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 with a quasi-bohemian clientele..
Originally opened and owned by Mickey Ruskin of Max’s Kansas City fame the Ninth Circle Steakhouse 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 1970’s what little star power and customers that remained were not enough to keep business going. Ruskin sold full ownership of The Circle to Bobby Krivitz.
The restaurant section downstairs was closed and became a disco starting out completely straight but realizing that there were some serious dollars to be made of the newly liberated gay crowd in NYC, The Ninth Circle literally became a gay bar 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 clientele changed to Rock Hudson and Jack Wrangler. With one of the best damn jukeboxes in NYC.
Today you’ll be hard pressed today to find out much about the Ninth Circle. Very little can be found out about it on internet and few pictures remain. What little info you can find 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 almost EVERY gay bar in NYC had a few hustlers in it. But to be honest as its business began to fade in its final few years there were more young men working the world’s oldest profession.
For over 20 years The Ninth Circle was the place to to drink and cruise in Greenwich Village. Weekends would literally packed people wall to wall. And customers wanting to get in would be held at the door until some patrons left. 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 was a patron of The Ninth Circle and then worked as a cocktail waiter for a few years from 1980-1982. I was extremely young, 20 years old and this was before right before New York state raised the drinking age to 21. When they did raise it I was “grandfathered” in meaning that because I was of age to drink before they raised it. I still could. Which made the the youngest legal worker at the bar. But i tell you, after working there for a while I may have been young, but I was no longer naïve. (Again. Oh the stories I could tell.
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. (Fred Tree’s domain) 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 patio “garden”. Which was aptly named because there was much green in that garden being the copious amounts of marijuana that was smoked and sold back there. (Along with other various pharmaceuticals of the era: Black Beauties, Quaaludes Valium, etc.) I cannot even tell you how many times I was tipped in joints, Nickle bags and other substances. (Ah memories. Well what I actually can remember.)
When you ventured downstairs there was a much smaller bar, a pool table, pinball machine, a video game and the bathrooms. Theis was bartender Fred Tree’s kingdom. This is where most of the “twinks” and a few hustlers hung out along listening to Tree who told the worst jokes in the world, celebrated Russian Christmas, and was an all around great guy. Tree still bartends today at The Stonewall Inn.
It was really was the best of times to be young and gay. But in a few years because of what was loomed on the horizon it would become the worst.
But looking back now, even mixed in with the tragedy of the AIDS pandemic and the loss the followed the memories of The Ninth Circle are some of the best memories of my life. What compares to serving cocktails and hanging out with Jack Wrangler. (Oh by the way and the reason his cock looked so big was because he was really short. I know this for a fact.) Or dancing the night away at Crisco’s Disco, or The Anvil and leaving their drenched in sweat on a Sunday morning at sunrise. Nothing beat going to Fire Island, The Bartenders Ball or being on the guest list at Studio 54.
Tree, John Koch, Jerry, Michael, Portia, Randy, Sonny, Don and Craig (whatever happened to you man 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.
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.
So consider this is just my way of making sure that the memory of The Ninth Circle never disappears.
Have an interesting bon mot, humorous story, or raunchy memory of the The Ninth Circle? Please feel free to post it in the comments section below.