There was a last-days-of-Rome feeling of gritty decadence and debauched grandeur at Yogi’s this past Saturday night. The irony, of course, is that this is likely the first time those two adjectives have been applied to one of the most authentic dive bars around. For 10 years, Yogi’s, on Broadway between 75th and 76th streets, offered its distinctive brand of loud music and cheap beer to Upper West Side revelers. And before that, it had done much of the same in its previous incarnations as Bear Bar and McGowan’s, fixed neighborhood institutions whose origins seem lost to faded memories and distant history.
All that ended in the early hours of Sunday morning as Yogi’s closed its doors for good, ending an era of drunken wildness that saw uncountable thousands slug back cheap pitchers. Decadence and grandeur, sure, but certainly plenty of sorrow as well.
“I love it. I haven’t been to any bar in New York this fun,” said Sarah, one patron enjoying the final hours of Yogi’s on Saturday night. “It’s a good late-night place. I’ll never begin a night here, but this is where I’ll end it.”
Most of those present, though, preferred to focus on what made the place great.
“It’s a fun bar-people dancing on top of the bar, singing the same songs together,” said Cherif, a bouncer who has worked at Yogi’s for five months.
When he showed up around 10 p.m., one visitor immediately announced, “I am here to drink tonight, nothing else. I am going to get drunk.”
It was hardly a solitary sentiment. Yogi’s has always been about drinking and little else. With pitchers of Pabst Blue Ribbon sometimes going for less than $6, it was about as cheap as a bar gets on the Upper West Side. Those prices drew a diverse cross-section of society: men and women, old and young, yuppies and bums, foreigners and regulars, college kids and sports nuts.
And they were rarely put off by some of Yogi’s charming yet repellent features. The bathrooms were always disgusting, the floors littered with discarded peanut shells and the interior dim and dank. On the other hand, the bartenders often danced atop the counter and were always scantily clad. The music consisted entirely of country and rock classics played at ear-shattering levels. Outside, a small statue of a bear, one that matched a 12-foot version indoors, greeted visitors, along with a chalkboard that carried different witty puns every day. The rest of the décor included mostly beer paraphernalia and the occasional bra hanging from the ceiling.
Though rumors had swirled for months, nobody knew Yogi’s fate for sure until a sign was posted in the front window a few weeks ago announcing its closure. It said, in part, “Big money wins again. … Look for the bear in the neighborhood, we will be back.”
Alongside the sign, the bar’s countdown timer-customarily employed for New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day and the arrival of The Allman Brothers Band for its annual visit to Beacon Theater-measured the days and hours until closure. The ownership plans to open a new bar called The Duck this week at Second Avenue between 111th and 112th streets.
This past weekend, though, some were fairly direct with their anger over the demise of Yogi’s, which is making way for a new apartment building.
“It’s becoming a cliché in New York to talk about gentrification, but when you lose a bar like that or any neighborhood institution and it’s replaced by generic bank branches and upscale cosmetics shops, I think it takes value off the table,” one regular said. “I don’t want to live in a generic American mall. I want to live in a neighborhood with some character.”
And Yogi’s certainly had plenty of that.
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