BY: KRUPA JOSEPH
The 1970s have gone down in history as a period of change. Social progressive values that began in the ’60s such as environmentalism, political awareness and the economic liberty of women, gained momentum. The developing countries began making steady economic progress during the early ’70s. The oil crisis had pushed industrialized countries, with the exception of Japan, into a recession and slowed down the growth of the developing world.
While most countries were in a economic stump, culturally the world was thriving. Loud colours and wild designs appeared on clothes and furniture. Microwave ovens, VCRs and clock radios found their way into every house, while water beds and lava lamps also gained popularity, especially in the world of teenagers. The disco movement was at its peak in America during the latter half of the decade. But, these are all things we know.
“Have a nice day!” accompanied by what can be described as the first prototype of a smiley face became a slogan that earmarked the decade. But, what is often forgotten is that the ’70s were not solely the magical time we often remember. There was another not-so-happy side to it all. New York, especially, was crippled. Destitution, drugs and crime were on a high. Crack and heroin were running through the veins of the city. People began accepting mugging and rapes as a part of life in certain parts of the city. Son of Sam killings had the city dwellers held in terror. The city had not yet been gentrified. Every neighbourhood boasted of a distinct personality. Buildings were crumbling from lack of upkeep. It was a place devoid of the corporate company buildings, skyscrapers, and artisan shops that define the city today.
At the time, Sheldon Nadelman was a bartender at the Terminal Bar. Just like the rest of the neighbourhood, the bar had gone to seed, but Nadelman continued to travel from East Brunswick, New Jersey, to New York City to go to work at the bar. The bar was owned by his father-in-law. He had studied photography, but bartending was how he could pay the bills. Yet, he kept his camera by his side. When he wasn’t pouring drinks, you would find him clicking relentlessly. Portraits of regulars and one-time customers, scenes outside the window, the food concession, even the trash can out front, all found their way into his film.
The bar that was located directly across from the Port Authority, had over the years gained fame as the “roughest bar in town.” You had to be either extremely brave or very foolish to pass through its doors. Crooks, pimps, and prostitutes made up for the majority of its clients, which made great subjects for this work. Nadelman worked the bar for ten years starting from 1972, and over those years he took more than 1,500 black and white portraits of bouncers and boxers, actors and cooks, businesspeople and hustlers.
The bar shut down in 1982 and Nadelman took to working different jobs in New Jersey. The building that housed the Terminal was replaced by the New York Times tower. All that remained as proof of its existence were the patrons and these photographs. About thirty years down the line, Nadelman’s son, Stefan came across the negatives. Soon he realized that these pictures were a piece of history, a part of the New York that once was. He ended up creating a documentary using these photographs, titled “Terminal Bar: A Photographic Record of New York’s Most Notorious Watering Hole.” The movie only shows a small portion of his entire collection, so Stefan began working on a series of shorter vignettes. It’s like a little time capsule that shows you the Big Apple much before it was cleaned up. A city in decline, yet charming and magnetic in its own way; lined with criminals and lowlifes, and yet still so hypnotic and alluring.
You can watch the movie here.