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If you’d like to raise a glass to iconic neighborhood dive Holland Bar, you’ll have to do so somewhere else — the legendary Hell’s Kitchen watering hole has closed. Today, it is left with nothing but an empty brick-lined room and the many memories of its eclectic existence on 9th Avenue.
While Holland Bar had already risen once from the ashes of a lease termination in 2008, this time, it seemed clear that the area hangout between W39/30th Streets — known for its cash-only cheap beers, dark lighting, jukebox, and barside collection of signed dollar bills — had poured its last Budweiser.
Like all good dive bars, Holland’s origin story is delightfully and purposefully opaque. According to a New York Times article from 2009, owners Gary Kelly would proudly display a painted sign declaring the joint as “established in 1927” across the storefront window — though Kelly, who has owned the bar since 1998 with wife Melissa, acknowledged to the Times that he was unsure of the exact year of the bar’s origin. Kelly may be right yet, however, as prior to its current location the bar once served as an offshoot of the Holland Hotel, established on W42nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenue in 1927.
A cursory scroll of the bar’s Facebook page doesn’t offer many more clues — its only external link directs users to a website for the Holland Inn located in Bar Harbor, Maine (also closed, RIP). Several news articles detail its unlikely and much-heralded comeback in 2009, after plans to convert or sell the building fell through and the bar’s landlord agreed to renew their lease. But dive a bit further in and you’ll begin to uncover clues about the now-shuttered Port Authority-adjacent paradise, left in loving homages by visitors on Yelp and Trip Advisor.
“Only bar I’ve been to in my life where the Chipmunks Christmas song came on, and everyone in the bar sang along. And it was a Thursday… in October. I will be back for sure,” said one visitor.
Another visitor who called Holland Bar “A Gem in this Day and Age”, advised: “Sit there with a cold Budweiser and take it all in like a fly on the wall. Don’t be cheap and put some singles in the jukebox, you owe it to yourself.”
Mused another of Holland’s vibe: “Dive bar…what does that even mean? To me, it’s a place where there’s no judgment and you can be yourself. It also means that there are some eclectic folks who patronize it. Depending on the time of day, or night, it’s more ‘eclectic’ than others. Don’t get there as often as I’d like to, but always feel at home when I do. Is that a good or bad thing, LOL?!”
Former bartender Sandy Michelle also noted that the customers were “a real variety — some of the men were wild, some of the men were OK. But the majority of them were friendly and there to have a good time.”
One high-profile fan of Holland Bar was the late Anthony Bourdain, who cited the watering hole as “A classic old-man bar a couple doors down from Siberia. You know, the kind of place it’s okay to drink during the day,” he told Gothamist, in a ranking of his favorite places in 2006.
In addition to Holland, which the staff at Gothamist co-signed as “definitely an old-man (old-man-alcoholic) bar, though it’s not terribly divey — it just feels that way when you’re there in the morning with men in suits on their way to work” — Bourdain cited Hell’s Kitchen mainstays Siberia (now closed, once located on W40th Street and 9th Avenue) and The Distinguished Wakamba Cocktail Lounge (W37th and 8th Avenue, still open!).
Now, with Holland Bar’s closing — said to be attributed to COVID-era staffing and financial challenges — it seemed that another brick of Old Hell’s Kitchen had fallen off the facade. As one visitor predicted, the bar was “A full cross section of what Hell’s Kitchen was and is probably about to lose.”
Another alerted visitors that “this dive is not for everyone but that’s the point. If you are old enough to remember or weird enough to wonder what NYC was like in 1976-1979, you’ve stumbled over the right dive bar. Pull up a bar stool for a reasonably priced libation, put down your yuppy attitude and sing along to the Motown and Sinatra hits. I have it on good advice that you want to leave before you need to use the restroom. This place is not for the kiddies or the delicate.”
Holland Bar, the kind of place where Kelly once lost track of and later recovered a beloved bartender’s ashes (at times proudly displayed on the bar) and regulars considered rival Rudy’s a “yuppie” bar, is now relegated to artist Joel Holland’s illustration and the fond memories of its West Side patrons.
As Holland Bar regular and dive bar fan Ben told W42ST: “ The Holland has become one of my favorite spots recently because their beer prices are still cheap compared to the other bars in the area, Annie the bartender was especially welcoming, they played the jukebox music nice and loud as a dive bar should, and the Holland always reminded me of old NYC. It’s another huge loss to New York City.”