The Bygone Days of a Cowboy Club in Greenwich Village
I found this cool photo in the archives of Fred McDarrah’s work and the neon sign for “The Village Barn” immediately caught my eye. I had no idea what this place was and, intrigued, I of course, consulted Facebook. Turns out that when the Village Barn closed in the late 1960s, it became the basement of Electric Lady Studios, where Jimi Hendrix, The Clash, and pretty much every other rock group recorded. Village history never ceases to amaze and delight.
And it’s interesting to this Southern girl that there actually existed a country music venue in New York City in the 50s and 60s. I grew up in a place where country music was ubiquitous. I never much liked it myself, but the airwaves were pretty much dominated by the genre in my neck of the woods. Greenwich Village always seemed to me to be the epitome a place where one would find scores of dimly-lit jazz bars and poetry cafes where people only wore black and smoked and thought a lot. Much more my style… But there it was. A family joint here in the Village that served up down-home cooking and the twangy tones of my youth.
According to those who knew it, it was fairly spacious, unlike many of Village spots. James Rian of Dining in New York wrote that visitors went down a steep set of stairs and entered a “genu-wine Village” with a Barber Shop and a coal-burning stove. The rest of the interior was “made up to look exactly like a barn” with harnesses on the walls and horse-collars on the rafters. The lighting was hidden inside milk cans and buggy lanterns. The rough board walls were covered with homespun graffiti. A menu of down-home food was served including pot roasts, stews, corn fritters, biscuits, corn bread and pies. In 1944, Billboard said it was “a perennial, living reminder of the fact that the squares of the world heavily outnumber the sharpies. For entertainment, this spot is offering a bumper crop of ripe, odiferous corn and the customers gobble it up.”
Turns out, as fate would have it, that the cowboy joint was actually owned and operated by the family of an acquaintance of mine!
In her words, “You could get dinner and drinks (during the depression my father did a $1 dinner, and had people lining up to get in!) and a floor show (usually a singer, a dancer, and a comedian, plus a 6 or so piece band, square dancing, turtle and hobby horse racing, and then regular ballroom dancing in between the shows). We had dinner there most nights, and I brought tons of friends and dates there. There were some notable people who performed there, though my favorite was Zippy the Chimp who roller skated and did tricks!”
Village lore. I can never get enough of it.