The Grassroots Tavern, an East Village institution for some 42 years, will close on Dec. 31. The owner of a Murray Hill bar is set to take over its subterranean space on St. Marks Place.
James Stratton, who manages the tavern with his co-owner Douglas Bunton, said the rent had just become too high for a business like the Grassroots. “We were not forced out by any means, it would just have required a radical change for the business and the way we operate,” he told Bedford + Bowery. “We basically decided we had to throw in the towel.”
The owner of The Ginger Man, a Murray Hill bar that has been compared to “Euro Disney’s vision of the classic Irish watering hole,” is aiming for a liquor license at 20 St. Marks Place.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said a Grassroots bartender when we visited the bar Thursday.
“All the sudden, overnight, the rent skyrocketed, so we were put out of business,” said another bartender, Lawrence Carter, who has worked at Grassroots Tavern for the past 10 years. “It’s inevitable, I guess.”
Carter spoke wistfully about the sense of community that will be gone with the closing of the tavern. “We had any- and everybody from the old East Village, when it was musicians, artists and writers– they would all congregate at the Grassroots.”
Since hearing that the tavern might close, people have been coming in to say goodbye to the bar and reminisce about past nights out, Carter said. “I’ve met parents who’ve brought their kids in because the husband and wife met at Grassroots,” Carter said. “Now, they have adult children who they’ve brought back to the bar. Now, that’s gone.”
Robert Precious, owner of The Ginger Man, submitted a liquor license questionnaire to Manhattan Community Board 3 last month. In contrast to the stale popcorn at Grassroots, he plans to offer “casual restaurant fare” at a yet-to-be-named 23-table establishment, according to the questionnaire. Live jazz performances are slated to continue. Precious also owned another midtown bar, Under the Volcano, which was sold in 2008.
Opened in 1975, Grassroots has been a fixture on best dive lists; Gothamist admired its “tin ceilings, dark lighting and tap beers served in heavy glass mugs,” Travel + Leisure nodded to its “cheap pints and lack of attitude.” It has even appeared on Esquire‘s list of Best Bars in America, thanks to its “beer, darts, conversation. And enough gloom to keep the NYU students from making it a ‘college bar.'”
Some grew concerned about the bar’s future when it was announced, early last year, that its building had been sold.
The shuttering of Grassroots follows that of another St. Marks Place institution, Cafe Orlin, which closed after 36 years in October.