On a recent morning trip to McGuire’s, a/k/a Jerry’s Post Road Market, for the newspaper, a profoundly eerie thing happened to me.
By Karen T. Butler
On a recent morning trip to McGuire’s, a/k/a Jerry’s Post Road Market, for the newspaper, a profoundly eerie thing happened to me. It was quite early; the sun had barely risen over the trees. Across the street on the corner of what “wasa” (Australian slang for “was at one time”) Central Avenue and the Boston Post Road, from the extremely unsightly large hole in the ground that once housed a building, I was distracted by an array of haunting sounds. It was the soft tinkle of piano music, quiet chatter, good old-fashioned laughter, and the clinking of glasses as in a toast.
The dust was swirling madly about, and figures of people, who looked so familiar and yet unfamiliar, were jumping up and down. I thought I recognized their faces and then again I wasn’t quite sure I did. There were hundreds of them — seriously. Amazingly, I was not afraid; in fact I was comforted watching them all, even though they were in a bit of a tizzy. It was a surreal yet fascinating sight.
What was I smoking or drinking, you might ask? I was sober as a judge. Maybe a bit daft for I was barely awake; I’m not quite sure what I was. But I saw what I saw. I stood there for quite a while trying to make sense of this bizarre scene. It finally dawned on me that floating around in this most unsettled manor were the ions of ghosts, or should I say spirits, of one-time loyal patrons of “The Jungle Club” that had once called 2 Central Avenue home. This favorite and infamous haunt, part of a building that had hugged that corner since the 1890s, had been torn down. All that remained was an unattractive and gaping hole in the ground.
It had definitely aggravated many hundreds of Rye’s fun-loving ghosts. They were aghast that such a piece of hallowed ground should be disturbed. “It is a sacrilege”, the voices repeated over and over. “A travesty,” remarked others. Another said, “There’ll never be another place like it.” Others commented, “Can’t believe this landmark has not been preserved.” The chants and chatter noisily continued. “Where do we go, where do we rest our fun-loving souls?”
Over the years, Rye had many a pub, bar, and joint, but none more legendary than The Jungle Club. It was part of an era when folks got together to have a little fun. It was a place to meet your neighbors and friends. Life was slower and simpler. Cell phones and computers were beyond the realm of comprehension. Friendships continued for a lifetime because people were less transient, often transcending several generations. Although food was served to accommodate the liquor license requirements, it was more the place to meet for a drink.
Early in the evening the locals from Blind Brook Lodge and the neighborhood would trickle in through the side porch door that fronted on Central. The most challenging part of the evening was to traverse the Boston Post Road, the truck route of the day with its steady stream of 18-wheelers, for I-95 had not been built.
As the evening progressed, the crowd came from further away. Connecticut had a drinking age of 21 while New York enticed fun-lovers with a drinking age of 18. Connecticut closed their bars earlier, but New York establishments stayed open to the very wee hours of the morning and then some. Coming over the “border” was the norm, so Port Chester, Purchase, and Rye obliged with many “watering holes”. The Jungle Club was the premier place to frequent in Rye. In its prime, just mentioning the name was sure to produce a nod of recognition on most people’s faces. That’s still the case for some even to this day, although its heyday was in the 1940s.
Eating out and food not prepared at home was a luxury, not something routinely done. A special treat in my family was a Sunday evening super of cold cuts from McGuire’s with their fresh Jewish rye bread and Mrs. McGuire’s (Jerry’s mom) homemade potato salad. McGuire’s was open seven days a week from sun-up until late evening, with one exception. On Sundays, they closed from 2 to 5 so they could enjoy their Sunday family dinner.
I met a distant cousin of the McGuire’s in Florida. His eyes lit up as he recalled taking the train to Rye from ‘The City’ to share Sunday dinner with them. He enjoyed dinner with the McGuires, and Rye. He said he loved seeing all the “beautiful girls” in Rye. A bit of a charmer himself, he was right about Rye girls.
When I was 8, we lived within walking distance of McGuire’s and The Jungle Club, not in that order. My dad was inclined to be somewhat of a chauvinist; in fact, I have often thought he may have invented it (sorry, Dad). He was not one for running errands, yet he would always eagerly volunteer to go get cold cuts on a Sunday. Without fail, Dad took me along; I was his sidekick. Looking back, I think my mother sent me along to keep Dad on the straight and narrow.
We walked to McGuire’s, but my dad cleverly always seemed to orchestrate our departure from home on the early side of 5. This allowed us time to stop at The Jungle Club for a “quick one.” Obviously, the “quick one” was not for me. Nonetheless, I loved to go to the club. There was just something about the place that words cannot describe. The owner went by the name of Bill Williams. His real name was Nasry Shamaly. He greeted customers, often with a handshake, as they arrived, and bid them farewell as they departed. All the customers felt very special, like family.
I remember wearing my Sunday best, a dress with a pinafore and shiny black patent leather Mary Jane’s when Dad would take me to The Jungle Club. Lifting me up in one felled swoop, he sat me down on the barstool. Dad “chewed the fat” with the bar tender, nursing his Johnny Walker black label scotch with a splash of soda in one hand, and stylishly smoking a Chesterfield with the other. I loved watching the endless array of “colored” birds, canaries I think they were, in a large cage that spanned the back of the bar. A tank of goldfish finished off the jungle decor. I loved the friendly atmosphere. I loved to watch the people. Young as I was, I never grew tired of the place.
Its subdued lighting, dark wood floors, a fireplace at one side of the room, light brown chairs, and white table clothes with an ashtray atop each table, combined to create a cozy, intimate atmosphere. Tables for two each, housing a small hooded lamp, lined the walls. Larger tables mostly for four filled the center of the room.
To the right of the bar sat an upright piano where Hughie and Cliff looking very spiffy in their tuxedos happily entertained the patrons, playing the piano and singing. Super club music it was called. The style of the day was for the piano music and songs to be soft and relaxing, more or less blending into the background, even though on occasion a few patrons loved to join them, singing around the piano as the evening wore on.
The overall atmosphere was serene with the murmur of quiet talk throughout this enchanting place to have a drink. Potted palm-like plants and bamboo walls accented the dining room and bar. The Jungle Club was reminiscent of the smoke-filled nightclub scenes from the beloved 1942 romantic World War II film, “Casablanca”, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. By the end of an evening the smoke in The Jungle Club was thick enough to twirl to the ceiling. With few exceptions, everybody smoked profusely, and always unfiltered cigarettes.
Reminding my dad that McGuire’s was calling was part of my unassigned task.
I chuckle at how seriously, at 8, I took my responsibility, but mostly I was hungry for my McGuire’s cold-cut supper.
One time I remember my dad paying for his drinks, and as he stepped off the barstool he placed a substantial tip on the bar. I had not a clue what a tip meant or was. I grabbed the money off the bar assuming my dad had forgotten it. Running after him as we left for McGuire’s, I said, “Dad, you forgot your money”. He quickly replaced the money on the bar. The bartender gave me a squirrelly look I will never forget. I returned his look with an embarrassed 8-year-old’s ‘what did I know’ smile.
The multitude of fun-loving spirits of The Jungle Club patrons, part of our almost lost past, will hopefully find solace in the fact that they are not totally forgotten, especially by those who were practically weaned there. Of course, you know who you are. The memories of the good times at The Jungle Club will live on. More recently 2 Central Avenue was known as Tripp’s and later The Black Bass. Still, it is The Jungle Club that is and will always be thought of as truly Vintage Rye.