Jungle Pete’s, Landmark Dive Bar

IT CAME TO MY FULL ATTENTION ONLY RECENTLY that I am living a brushstroke away from a significant cultural landmark: the bar where artist Jackson Pollock, this area’s most illustrious resident, frequently got soused with friends like Willem de Kooning and got into famously violent fights. It’s well-documented that Pollock spent almost every evening here in the late ’40s and early ’50s, biking over from his farmhouse down the road (now the Jackson Pollock-Lee Krasner Study Center), sometimes not making it all the way home but falling asleep in the woods by the side of the road.

The place was then called Jungle Pete’s and famous even up-island (that is, in parts of Long Island not the Hamptons) — a baymen’s gathering spot which gradually (especially after World War II, when the creative and working classes served together) accepted the artists as hard-drinking fellow locals. Jungle Pete’s is now known as Wolfie’s Tavern and it’s still a dive bar, noisy on Saturday nights with motorcycles roaring in and out. It’s got paneled walls, neon beer signs, and a pool table, but no cultural cachet or apparent awareness of its heritage.

Jungle Pete’s features largely in Seek My Face, a John Updike novel I happened to listen to recently on my commute between Brooklyn and East Hampton. I’m a rabid Updike fan but this 2001 novel had somehow escaped my notice. Its main character is an elderly woman who reveals the story of her life to a young interviewer, a life which included a long hard marriage to a character clearly and closely modeled on Jackson Pollock. It slowly dawned on me that ‘The Flats’ in Updike’s novel is a stand-in for The Springs (we’ve since dropped the ‘The’) and ‘The Lemon Tree,’ the character’s favorite watering hole, is Jungle Pete’s.

Updike evokes an era when this area was more rural. I became intrigued and began to Google (not intrigued enough to go have a beer in Wolfie’s, though; I’ve peered in but have yet to actually sidle up to the bar). Here’s a description by Dan Rattiner, a longtime local  journalist/publisher, from 1962:

“I made a left on Fort Pond Boulevard and began to look for a tavern named Jungle Pete’s, which I had read somewhere was one of Pollock’s hangouts. The road here was straight but very narrow, with small fishermen’s homes on either side, set in the heavy foliage that marked that area. About a half mile down, I came to it. It was the only commercial establishment on the street. Set in, well, the Jungle.”

A 2004 article in the East Hampton Star, describes how Jungle Pete’s burned down sometime in the ’40s but was rebuilt. It eventually became Jungle Johnnies, Vinnie’s Place, the Boatswain, the Frigate, the Birches, Harry’s Hideaway, and finally, Wolfie’s, in 1988.

A friend who has lived nearby since 1979 remembers the Frigate as a place with holes punched in the walls, and the Birches as an attempt to do something more upscale, with white birch trees in place of the now-asphalt parking lot (I mourn the loss of those trees). I told her I thought someone should buy it and turn it into a bar/cafe called Pollock’s, with Abstract Impressionist wallcovering. She said that sounded like “a city idea.”

In fact, Wolfie’s is presently on the market for 299K. <- Click for the listing, which is just for the business and not for the land or building (I’d be interested if it were!) I hope someone buys it. It doesn’t even have to have a Jackson Pollock theme — just good food.

What do you think? Does it deserve a plaque, at least?