Times Square was not the same on Thursday morning—and, it was not because of the empty streets. Legendary bar owner, boxing trainer & cornerman, and New Yorker Jimmy Glenn, 89-years-old, has died due to complications from the COVID-19 virus.
After moving to NYC from South Carolina in 1944, Jimmy began his career as a boxer, eventually losing to eventual heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. Shortly thereafter, Glen moved to the corner professionally while spending his off-hours training locals at an East Harlem Church. His seventy year study of the sweet science saw him cross paths with greats like Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield along with hundreds of kids fighting their shot.
However, most people met Jimmy at his West 44th Street bar. Rarely has a pub been so aptly named; a street level nook (maybe 1000 square feet, ofd that) a few yards off Broadway, Jimmy’s Corner is a ringside manifestation of its founder.
Not an inch of the Corner’s walls are empty. Signed boxing and Negro Major League pictures & memorabilia dominate the interior. Unframed photos of friends fill the remaining vertical spaces. Refreshments are still affordable to all guests—$4.50 for a mixed drink, and the jukebox still plays actual CD’s. For 40 years, Jimmy’s late wife, Swannie (RIP), worked behind the sticks.
But most of all, the bar exemplifies Jimmy’s commitment to community. Generations of New Yorkers make the pilgrimage to his pub either as a rite of passage or to seek sanctuary in their alternative living room. On that first trip, they all discover, “Yes, it is possible to have a neighborhood bar at the Crossroads of the World.”
That neighborhood is evident in the crowd on any given afternoon: stagehands from Local One taking a break; off-duty firefighters & Feds, Condé Nasties reminiscing about their halcyon days in the Gehry cafeteria; (mostly) lawyers sucking down whiskey before their train home; bike messengers comparing bruises; Oscar winners wearing sunglasses in the perpetually dark bar; and even the occasional, struggling drinks writer.
Managing the melange was always Jimmy, standing tall in a corner, both managing bartenders and greeting guests with nods or waves. (He continued to hold court several days weekly until the lockdown.) A proper old school establishment, the bar has rules—seating and political conversation are heavily regulated—but the enforcement of those rules was the domain of Swannie. Jimmy was less ‘Traffic Cop’ and more ‘Mayor.’
Professionally he was a fighter, but personally he was often described as “soft spoken.” Jimmy loved to chat about sports as well as music and when warranted, he dispensed some pretty sage life advice.
Celebrities filled the walls and sometimes the bar-stools, but the biggest star in the joint was Jimmy. Throughout any given night, a stream of guests would approach the pugilist-publican for a for a photo. He quietly obliged them all, smiling and cocking his fist for the flashbulbs like the heavyweight champ.
The boxing community, itself, first broke the news of Jimmy’s passing. “A legend of boxing has heard his final bell. Jimmy Glenn has passed at 90 years of age. One of the first things I will do, whenever it is possible, will be to visit Jimmy’s corner in New York City and pay tribute to such a great human being” World Boxing Council president Mauricio Sulaiman said on Twitter in a tribute to “such a great human being.”
The timing of Jimmy’s death is devastating. His bar felt like a throwback, but his absence will leave us without the elements we need most at the current time: strength, integrity, friendship, and the joy of clinking glasses in the neighborhood bar.
Jimmy Glenn is survived by his son Adam who will continue to run Jimmy’s Corner.
[Photo: Jimmy’s Corner Facebook. Swannie and Jimmy]