When searching through the chronicles of Greenwich Village history, some things almost seem too Village-y to be true, with all their quirky details and theatrical anecdotes. A prime example: The Pepper Pot Inn at 146 West 4th Street, a 1920s multi-level restaurant that became a sensation. Purchased in 1918 by Carlyle “Doc” Sherlock and his wife Viola, this spot came into being as the neighborhood surrounding Washington Square Park transitioned from affluent enclave to working-class territory and artists’ haven. Doc and Viola themselves tried to make it as actors on the big screen, but they soon left that world to become the owners of “the most popular eating place in the Village and a nation-wide destination.”
Lanterns, Candles, and Chili Peppers
The basement level of 146 West 4th served as the bustling restaurant of The Pepper Pot, where customers could enjoy a variety of cuisines, followed by Viola Sherlock’s own homemade desserts. Strings of peppers and paper lanterns decorated the ceiling, while the tables displayed enormous candles made of the wax drippings of all the candles that had sat there before. Artists seated at the table would carve figures into these mounds of wax, and the light from these candles illuminated the dark basement room.
On the parlor and second floors of this 1828 house, guests could dance and enjoy music. An image of the dance floor also appears to show a ceiling of greenery and more lanterns, with beautiful sunlight coming in from a tall window. Then above this was the Bridge Room, where Carlyle and Viola’s “friends of the motion picture, theatrical, bridge and chess world” could play and watch “exhibitions” of expert players. Village Preservation proposed and fought to secure landmark status for this and surrounding buildings as part of our proposed South Village Historic District; this section was designated in 2013. The South Village Historic District Designation Report even states that chess lover Marcel Duchamp stopped by. And finally, on the top floor, Viola had her own gorgeous, private studio (even though the couple rented rooms across the street). Her spacious hideout was “decorated in true Edwardian style with wicker furniture, Chinese lanterns and palms” and, as images show, washed with light from large, sky-facing studio windows.
As The Pepper Pot continued to flourish through the Roaring ‘20s, it became a popular spot for a new wave the neighbors didn’t care for – jazz! As Daytonian in Manhattan describes, “In the days before air conditioning open windows let in the night breezes but also let out the blaring music.” As a result, the Sherlocks’ landlady across the street, Mrs. Creveling, and her neighbor stopped by Jefferson Market Court to file a complaint. The landlady told the magistrate of “those funny ditties that they play” and the liquor continuing to flow despite prohibition.
Dr. Sherlock arrived in court on February 17, 1921 ready to fight this case. But according to the New York Times from the following day, he “waited in vain for the complaintants.” And so, the music and enjoyment continued at The Pepper Pot. A year later The Evening World newspaper described the place as still “extremely Greenwich Village – with an automatic piano in the candle-lit basement and a group of furious jazzers two floors above.”
The Following Decades
After the repeal of Prohibition in December 1933, The Pepper Pot could freely pop bottles for New Year’s Eve and beyond! The winter of 1932 also saw the walls of the restaurant filled with works by local artists. As the artists struggled to exhibit their paintings in the freezing Washington Square Park, Doc Sherlock generously offered two floors of The Pepper Pot for them to display and sell their pieces.
A few years later, Carlyle and Viola moved to their country home and another person managed the place, which by this time had expanded to include Nos. 148 and 150. Newspaper reviews continued to paint a picture of a funky hangout, complete with a fortuneteller, tap dancing, singing, dim lights, and neighborhood celebrities “of whom there have been many in the proud Pepper Pot past.”
The good times kept rolling here until the late 1960s or early 1970s. By this time, the upper floors had been turned into apartments and “an illicit after-hours club… run by the Mafia family of Carlo Gambino” had been shut down. Today, all signs of this renowned restaurant have vanished. No. 146 West 4th Street houses luxury co-ops, a vintage clothing store, and a pet boarding service on the basement level. But thankfully, through photographs and stories, we can remember The Pepper Pot and raise an imaginary glass to its jazzers, flappers, peppers, candles, and “the realest bohemians.”