I just found out that Stefan Lutak, proprietor of the Holiday Cocktail Lounge in the East Village, died earlier this week.
Amongst friends o’ mine, the Holiday Cocktail Lounge was the go-to pregame spot for an evening’s festivities. It was rundown yet strangely elegant. It was never too crowded. The seats in the back resembled the kind you’d find in an school bus, including the super-sticky duct tape plastered over the rips. It had an excellent jukebox.
And it was super cheap. You couldn’t get beer beyond Bud, Corona, and Heineken in bottles, or mixed drinks more complicated than a rum and coke. But you could have a few drinks with friends, and leave with your wallet not completely empty.
And somehow, someway, the place was never overrun with douchebags. You would think that a very affordable joint on St. Mark’s Place would attract some vile human beings. I can’t walk into any bar in this city without spotting some loudmouth jerk whose mere presence sours my evening.
Except, amazingly, for the Holiday Cocktail Lounge. It was a rare thing: a truly pure, awesome thing that was never ruined by awful people with tiny imaginations.
The Holiday Cocktail Lounge ran counter to every modern retail impulse. It was run in the way that old family businesses were in small towns (back when family businesses and small towns still existed). The place was open as long as Stefan felt like staying open. You could stay there all night if he did, but if he felt like going to bed early, you had to pack up and continue drinking elsewhere. Even if Stefan felt like hitting the hay at 9pm on a Saturday night.
It would be great if the Holiday Cocktail Lounge could stay open just as it is, and stand as a shining bulwark against the forces of Creeping Quality-of-Life-Ism. But alas, this is New York City, and even in the midst of an economic freefall, real estate is far too valuable to allow the kind of fun-first dollar-second atmosphere Stefan’s joint fostered.
So hoist one for Stefan tonight, and for the Holiday Cocktail Lounge. We won’t see the likes of either in this city ever again.