The Legendary Bars Where Famous Artists Drank, Debated, and Made Art History

Artsy | Alina Cohen

On a recent weekday evening at the Lower East Side bar Beverly’s, a neon pink glow enveloped a young crowd downing cheap cans of Modelo. In the long, narrow venue, patrons ate chips and guacamole from a takeout joint, while drinkers’ sartorial choices—white sneakers, fitted sweatpants—suggested the bar’s dominant mode: effortlessly hip. Yet small details, such as the gold, stuffed pistol above the bar mirror and the video art playing behind a booth, signaled the bar’s divergence from your average Manhattan dive. These are artworks by predominantly emerging artists, and are part of a series of rotating exhibitions at Beverly’s, which have featured sculptor Rose Nestler, online-dating-inspired photographer Sean Fader, ceramicist Roxanne Jackson, and many more. Its owners are artists themselves.

Beverly’s continues a long tradition of bars that not only cater to creative people, but often prove crucial to their conversations and careers. In New York, London, and Paris in particular, certain watering holes have hosted legendary conflicts, philosophical debates, and networking opportunities. They became boozy safe spaces (at least for those who knew their limits). In Paris, bars aided the emergence of modernism. In his book Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World, Miles J. Unger describes La Closerie des Lilas in Montparnasse as “an essential stop on the itinerary of anyone interested in contemporary art.” On Tuesday evenings at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, writers (Arthur Rimbaud, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein), artists (Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Man Ray), and patrons met to drink and discuss the merits of alternative philosophies and styles. Along with standard brasserie fare, visitors could sink into the sumptuous leather banquettes as they listened to live piano…read more

Image: Anton Perich, Olivero Toscani and Donna Jordan at Max’s Kansas City, ca. 1970. Courtesy of the artist and Steven Kasher Gallery, New York.