Jimmy’s Corner ain’t on a corner, which probably confuses and amuses the Fly-Over-State Tourist, Hedge Fund Babies, and Bridge-and-Tunnel crowds, which is just plain perfect. To understand why Jimmy’s Corner is in the middle of 44th Street you have to look back nearly 50 years, into a Times Square that had not quite yet hit its nadir, but was well on its way there. Sandwiched in the few years between the declining Times Square of Midnight Cowboy and the rock-bottom New York of Taxi Driver, Jimmy Glenn, a boxing coach who had a gym nearby on 42nd street, found a store front space on 44th a few numbers east of Times Square at a price that he just couldn’t resist. So at the protestations of his wife he opened Jimmy’s Corner, with “Corner” referring to the corner of a boxing rink which he was so familiar with, and it’s been there ever since.
That was 1969 (I think), and as of March 2018 Jimmy’s Corner is still there. And on any given night Jimmy himself might also be there tending court and helping out. I recently (3/17) watched him bring a bucket of ice to the bar, negotiating the thin space behind the bar with the bucket in one hand, his cane in the other, singing to Luther Ingram on the Juke Box (“If Loving You Is Wrong I Don’t Wanna Be Right”). After he’s done with the ice he shakes a few patron’s hands, and then takes a seat in the back room, by himself, enjoying the music, and watching his customers, who may or may not understand whose house they are drinking in and the He is there tonight as well.
To be sure, this is as authentic Vintage Times Square as you can get. In fact with the shuttering of The Show World Center this very well may be THE LAST bit of the old, circa late 60’s/early-mid 70’s Times Square left (or even the late 70-‘s/early-mid 80’s Times Square, or to be honest even the 90’s Times Square from my early days; almost everything else has gone or changed). And when Jimmy goes to that great Corner in the Sky that very well may be it for the gritty Times Square that is now mostly mythology.
That night in March 2017 I sat down with Jimmy and he talked about how his wife, Swanee, who served me my first beers at Jimmy’s nearly 20 years ago, but is now passed on, couldn’t understand why he wanted to open a bar in such a small space. He explained to her this would be how they could live a comfortable life (which he assures me they have). He also told me about why he still served cheap drinks ($4 for a Heineken, I don’t know of another bar in the USA where I can get, and in NYC a cold Heine is usually at least $8); his reasoning is “if you serve cheap drinks you ain’t gonna get rich, but you’re going to have return customers, who are your bread and butter” (and that will help you live comfortably). All around Jimmy are mementos of his other life in boxing, with several pictures of him with the likes of Mohammed Ali and Floyd Patterson scattered among vintage posters of historic bouts, many of which Jimmy played a ring-side part in (Here’s a nice New York Times article from when Ali passed away).
I’d wandered in to Jimmy’s way back in the late 90’s, was mesmerized, and a little scared by it, then forgot(!) about it for almost 17 years. At some point in the last three years I found myself wandering back in, and the feeling of “I’ve been here before” came rushing over me, and when I saw Swanee behind the bar the mental pieces fell in to place. Now I go there at least once every trip up to NY, hoping and praying that each time I turn the corner on 44th I’ll still see that blue and white “Jimmy’s Corner” awning flapping in the wind, ushering my down the street and through the aging, decrepit door, into The Corner once more.
Article from “Secondsout.com”, a boxing site of course.