The building that accommodated The Terminal Bar is set in the middle of one of the dirtiest, toughest, wildest neighborhoods in New York. It’s an area where anything can happen, and does. It’s not unusual to see bums staggering down the street grabbing on to posts and trash cans for support, street hustlers boldly offering their illegal goods, well-dressed business people rushing by, and teenagers darting across the street trying to dodge traffic. Yet in spite of the unattractiveness of the neighborhood, this bar was very popular. Watch this documentary to find out what made Terminal Bar such a coveted watering-hole through the eyes of Sheldon Nadelman, the bartender.
This 2003 Sundance Jury Prize winner for short film captures the expressions of the many customers who spent time at the Terminal Bar. This 22 minute film is considered by many to be one of the greatest documentary shorts ever made. The place stands on a busy corner in Times Square across the street from the Port Authority. During his ten-year stint there, Nadelman took over 1,500 black and white portraits of the faces of the bar’s regular patrons. He worked for his father-in-law, who owned the place.
According to Sheldon Nadelman, some of the regulars were the most miserable people around. The majority took some kind of medication to keep them stabilized and many were unemployed and destitute. However, there was a time when the bar was frequented by professional boxers, actors, and cooks. In fact, it used to be said jokingly that if a bomb were to be dropped on the Terminal Bar, most of New York City’s restaurants would have to close.
Terminal bar was really not an attractive spot. The outside of the building is still a grimy shade of gray and the sidewalk smells like urine. Although the interior of the place was roomy and customers could always count on a decent supply of liquor, it was quite drafty.
The years have gone by, but hardly anything has changed in the old neighborhood.