You may have noticed the windows of The Waylon taped up one day in mid-May, as industrious crews of PAs and camera operators scurried around the 10th Avenue bar in what appeared to be a film shoot — it turns out that just beyond the well-loved watering hole’s doors were none other than comedian Seth Meyers and Austin Richard Post, aka musician Post Malone — doing a bit of lightly-debaucherous day drinking for Late Night with Seth Meyers.
Meyers — perhaps influenced by a few strong drinks — introduced the neighborhood hangout as “The Waylon on 10th Street”, where he was joined by Malone for a rousing afternoon of trivia, temporary tattoos, and TV theme singalongs.
Malone and Meyers sipped on cocktails crafted by the Late Night team based on Malone’s tattoos — some of which were better tasting than others — as they played trivia games about each other, a bit of celebrity Heads Up, and gave each other Sharpie face tattoos. Their happy hour(s) concluded with a semi-chaotic rendition of the theme song from Cheers after a few final glasses of Malone’s own rosé label, Maison No. 9.
What Meyers and Malone may not have known, however, is that The Waylon — once known as Druids Bar and before that, Robert’s, and before that, BJ’s, and before that Sunbrite Bar — really was a place where everybody knew your name, and was home base to more than a few boldfaced celebrities — ranging from Bruce Willis to Westies hitman Eddie “The Butcher” Cummiskey Jr.
The bar was well-known for attracting the kind of characters Cheers only wished it had — Tom Thumb (a carpenter who had chopped off his thumb in an accident); Dominic the Poet (obvious reasons); Tom Law & Order (who worked on the eponymous New York TV show), and Mobil Jim (an employee of the nearby gas station).
Lee Romero (who shared his Druids patron sketches with W42ST) recalled when Druids was known as Robert’s and home to a bartender known as none other than Bruce Willis — then a harmonica playing, Hell’s Kitchen local who many neighbors remember as a charming-scallywag-about-town.
Reader, musician, and former Robert’s bartender Joe Mulligan shared memories of his time working with Willis at the 10th Avenue Bar, where Willis could regularly be counted on to drum up the tip jar while Mulligan played guitar — “Dig deep, folks! Joey’s putting his grandmother through college!” he once shouted to the crowd during one of Mulligan’s sets.
Mulligan noted that Robert’s after-hours scene was also something of local yore — recalling nights with Willis that veered from collegial to hallucinatory.
“Anyone who’s ever worked a bar knows that the best time to be there is after it’s closed — the place to ourselves, a cold beer and shot in front of you, a joint being passed, talking music, movies, comedy, the best Honeymooners episode (Blabbermouth! He knew that speech line for line),” said Mulligan.
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“One night, someone had mushrooms, and we tripped through the 3am dark valleys of Hell’s Kitchen, stopping from time to time, ‘Look at that fire escape!’ ‘Yeaahh…’ At some point, looking through the empty parking lot and 9th and 49th toward the skyscrapers of Rockefeller Center, he told me ‘The trick is that you have to remember how this looks like this when you’re straight.’ I nodded in solemn agreement,” he added.
While Willis would eventually hit it big with Moonlighting and moved on from the bar (though he retained an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen for years), he never forgot Mulligan, even stopping to acknowledge him at a 2009 harmonica set with the Allman Brothers at The Beacon Theater.
Their kinship spoke to a gentler time at The Waylon — which, in one of its earliest incarnations as the Sunbrite Bar — was the site of several Westies-related murders in the 1970s. The feared Irish gang, which is said to be responsible for as many as 80 murders over the course of their neighborhood reign from 1968 to 1986, made Hell’s Kitchen and the Sunbrite their frequent meeting place.
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It was a time when Mickey Spillane — then the leader of the Irish mob for several decades — was losing his grip amidst conflict with the Italian Genovese crime family, who were furious with Spillane and the Westies blocking them from the nascent Jacob Javits Center construction deal. At the same time, Spillane’s go-to hitman, Eddie “The Butcher” Cummiskey, sensed that there were other powers rising in the area — namely Jimmy Coonan, who hoped to take over Spillane’s territory on the West Side.
Cummiksey, who began working for Coonan in 1975, went quickly to work in carrying out a multitude of hits for the mob boss — including that of Patrick “Paddy” Dugan, who had killed Cummiskey’s best friend weeks earlier. Cummiksey is said to have brought Dugan’s severed head (among other body parts) to the Sunbrite bar as a trophy — a hubristic move that would come back to haunt him when the Genovese family, unaware that Cummiskey had started working for Coonan and hoping to get rid of Spillane’s allies — had him shot at point-blank range inside the 10th Avenue bar on August 20 1976.
A plaque dedicated to the gruesome memory even sits at the end of The Waylon bar — perhaps just beyond the reach of Meyers’s and Malone’s jaunty game of Celebrity Heads Up. While the two stars didn’t cover any of the bar’s storied history, it’s clear that the modest, wood-paneled space on 10th Avenue will always be home to some of New York’s legendary characters.