leading downstairs had a framed photograph of the group KISS. I usually only came in on the nights that Sonny Oz, my favorite bartender, was working downstairs. After I left NYC in 1993, my friend Al Messia told me the Circle was converted to a restaurant.

  29. Tim says:

    I met Neil in78 was my best friend. Craig are you the one that lived with Neil in east village. I stayed there a lot when hm FM merchant marines. Remember kitchen tom. We fell in love in 84 and were together for 20years. He died of aids in 2002 Neil in 85. Always hung downstairs. Remember vinny and bill and bruceshhhhh. Loved that place. I lived in village fm 78 to 81 and the circle w’s my home. Best jukebox…blondie removes pistols…… those were the days……

    • Will Kohler says:

      Tim I was Tree’s weekend downstairs waiter Billy he called me “Fingers” Hung with Bobby Goodman, and Kevin, I knew Neil and was so in love with Craig the blond (he was a bartender upstairs originally from the Midwest.)

      • Tim says:

        Hi Billy what years did you work as Trees waiter. I hung out there daily from 78 thru 80 then I visited quite often after that after I became a merchant marine. Was Craig very close to john Koch if so that’s the same Craig I’m thinking of. Funny but I never hung out upstairs. I was a regular downstairs but I didn’t meet all the staff until Neil became my friend as he was much more sociable.were you collegiant looking. I remember a Billy who I thought bartended upstairs and then went to Julius’.

        • Will Kohler says:

          No I hung out there in 78, 79, Worked downstairs and upstairs the same time Randy (whatever happened to him?) and Sonny worked as cocktail waiters, but mostly worked downstairs on weekends with Tree and Micheal McGuire. I gave backrubs so Tree called me fingers. Craig had curly blond hair right? Jerry lusted for him i think (So did I. Was ,my first major crush I was only 18 – 20 (Grandfathered in on drinking) Neil was an awesome guy. I was devastated when I heard.

  30. Tim says:

    Neil was the most honest person I knew. I fronted the money when he went into “business” and then went overseas for a year. He made deposits in my bank until it was all paid. I must know you as I remember Tree always getting backrub. Before Neil came I hung out with the jersey gang, vinny bill Bruce and played pool all the time. Did you know little Al? You didn’t know tom. He was called kitchen tom for giving bjs in kitchen and he also dealt on back porch. We never met in circle, Neil knew him and introduced us at the anvil…… yes Craig had Curley blonde hair. Neil used to mail me cassettes of craigs great punk music collection…..

    • Will Kohler says:

      Yeah we definitely know each other. Remember Jack the telephone guy who used to play DigDug? I always used to battle him on the game and we’d fight for high score. i remember little Osacr. I was so in love with Craig.

  31. Glen says:

    I enjoyed reading all the posts about my former stomping grounds. I couldn’t help but notice Jim Hlavac’s posts. Jim: I remember you. In fact, I had a crush on you back in ’88-’89, but I was always shy to approach you. In 1988, I lived in Astoria, Queens and I remember seeing you walking out of Chauncey’s bar on Broadway; and I later discovered that you had a partner with whom you lived. I can’t remember his name, although, he was overweight with black hair, and I remember seeing him snorting coke in the Ninth Circle bathroom and speaking a foreign language. At the time, I was actively bisexual and dating a girl, but also messing with a guy (nothing serious though). It was comforting to know that the Ninth Circle was welcoming to bisexuals. I had many wild nights in “the circle” throughout the 80s, and met some interesting people with whom I’d love to reconnect. In my mid-twenties, I joined the Marine Corps and was shipped off to San Diego, CA for basic training, and then deployed overseas. In 1994, while back in the States, I went back to “the circle” only to discover that it had become a restaurant. I was anticipating having some fun once again in “the circle”. Thanks for the great memories! I’m now 51-years-old and living in San Diego, CA with my 23-year-old twin sons, Derek and Travis.

  32. Jeff Savage says:

    I was a bartender at the Ninth Circle sometime in the early 90’s. John Koch hired me. This was after Kravits died and his son took the place over. I remember the facelift included a bunch of large murals by Martine (wow, would I love to know what happened to them). I met some of the most fascinating men of my life working the part of the upstairs bar John Koch referred to as ‘the branch’ (so called because all of the ‘old vultures’ would perch there and nurse their drinks). Lenny was the doorman. I worked with a guy named Joe that everyone was in love with. I believe another door person was Aaron…also a beauty. And then of course there were the unforgettable patrons: Tommy DiMastri, Mitch, ‘Dog’, ‘Bleecker’ Mike, Ian Can’t-remember-his-last-name (a witty, extremely intelligent, British sociologist) and at least a dozen others whose names I can’t remember, but who still left a lasting impression on my heart as warm, intelligent, funny, gifted and unique. There were a LOT of underage hustles that frequented the bar. One of them used to press himself close to the bar and allow the patrons to feel his cock unseen for what…a drink…a few bucks? I don’t know. Don’t remember his name. When I came to the Ninth Circle it was a mere hiccup of what it had been. There were left over denizens of yesteryear, but for the most part we were only drink sales and memories. Can’t remember who worked the downstairs bar…believe it was Skip, but can’t remember. Very grateful for the job and the memories. I have a picture of myself painted blue for one of the Halloween parties there. If I can dig it up, I’ll post it.

  33. Tom Maloney says:

    I have fond memories of the Circle. I went there between 1979 and 1985. I remember Sonny, Tree, and Billy Kohler. My friend Donna and I would go there for me and go to Paula’s on Greenwich for her. Tree would refer to us as “Jersey”. They were great times. They had excellent songs on the jukebox. I remember once I started dancing to “Let the Music Play” and Sonny said I couldn’t dance because they didn’t have a caberet license – then he started dancing with me.

  34. Skip Hamilton says:

    I had a Crush both on Jerry the upstairs bartender and Stormy (think his name was Norman) I loved this place so much, I grew up there, I miss so many people from there…………

  35. Matt G says:

    Holy Shit – i used to go there after Rocky Horror with the gang back in 83
    I was 15 and a runaway but found a home there
    I will never forget walking by the bar to look inside as a young gay runaway The was a pre-op trans woman sitting at the end of the bar with a friend and i just stood there wanting so badly to understand myself and belong – she turned and looked at me standing there and said “Oh- come here baby welcome home.”
    I get emotional every time i think about that. she knew exactly who i was and why i was standing there and the people in there took me under their wing.
    There was so much culture and generational story telling, there was a community there.
    It was the best thing that could have happened to me
    wow – complete awesomesauce
    i just looked 9th circle up as a hunch

  36. Bubbalina says:

    I remember it well in the late 1970’s as just a neighborhood gay bar with an outdoor patio in the back and dance floor downstairs. In the early 1990’s, it became the “Caffé Torino” ,a very popular gay Italian restaurant. It served very good food at affordable prices ! Enzo was the waiter and was from Naples, Italy and very nice. That place lasted several years and they succumbed to crazy high rent increases and closed down around 2009.

  37. Mark M says:

    The 9th Circle was my go-to drinking/getting laid bar in the 80’s. I was always quiet, but i managed to make some lasting friendships there. I met my partner there in 1981 – he asked me for a light by the jukebox, and we’re still here 34 years later. During our off-periods, I had a very dysfunctional but loving relationship with Bruce C., who Tree always called “Soup.” We had a few legendary brawls right there. but I loved him and remember him only. We were close until he died in early 1992.

    I enjoyed reading everyone’s reminiscences of Tree (loved boys and back rubs), Sonny (always horny, but very sweet), Craig (Billy Bud!), and even Jerry (consensus is correct: douche).

    Thanks for putting this up.

  38. Brian T says:

    Wow, this brought back some memories. I worked as a waiter there twice. Once before Bobby died 1989-1990, and once after for a time in 1992. I remember Bobby interviewing me and being scared to death of him. He only hired me because I lived near Toms River, where he was from. I wish I could remember everyone from that time, Tree, Jerry, Sonny, Brian the bouncer, etc..But I was pretty well high the entire time I worked there. ;-P. Some memories do come to ming though, like having to run outside to close the windows on Bobby’s sweet little Benz when it started to rain, Someone throwing a bottle through the window the night of the Rodney King Riots. I think i still have some scars from that devil cat that used to sleep on the empty beer cans on the jukebox. I still have some pictures of some of the people I worked with in ’92 that were taken inside the bar, if anyone is interested I’d be happy to share them.

  39. chuck walter says:

    So glad I found this tread and story. Like many of you the 9th Circle was my first gay bar in 1985. I have so may great memories and reading all this opened the flood gates. My best friend Mike and I hung out there regally until 1990 but I always stopped in whenever int eh area after that. Tree was the best! Always looked out for us and still keep up with him on FB. Garrett was our buddy and took good care of us. Brian (the doorman) was kinda the first guy I dated, didn’t last along but played a big part of my coming out and we both lived on Staten Island and remained friends for a few years but then lost touch within. Any one know his whereabouts?
    I had to laugh as I read many of you saying you were mistaken for hustlers because you hung to there. Same thing happened to me and followed me all the way to Charlies West in NJ. Rumors spread quickly that my friends and I were hustlers from NYC because people had seen us there. Oh, the good ole days. I wish I had charged looking back now lol.
    This was a great trip down memory lane and the 9th Circle for me plays an important part in my history. Thanks for putting this out there.

  40. Stephen says:

    My first boyfriend took me to the 9th Circle around 82 and because of the sign out front I stupidly tried to order a steak. Sonny flicked one of those long BBQ lighters at me and said “Honey, we only serve one kind of meat here.” I used to come back all the time after me and the boyfriend broke up and play the pinball machine in the back. The little bathroom downstairs always had funky graffiti and I would copy it into my journal. Someone wrote “Butt Fuck Babies to Death For Satan” on the wall and under that it said “Ask Tree For His No.1 Acid”. I have a picture from 1987 of me and some friends sitting under the 000000009 painting in the back but I can’t figure out how to upload it with this post. Anyway it’s great reading everyone’s recollections and I look forward to reading anyone who publishes a memoir of that very special place.

  41. Kurt says:

    Great memories! I was introduced to “the circle” in 1983 while I was a high school senior living in Alpine,NJ. My introduction to “the circle” was quite odd, to say the least. During my turbulent teen years of smoking pot, drinking on the sneak, listening to Pink Floyd and The Who and experimenting with rebellion, I was becoming eager to explore my sexual orientation which I could no longer deny to myself, but kept quiet from others. In December 1982 I got busted for a small amount of marijuana possession in the parking lot of my high school, and court-mandated to perform forty hours of community service at a mental hospital. While volunteering at this facility, a 27-year old male patient would often mention the Ninth Circle during his moments of clarity. He would often express that “the circle” was his hangout prior to his commitment, as he shared the happier times of his life with me. At this point, I became curious to know more about this place. Hmmm…a mostly young crowd of guys with a great jukebox, pool table, and a patio to boot! I got the Ninth Circle address from the Manhattan phone directory and public transit directions from the MTA. Clad in my blue denim jacket with Pink Floyd painted on the back, shoulder-length hair slicked back, and my Marlboros, I was a kid on a mission on that early Friday evening. As I finally approached my destination, I chickened out as I got closer to the entrance, and couldn’t bring myself onto that first concrete step. I was hoping to find a back door, but to no avail. After circling the block a few times, I finally got the balls to walk in behind a group of three guys, so it would appear I was with them. Once I got in, I ordered a beer (a can of Bud for $2.00). After a few beers, I ventured downstairs to relieve myself and struck up a conversation with Tree, who commented that I was cute. I finally found my second home! I came home and emptied my pockets of single dollar bills, loose change, phone numbers, and lint as I decided to revisit “the circle” the following Friday. I recall many good times at “the circle”, and yes, I was the one who constantly played Rod Stewart and Creedance Clearwater Revival on the jukebox. I must have frequented “the circle” 150 times from ’83 to ’90. I met some interesting characters in there as well as some decent down-to-earth guys. Unfortunately, I lost contact with everyone I knew from “the circle” due to a few relocations, but haven’t lost the great memories!

    P.S. Does anyone know the whereabouts of Stephen Z. from Cliffside Park, NJ, Michael Higgins from Brooklyn, NY, Roy P. from Carlstadt, NJ, Chip B. from Ridgewood, NY, and little Billy the hustler?

  42. jimmy brown says:

    I knew freddy tree before he worked@ the circle. We always had a crazy time @ his house! Been out west since 1977, butt had the craziest Times/drugs/tricks/being high. Butt the stonewall was the best! Except for the trucks! Dd i miss it? Sometimes. Jimmy browns

  43. Barbara Zigman says:

    I was there in 1979. Brings back some great and not so great memories. Jim Stott? The upstairs bartender?Joe. Always had a toothpick in his mouth? Bobbie-oh well. Tree is the only one I’ve been able to find. “Just follow Barbara, boys.” Michael and P.; Greg,……………….SFH 1979 aka Barbara

    • Will, for some reason I missed this post! I more or less lived on weekends in the back garden section for most of the 80s. I was usually writing my poems, smoking, & hustling. I used a cane after 1985 and Forrest Tree Branch was a long time friend of mine from Blue’s and elsewhere. I still have some 9th Circle matchbooks! I had a t-shirt, but gave it to the Center Archives. It was, after Julius, perhaps one of the few ‘real’ neighborhood bars which just happened to be gay. It was certainly more of a gathering place than any other bar in Manhattan. And I still miss that cat as it seemed to hate everyone, but would lie on the table bet to me as I wrote.

  44. Barbara Zigman says:

    I still have the Jacket and the t shirt. I remember Don the doorman/bouncer. I remember Billy, Dennis. Jim O R., John Koch, Sonny and the great waiters.Krivett was OK. Gruff exterior but a good heart.B

  45. Barbara Zigman says:

    To Street Editions: I don’t think The Ninth Circle “just happened to be gay. It was originally a straight bar owned by M. Ruskin. By the time Krivett bought it, the demographics of the neighborhood were changing. It went gay overnight. At least that’s what Krivett told me.

    Julius’ is, and alway was a gay bar I think.Fred……..Trevor Boteler………………….

    • Julius was infamous in the early 60s for not serving obviously ‘queer’ persons until the Mattachine sit-in/drink-in. My phrasing was meant to be jocular in that The 9th Circle was more a neighborhood bar even if the neighborhood was Manhattan or the East Coast!
      As for Fred Lutz,the original owner of Julius who lived upstairs, he was a very internalized homophobic asshole,imho. When he died in the mid 90s (?) and his son, Fred Jr.,took over; Julius had been gay since Stonewall. As I remember, it was the people from Sheridan Square and then Julius which swelled the crowd in front of the Stonewall that first night and gave added impetus to those already confronting the police.

      • Barbara Zigman says:

        I know. Lutz was a creep.I have memories that are so awful-I’ve never forgotten them. He was a voyeur. A letch. A sadist. And you’re correct. The early Julius’ was alot like Fire Island Pines where I spent summers as a child. Nobody was supposed to be obviously gay. Of course everything Lutz touched was trashy-the Pines wasn’t.B.

  1. April 8, 2016

    […] Disappearing LGBT History: The Ninth Circle Steakhouse … – Disappearing LGBT History: The Ninth Circle Steakhouse, New York City, NY (1961 – 1990) by Will Kohler · December 20, 2010 […]

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