The next time you're in the 190st street A train's elevator - if you're alone and have some time to kill and have a flashlight on hand - wait for the doors to close and press both the up and down buttons. The cab will go only go halfway up the shaft and pause for 30 seconds. If you hit the up button twice - like a double click - the doors will open and you will find yourself in a short hall. There is no lighting, so trust me: to your left is the coat check room. To your right is the reception area. The door has rotted off its hinges and has been replaced with a heavy velvet curtain since the fifties. As you go into the L-shaped corridor, light is faintly sensed through a series of small glass blocks - you may feel the breeze and sense the presence of a huge acoustic space. You are in the legendary Monastery, an almost completely untouched and unmolested speakeasy from the twenties. In the dim light you can see that the ceiling goes up for 30 feet, and part of the dance floor is still there. The last time the Monastery was booked was for a cast party for OH! CALCUTTA's third anniversary, so you may not think of it as being so ancient, but the last time before that was for a smoker for JFK. It's very inconvenient to get there, and the Cloisters, to which it also connects via a dumbwaiter, once supplied the electricity - they have since cautiously removed the fuses for that electric line.
But the real reason for its unpopularity - and the key to its preservation - lies in the grisly reliquaries on view in the dusty glass cases lining the western wall - where they would be gradually illumined at dawn's light. Taken from overstock in the Rockefellers' (Cloister's) collections, the saintly bones were unceremoniously dumped out and the bejeweled, golden coffers were filled with remnants of departed partygoers as even more morbid momenti mori.
Here is Katie J. Wall's left hand, cut off after her grisly death by taxi - still wearing the fabulous emerald bracelet given to her by her unlucky suitor Terrence Bickinger, publisher of The Weekly Doings, the private newsletter of "the most upper crust."
Here is the razor which comedian Bill "Papa" Banes used to cut his throat.
Here are a few teeth and a broken pair of eyeglasses: reminders of Louis van de Brossel's violent end in a fatal Belgian knockover.
Here, a hank of long blonde hair - dark at the roots - that was the last remnant of Millie Riggs, retained by her loyal friend Patsy deBeers who was holding it as Millie despondently jumped out the window of the Easton Terrace Hotel.
And here, little Jojo, the toy poodle she loved and landed on, now revealing the hasty taxidermy job performed by her devoted dresser, Nina Golden, who was later married to Herschel Bernardi for a week.
But pass these exhibits and come to the saddest of them all: the glass tombs of Rachel de la Croix, who seems not to have aged a day since she was sealed up almost sixty years ago. Rachel, who was imported from Brussels for a limited dance tour in 1922, stuck around in town for years, entertaining the Belgian dives in the 180's (the "upper eighties"). The poor dear had choked herself on an improvised cocktail olive, and nobody noticed until the next day. Rather than reveal the location of her demise, she was pickled on the spot in a a pair of handy Jeroboams - for Rachel was a dwarf, only 18 inches tall!
Say, isn't the flashlight battery starting to go dead?