Chelsea lost its Cheers on Sunday morning as The Half King closed up shop after 18 years. Some knew the bar for its journalist owners– Sebastian Junger, Nanette Burstein, and Scott Anderson— but those who came to bid it farewell during its final week constituted a mix of media types, local workers, Chelsea Piers athletes, gallery visitors, and lots of fresh faces from the West Side’s new residential skyline.
After announcing last month that “times have changed and we can no longer avoid financial reality,” The Half King held its formal farewell party last Friday, a week ahead of its final night. The owners and their original partner, Jerome O’Connor, were on hand for a champagne toast. As the journalists spoke to a New York Times writer, the reporters became the reported.
The following Wednesday, Junger and Anderson asked each other questions during a farewell conversation. Junger remembered The Half King as a grieving spot for 9/11 recovery workers and for acquaintances of their friend Tim Hetherington, a photojournalist who was killed in 2011 while covering Libya’s civil war. “If the only thing that had happened in this place is that it served that function on that day, The Half King would have been worth it,” he reflected. “It made me incredibly grateful that this place existed, that I had a place in it.”
When Bedford + Bowery asked if there were any places that he’d miss in Chelsea besides his own, Anderson responded, “Not really, we drink for free here!” The audience laughed and Junger added, “If you own your own bar it’s really hard to think of anywhere else to go.”
The Half King’s notable series of photography and book events ended with an exhibition of Lauren Welles’ prints and a reading featuring journalist Reniqua Allen, author of It Was All a Dream: A New Generation Confronts The Broken Promise to Black America. Welles held an informal closing last Saturday; she expressed her gratitude for curators Anna Van Lenten and James Price and told us, “I hope the people that made [The Half King] take that magic to wherever they go next.”
On Friday, the past and present staff of The Half King held a reunion that brought out many who were there during the blackout of 2003, when Burstein got on the bar and yelled for everyone to calm down as the beer supply warmed up. Another reunion occurred at the opposite end of the bar when a mob of Hugo Boss employees arrived from their offices at the nearby Starrett-Lehigh Building. When asked to sum up his time at The Half King, Oscar Castillo told me “there was no better place in Chelsea to quench your thirst than at The Half King. Especially on Thirsty Thursdays with my colleagues and futbol mates. Long live the King!”
Click through the slideshow above to see photos from The Half King’s final week.