256 E 3rd St, New York, NY 10009
The radical Young Lords Organization announced itself to the world on July 26, 1969 at Tompkins Square Park, though its headquarters were located further south on East Third Street, very close to Slugs’ and the Old Reliable.
The little world these Off-Off-Broadway renegades created at the Old Reliable was wild, just like the streets that surrounded it, and the neighborhood’s foreboding atmosphere only added to the excitement. “The way to get to the Old Reliable,” Jeannine O’Reilly used to quip, “is to turn left at the burning car.” The Old Reliable was located on the same block as Slugs’ Saloon and the Young Lords Headquarters, along with an eclectic assortment of retail and other businesses. For Walter Harris, the Old Reliable was the farthest east he could remember venturing. “You always had to have the appearance of looking like you were going somewhere and not just wandering around, as a way to avoid trouble.” Adventurers going to the bar walked down the middle of the street because there would be almost no one on the roads in the evening, and one could avoid potential dangers lurking around the corners of alleys or basement stairwells. Homeless people burned trash in barrels, providing a little light where the streetlights no longer worked. “People who would go to the Old Reliable would walk down Third Street because they considered it safe, because of the Hells Angels,” playwright Michael McGrinder said. “The Hells Angels kind of made trouble among themselves, but they didn’t make trouble for others, for the most part.”
From Chapter 14 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore