Hundreds of stagehands, musicians and actors have been on tenterhooks since August 2005, when word first broke that McHale's would soon become the latest victim of the seemingly unstoppable midtown building boom. In summer, the landlord of the building—at the northeast corner of Eighth Avenue and 46th Street—sold the property for $30 million to the 46th Street Development Corp, which intends to construct a 42-story residential complex. It was initially thought that the bar would have to vacate in September, but that soon stretched to Jan. 1, and then Jan. 30. Now, it appears owner Jimmy McHale will have to leave slightly earlier.
The disappearance of McHale's will leave Broadway stagehands without their primary watering hole. Though members of all the theatrical unions have long been known to belly up to the joint's long wooden bar, which hails from the 1939 World's Fair, Local One members were among the most loyal and numerous customers. McHale's was also known to attract the occasional star, such as Brian Dennehy, Ed Harris, George Wendt and Norbert Leo Butz. Struggling actors, meanwhile, were drawn by the homey, Old New York ambience and the inexpensive beers and hamburgers.
Various efforts have been made over the past few months to keep the doors open, including a petition circulated within the restaurant. Jimmy McHale has expressed the hope that, when the new structure opens, he might occupy the same ground-floor, corner space. He said he would keep the wooden bar, original windows and other pieces of memorabilia in storage during the intervening period.
The prime location has housed a bar since the 1930s. McHale's father, also named Jimmy McHale, bought it in 1954. After he died in 1981, his wife Peggy ran the business. Peggy McHale passed away in 1989. A sports enthusiast and former hockey player, the younger Jimmy McHale has covered the walls with signed baseballs and posters of hockey players and winning horses. The only sign that would tell the uninitiated that the bar is a theatrical agora are small tragedy and comedy masks hung to the left and right of a clock hanging over the bar. The waitstaff, meanwhile, is composed almost entirely of aspiring actors.
McHale's is only the latest in a series of closings which have robbed the theatre district of some of its oldest, most affordable restaurants. Howard Johnson's, the oldest continuing business facing Times Square at the time, shuttered over the summer, as did JR's, which sat opposite McHale's. Meanwhile, persistent, but unconfirmed, rumors have also put a string of restaurants along 45th Street at imminent risk.