One of the best things about walking around our neighborhoods is the delight in looking up and discovering a beautiful or unique feature of a building. You can traverse the same street a thousand times, and on the thousand-and-first pass, a stone detail or a colorful window sill that you’ve never noticed before might catch your eye. Our buildings tell stories.
Sometimes, when walking through the Village, you glance up and notice something… strange. I was recently meandering down Seventh Avenue South with a childhood friend (we grew up in the Far West Village together), reminiscing about life in the neighborhood in the ‘90s, when she pointed to the roofline of a building across the street: there, peering over the parapet coping stones, was a row of five skeletons.
Sited on a triangular-shaped lot in the middle of the block between Grove and Barrow Streets, the unassuming red brick building beneath the spooky figures is, according to the LPC Greenwich Village Historic District designation report, “all that is left of the rear of a six-story apartment house that once faced Grove Street (Nos. 62-64) before Seventh Avenue was cut through.” The currently-vacant commercial structure was reduced from four stories to one story in 1933.
As further described in the designation report, “Seventh Avenue was extended southward in 1919 from Greenwich Avenue by cutting through the blocks to the south of it. This process left many buildings either sliced off at the corners or cut in two and an array of small, triangular-shaped lots.” The result is an uncharacteristically heterogenous streetscape for the Greenwich Village Historic District, and this particular stretch along the east side of the avenue features many one- and two-story “taxpayer” buildings containing businesses (as opposed to most of the commercial thoroughfares within the district, which typically feature multi-use buildings, with storefronts at the ground floors and residential space above).
The building in question, 91 7th Avenue South, has been no stranger to interesting commercial occupants. In the 1950s-60s, it was home to the Limelight Cafe, a coffeehouse and photo gallery that drew a bohemian crowd; on Saturdays, Jean Shepherd would use the space to live-broadcast his radio talk show.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the aforementioned skeletons entered the scene. In 1991, a themed restaurant that touted itself as “New York’s only haunted restaurant and bar” opened at 91 7th Avenue South. Modeled after the British explorers clubs of the 1930s, and thematically based (very loosely) upon Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Jekyll & Hyde Club was meant to evoke a feeling of traveling back in time. The branding throughout, and an engraving at the sidewalk, falsely claimed the restaurant was established in 1931, but per the above history we know that the building itself did at least take its current form during that decade.
The restaurant, which was confusingly also meant to represent Dr. Jekyll’s haunted home, embraced kitsch with its vaguely Victorian decor, animatronic creatures, and ostentatious furniture. It situated itself among a slew of popular themed restaurants of the ‘90s and aughts, such as Mars 2112, another NYC oddity, located near Rockefeller Center from 1998-2012. The Jekyll & Hyde Club faced various bankruptcy lawsuits, and closed for good in 2022. The operators of the restaurant also ran the Slaughtered Lamb Pub on West 4th Street, a themed bar based on the movie “American Werewolf in London,” which closed in the same year.
In searching our Historic Image Archives for more details about the building’s history, I stumbled upon this photograph in the Riccardo Spina Collection:
The view looked familiar! Comparing it to the same view in Google Street View, I was able to match up the silhouettes of the buildings and that billboard, which is still extant. The same wood-frame addition seen on the right side of the photo remains (though it has been reclad, and the awning replaced), leading to the realization that the photograph was taken from inside the restaurant space at 91 7th Avenue South. Could it have been when the Jekyll & Hyde Club occupied that very storefront? Possibly–the checkered tablecloth pattern is quite similar–but more likely not, as the restaurant opened in 1991 and most of Spina’s photos date to the ‘70s and ‘80s. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating to know that this was the view from inside the restaurant space in the past.
Have you observed an architectural anomaly or curiosity in your travels throughout Greenwich Village, the East Village, or NoHo? Our resources page is a great first stop if you’re interested in finding out more about the history of a building.