A beloved cult figure in 1990s New York City, Timothy "Speed" Levitch became locally famous for his rhapsodical, philosophical, and downright eccentric (and yes, speedy) lectures as a bus tour guide. His exceptional worldview and heartfelt, often psychedelic stream-of-consciousness performances were captured as the subject of director Bennett Miller's 1998 documentary 'The Cruise.' Levitch is back on camera, this time on the Hulu original series 'Up To Speed,' in which he crosses the United States – everywhere from San Francisco to Kansas to Virginia – in search of quirky places with cool backstories.
He also likes good beer, which is why we asked him for a list of the oddest and most history-filled bars in America. When speaking with a genius tour guide, so it goes. From the birthplace of the Bloody Mary to a ramshackle speakeasy, these bars are sure to whet your curiosity, if not your thirst for a strong stout. Launch Gallery >>
King Cole Bar (New York)
If you look deep into the mural on the wall of the King Cole Bar at 55th and 5th in New York City, the stories will flow. The bar takes its name from the subject of the mural, Old King Cole, painted by Maxfield Parrish in 1906 for a short-lived 42nd Street hotel called The Knickerbocker. After the Knickerbocker failed, the painting traveled among art dealers before arriving in 1932 at the bar in the St. Regis, where it remains to this day. The bar has come to take on the name of the painting. "People spend hours drinking and looking at the mural and trying to figure out what story is being told," Speed says. "There is an actual answer." Far be it from us to spoil a good night, but here's a one-word hint: olfaction.
If the offer of a good mystery doesn't lead you there, a great Bloody Mary should. Many argue that the King Cole is where, in its current incarnation, the famous drink was actually born. "There was a drink in London called the Red Snapper that came over to New York, and in the Old King Cole, somebody created a Bloody Mary," Speed says. "That's lore within the world of mixology." Bonus: It's an unrivaled place for a first date. [King Cole Bar; 2 East 55th Street, New York, NY, 212-339-6857]