Subway Inn, the storied dive bar which first opened in 1932, has moved for a third time, to 1154 Second Avenue near East 60th Street — though it’s temporarily closed because it has been waiting for New York State Liquor Authority approval for a liquor license since June.
The third location in its more than 80-year history, the Midtown East bar originally opened in 1932, with Marcelo Salinas, who died in 2016, and his wife, Patricia, who ran the place for at least 40 years. Along the way, their son, Steven, took the helm.
It all started in 2014, when the bar struggled to stay in its original location, staging a battle that included a petition of thousands of people, including singer Tony Bennett supporting the bar. Subway Inn lost in its fight against its landlord, World-Wide Real Estate Group. Once the bar closed, it was demolished along with properties from 143 to 161 E. 60th Street; a Chinese-backed company bought the stretch for $300 million.
Once it closed, Subway Inn took its neon sign along with the booth shared by Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, and moved several blocks east, to 1140 Second Avenue, at East 60th Street.
Fast forward to 2021 and the family had to move the bar yet again, at which point in June of 2022, members from Community Board 8 allegedly attempted to block the liquor license application. Once the bar navigated that conflict, they face another delay in liquor license approval for the new location, which is not uncommon as of late, where licenses can now take up to a year to approve.
By January 26 of this year, Subway Inn had yet to reopen, so the family took to Facebook . “Since we have moved approximately 50 feet from our recent location, we have had to reapply for our liquor license [The liquor license is bound to the location and not the business]. This process has not only been a stressful one, but instead, it has been an experience that has given us zero confidence in our system,” they wrote.
The New York State Liquor Authority indicates having received the application last July; nevertheless, Subway Inn is still listed as pending, having been sent to the board for action on January 31.
The family also lamented over Facebook that “we regretfully had to tell our employees and their families they will be placed on furlough until we receive our license.” They claim that delays in processing that have only increased since COVID, have hurt small businesses like theirs. “New York State has made it impossible for small businesses to survive,” while thanking longtime supporters for sticking with them.
“We thank everyone for the love and support you have continued to show us, through this moment and throughout the years,” they wrote. “We pray that the NYSLA can get their act straight and pray that we can get through this, because our livelihoods depend on it, and because this is our last push to survive and save the legacy of the Subway Inn.”
Though restaurants faced escalating rents before COVID, conditions during and after have further taxed restaurants and bars. Other dive bars — a unique species especially vulnerable to the pandemic — that have recently closed include Holland Bar in Hell’s Kitchen, founded perhaps as early as the 1920s. Bleecker Street Bar, open since 1990, closed in 2020, and is relocating to 648 Broadway. Like Subway Inn, it’s also on track to reopen soon.