Having a free Saturday in NYC I decided to venture south down West Street, in the shadow of the long-gone Westside Highway (Westway), into what at one time was the absolute worst (or best, depending on your ilk) of the West Village. This was really the first time I’d gone south on West, and I’d done pretty much zero pre-planning, so it was hopefully going to be an adventure.
What I found was, all that’s left now of the seedy water-front West Village is, at best, a (literal) shell of its past. But there are bits of the old still lingering on, grasping for life any way it can get it (which, from what I’ve read, is actually pretty fitting for this area, where places like The Trucks once hosted…well, that’s for another post another time).
The first place I ran into was the former Badlands, which will be handled in another post. The second, and actually to me more interesting place, just a block further south from Christopher Street, is the Keller Hotel and the Keller Bar and Grill. I was going to title this post “Leather and Disco”, but I just haven’t had time to write that post, so for now enjoy the pictures and the few laundry list facts following.
There are not a lot (actually I’ve found zero) pictures of the inside of The Keller, although I did find a floor map from 1966 which gives us an idea of the general layout (from this court case about a murder at The Trucks across the Westside Hwy), and matches written descriptions of the bar. I posted a few pics on Facebook and a discussion ensued about whether any films (of the adult nature) might have been filmed here or around here. There were a few potentials, but thus far none have borne any fruit, at least not for Keller, but Badlands and another place called The Strap are another story, for another post, probably on another blog…
As I mentioned above, this is not an in-depth post, so for now here are some high-level facts about the joint:
- Architect Julios Munckwitz – was also the Supervising Architect and Superintendent of Parks for NYC, and designed, among other famous places, the Central Park Boat House.
- Renaissance Revival Style
- Original construction cost – $68K (~$2.2M in 2019)
- 1898 – 1910 – Knickerbocker Hotel and Saloon
- 1911 – 1929 – New Hotel Keller
- 1929 – 1993 – Keller Abington Hotel
- 1939 – 1949 – Renee Tavern
- 1950 – 1955 – Charles Bar and Grill
- 1956 – 1998 – Keller’s Bar and Grill
- First “leather” bar in West Village (some source say in all of NYC)
- By mid-1980s transitioned to Latino and African-American clients
- Purported “Birthplace of Disco”, although I have yet to find any hard, primary sources to back this claim up
- Village People album cover photographed here…although again this is surprisingly difficult to either confirm or dispel. The most likely album to fit this would be the front of their first, self-titled Village People album (first picture), but the back is clearly taken a block away in front of BADLANDS (post on this location coming soon). It’s also possible the photograph used for the German release (third picture) was in front of The Keller, but again it’s very difficult to identify the exact location one way or the other.