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The Cedar Tavern in 1955
Drinking was a way of learning about painting.

In the forties and fifties, still-semi-starving artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell took time from the Abstract Expressionist search for contours of truth seen and unseen to hoist a few, get into fistfights, and hoist a few more at the Cedars. Successor to the Club, at 39 East 8th Street, the Cedars stood amid the mid-century boho belt, close to the Brevoort Hotel (11 Fifth Avenue), sometime home to Isadora Duncan, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Theodore Dreiser. While de Kooning and his wife, Elaine, used the Cedars to play out their 50-year alcoholic co-dependent soap opera, Pollock was banned for ripping the men’s-room door from its hinges. Beat writer Jack Kerouac was likewise tossed, supposedly for pissing in an ashtray. The Cedars later moved uptown to 82 University, but few museum-quality painters try to knock each other’s teeth out there.

VISION THING: Another night away from the studio as Charlotte Brooks, left, Jack Tworkov, Mercedes Matter, and James Brooks hang out, however abstractly, at the Cedar Tavern in 1960.

"I learned more about painting in the Cedar Bar than in any art school."
— Joe Stefanelli
Photo: John Cohen/Courtesy of Deborah Bell