An Ode to ‘The Roughest Bar in Town’

First and foremost, the new photography book Terminal Bar stands as a testament to the durability of Pentax products. For you see, Sheldon “Shelly” Nadelman, the man whose photos from behind the bar of a Times Square-adjacent joint in the 1970s and early 1980s are showcased, bought his one and only Pentax camera in 1969. As a retiree in New Jersey, Nadelman still uses that same Pentax camera.

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The book, compiled from Nadelman’s photos by his son Stefan, reminds that the area about to be overrun with New Year’s Eve revelers has changed mightily. The Terminal Bar, named in honor of its former location across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, is long gone. As are most of its patrons. From Norman Borden’s holiday week piece in The Villager:

“My father looked at all new customers as potential portraits,” explains Stefan. “When they walked in he would size them up, imagining them as sixteen-by-twenty-inch prints, and if they met all the necessary criteria, he’d ask if he could take their picture.” He’d develop the roll of film in his darkroom and then make 8×10 inch prints. He hung some on the bar’s walls to promote his work and once in a while, a customer would buy one for five bucks.”

Over the years, Shelly took more than 2,600 images that documented a period of New York’s visual and cultural history that has vanished (only 22 were self-portraits). After the bar shut down on January 8, 1982, the Times Square area underwent major changes — sanitized and Disneyfied and corporatized. In fact, the headquarters of the New York Times now occupies the block where the Terminal Bar once was.

David Isay, founder of StoryCorps, called Terminal Bar “one of the very best and most powerful New York City photo books ever… an out-of-left-field gift to us all.” The tome grew out of an award-winning 2003 Sundance short and various subsequent YouTube postings.

[Jacket cover courtesy: Princeton Architectural Press]