Slugger Ann and Jackie Curtis — Part of the East Village Family
Some bars come and some bars go, and some are never forgotten. Slugger Ann bar and cocktail lounge was located at 301 East 12th Street/192 Second Avenue at the corner of East 12th Street and 2nd Avenue and witnessed more than a quarter century of transformation in the East Village. The bar’s eponymous owner was Ann Uglialoro, born on April 30, 1906 and better known as Slugger Ann — a nickname she earned and, by all accounts, deserved.
Ann was the child of Italian immigrants, and had two daughters, Josephine and Jenevieve Uglialoro. Jenevieve was the mother of performance artist Jackie Curtis. Slugger Ann mostly raised Jackie, who also famously perfromed at her bar. She got her nickname “Slugger Ann” by while working as a taxi dancer in the 1920s and 1930s in New York City. “Taxi dancers” were hired to dance with their customers on a dance-by-dance basis in the dance halls of the time. Ann’s nickname came from her reputed reaction to any inappropriate or harassing behavior from her dance partners.
Her grandson Joe Preston added some color and detail to the ‘Slugger Ann’ origin story, via Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York:
“She worked as a taxi dancer in dance clubs, along with my mother and my aunt, in both the Times Square area and Union Square, and when the male customers got ‘fresh’ with putting their hands where they shouldn’t have gone, she hauled off and let them have it. She also belted her female co-workers when they got out of hand. She continued this slug fame during the 50s and 60s, and even some of the 70s when she and my grandfather Joe would physically throw patrons out of the bar when they got drunk and disorderly. She was short in height, but made up for it with a tough Sicilian demeanor and fists like cured hams. Believe me, you didn’t want to mess with her.”
Ann was a powerhouse even before becoming a neighborhood barkeeper and fixture. According to Steven Wolf, writing a sweet and nostalgic farewell in the June 1980 issue of the East Village Eye:
“It is impossible to write about Ann without mentioning that she was married at age 14, that she danced on Broadway while raising her four children, that she danced in a marathon for two months and won first prize, turned down a screen test in Hollywood, and won a jitterbugging contest at the Academy of Music on 14th St.”
Ann added, “14 St? Well, then it was 14th STREET!”
In that interview with Ann at the bar, with Jackie Curtis pouring him scotch, Steven asked Ann if she ever left the neighborhood. She replied:
“All my friends are right here in the neighborhood, my family is here,” she said, “I go uptown sometimes to Gimbel’s and once I went to the insurance company…”
She opened the corner bar in the early 1950s, and was there virtually every day. This was easy to do, since she also lived in an apartment behind the bar and was the superintendent for the apartments in the building. If this wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she was also the super if the apartments above what is now the Village East Cinemas (it was still operating as a theater then) diagonally across the street, where Jackie and photographer Peter Hujar also lived.
Jackie Curtis was born in New York City to John Holder and Jenevive Uglialoro. After they divorced, she was mostly raised by her maternal grandmother, Slugger Ann. Jackie performed as both a man and a woman. While performing in non gender conforming clothing, Curtis would often wear lipstick, glitter, bright red hair, ripped dresses, and stockings. She wore many of Slugger Ann’s clothes and was an early purveyor of trash and glam, and perhaps helped to inspire the glam rock movement of the 1970s. In Superstar in a House Dress, Andy Warhol said of Curtis, “Jackie Curtis is not a drag queen. Jackie is an artist. A pioneer without a frontier.”
Jackie Curtis made the most of the radical shifts happening downtown in the 1960s, when bohemians escaped rising rents in Greenwich Village by moving eastward. A Lower East Side slum kid, he was raised in a quasi-criminal atmosphere by a grandmother, known as Slugger Ann, and an aunt, Josephine Preston. Slugger Ann, who owned a bar with the same name, earned her nickname after working as a taxi dancer in a Times Square dance hall. Slugger Ann’s was a dimly lit Lower East Side corner bar with a few tables. One could find a cross section of low society and working people there, mostly truck drivers and laborers who would stop in for shots and beer. “Jackie really grew up in the bar,” said Melba LaRose, the star of Jackie Curtis’s first play, Glamour, Glory, and Gold: The Life and Times of Nola Noon, Goddess and Star. “Slugger Ann was a great old babe, loudmouthed. She obviously had been a beauty in her day, a sexy beauty. Bleached hair, and a feisty personality, great fun. And Jackie’s aunt Josie was great fun, too.” Slugger Ann would sometimes have a half dozen Chihuahuas stuffed inside her low-cut dress, propped up by her enormous breasts. Jackie sometimes tended the bar in jeans and a white T‑shirt with a cigarette pack rolled up in a sleeve, and other times in a shredded dress. “It wasn’t a gay crowd or a drag queen crowd, but sometimes Jackie was tending bar in drag,” LaRose said. “But if any customers would have said anything about Jackie, Slugger Ann would have punched them out. She was very protective of Jackie.”
Written by Jackie in 1965-66, Glamour, Glory, and Gold was first performed at the Bastiano’s Playwrights Workshop in Greenwich Village in 1967. Jackie’s cousin Joe Preston directed and starred in a revival of Glamour, Glory and Gold that was performed at La Mama in 2003.
As an actress Curtis debuted at the age of 17 in Tom Eyen’s play Miss Neferititi Regrets, produced in 1965 at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. This inspired her to write her own plays. Her work often included transgender people, such as Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn (the three were jointly immortalized in Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side — “Jackie is just speeding away/thought she was James Dean for a day…”). Her Glamour, Glory and Gold, starred Darling, Melba LaRose, Jr., and Robert De Niro in his first appearance on stage, playing several roles. Another of her works, Femme Fatale, starred a young Patti Smith and Penny Arcade.
Besides being an actress and singer, Curtis was also poet. Much of Curtis’ poem “B-Girls” is based on observations of the people who visited her grandmother’s bar, and was included in the 1979 book The Poets’ Encyclopedia.
“Curtis is a true sex-goddess, who infuses the female role with an erotic warmth, rare in women today.” – Ros Regelson, New York Times Includes Jackie’s…
After Ann’s death in 1980, Slugger Ann’s closed, but has continued to operate as a bar since. For many years it was Dick’s Bar, a popular East Village gay bar, and more recently has become the 12th Street Ale House. When Jackie died in 1985, her funeral was held just down the block at St. Ann’s Church on East 12th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues.