The Westies

THE 596

The Westies (Photo Credit- Will Byington)

I had only heard of the 596 Club. What it once was.

The club was owned by Jimmy Coonan, the notorious leader of the ruthlessly violent gang, The Westies.  As a new resident to Manhattan, i took in its history voraciously. I was particularly drawn to the Westies. The fact that there were rarely ever more than 12 members at a time. Their excessive drink and drug use only fueled their wild and unpredictable behaviour.

“Men after my own heart,“ i often quipped.

Levien and I had been at the Knicks game at the Garden. After the game, the night was young and we were going to head out on the town. It was in that particular time when we, as two young writers, would head out and scour the streets of Manhattan in search of inspiration of any form: philosophical spiritual, lyrical, or physical.

I mentioned the 596 club. Jimmy Coonan had been away for several years at this point but i wanted to check the place out anyway. Hearing about the murders there, the dismemberments, i just wanted to go in and get a whiff of it.

We walked up there from the garden. When we walked in it was pretty clear that some renovation had taken place. It was nothing as i had expected. It was clean, mirrored and smaller than i had imagined.

David and I went to the bar and ordered beers and shots of whiskey. The bartender was a fairly beefy guy who seemed to be from Irish descent, as far as i could tell. David and I decided to get a table and the bartender told me someone would bring the drinks over.

Looking to engage in, perhaps, a tale or two about Jimmy, or looking to get an inside story I asked the bartender

“Hey, this is Jimmy Coonan’s old place ain’t it?”

He had his back to me and turned and said
“jimmy coonan?”

“yeah, Jimmy Coonan, you never heard of him ?” i responded

“nah” he responded to while preparing our drinks

“hmm,…..alright “

David and I went to the table and watched highlights on the tv screen of the game we were just at.

The waitress approached for landing and setting the drinks on our table. she didn’t look at me when she addressed me, but she said,

“you the one asking about Jimmy?”

“yeah, Jimmy Coonan,” i eagerly replied

she then looked at me and said “ The bartender wants to talk to you.”

“oh, ok, great, be right there.”

We did our shots and i got up and headed back to the bar. Furrowing my brow i thought….

This seems kind of weird.

I placed my boot on the railing at the bottom of the bar and used the railing at the top of the bar to kind of pull myself up to get closer to the bartender.

“What’s up?” i asked

Turning very serious, he leaned in to get closer to my face.

“Why you asking questions about Jimmy Coonan? What do you want?”

“Nothin’ man, i’m a writer, just wanted to get some color, i’ve heard a lot about him.”

A smile came across his face with a look of relief.

“Aw, ok man…its just…we get people in every week looking to strong arm me, looking to run some kind of racket.”

“And you thought i was one of those guys?!?”

I  laughed.

He said “ You never know man !”

He bought another round of shots for David and I and apologized again before we left.

Not too many years later, when i went to jail and was facing 3-6 years in prison, I tried to remember that story and tried to walk with whatever swagger i had that night for self preservation while locked up.

It’s easy to walk into places, sometimes it’s not so easy to walk out.