This NYC Townhouse Had an Underground Tunnel That Led to Ernest Hemingway’s Prohibition Haunt

published Apr 30, 2019
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Credit: Allyson Lubow/Dean DeCarlo of Corcoran
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New York City is filled with mystery. Around every corner and down narrow streets are unexpected twists and secrets waiting to be discovered. One secret lives in and around the clapboard home at 17 Grove St, a one-of-a-kind West Village property that popped on the real estate market this month.

The two-building residence commands a lofty asking price of $12 million, but it has the intriguing history and square footage to back it up, according to Streeteasy. It’s the oldest clapboard home in Greenwich Village and most complete example of a wood-framed house in the area. The wooden structure is a rare sight in Manhattan, and there’s nothing else like it left on the island due to updates in fire laws.

Back in 1822, it was built as the residence of William Hyde, a window sash maker, and the attached 100 Bedford Street property was his workshop. Since then, it has been a private residence for multiple families, a multi-family building, and a tearoom. However, its most fascinating era and source of the juiciest secrets is Prohibition.

Underneath the four-bedroom, three-bathroom home, there are remnants of a tunnel that once connected 17 Grove St. with Chumley’s, nearby at 86 Bedford St. Originally a blacksmith shop and potentially a stop on the Underground Railroad, Chumley’s transformed into an infamous speakeasy in the 1920s. And this quaint abode had the most direct route to its taps about 200 feet down Bedford Street and under the ‘Friends’ apartment building.

The secretive watering hole attracted patrons beyond the residents of 17 Grove St. In fact, literary legends like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather, William Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway frequented it. Rumor has it, Hemingway slept off his hangovers upstairs. But who knows, perhaps he stumbled his way back through the tunnel and hunkered down at 17 Grove St. instead some nights. Though prolific writers were involved, there’s no record to support the rumors and that only adds to the intrigue.

No matter what may or may not have transpired in the last 150-plus years, the home still retains its original features. There are rough-hewn beams, wide-pine flooring, and wood-burning fireplaces. Not to mention the exterior’s iconic clapboard siding covers all three stories of 17 Grove St. and accompanying two stories of 100 Bedford St. out back.

Known simply as “that wooden house on the corner,” there’s no telling what modern escapades this next era of the house will bring or new secrets remain to be unearthed.