Subscribe to our newsletter

Credit: Alamy

Film

Bill Murray on the bar that created The Blues Brothers

@TylerGolsen

When it comes to iconic Saturday Night Live characters, few creations have had the pop culture impact of The Blues Brothers. Anchored by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in character as Jake and Elwood Blues, the impromptu act that evolved out of the Killer Bees sketch eventually became a featured performer on the show, leading to a real album, gigs as an opening act, and a movie deal.

Aykroyd was a lifelong admirer of the genre, but Belushi took some time to come around. It was only when SNL afterparties moved to the Holland Tunnel Blues Bar, Aykroyd’s speakeasy in Manhattan, that Belushi began to obsess over the form. “I couldn’t stop playing the stuff!” Belushi told Crawdaddy magazine in 1978. “I bought hundreds of records and singles … I walked around playing that shit all the time. And then I knew Danny had played the harp in Canada, and I always could sing, so we created the Blues Brothers.”

The number of stories that have proliferated about Aykroyd’s bar are numerous, and a large collection of them are compiled in Live From New York, the oral history of Saturday Night Live compiled by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. Everyone from Laraine Newman to Robin Williams have tales that involve hanging around the bar, but if you want to hear the inside scoop about the spot that birthed the Blues Brothers, chances are you want to hear it from Bill Murray.

“I was one of those Blues Bar people. Stayed until the sun came up,” Murray recalled. “You had to blow off a lot of steam. You had an amazing performance high that lasted because it had built to this explosive point at an odd hour of a normal person’s day, between eleven-thirty and one A.M. You couldn’t really just say good night and go home and go to sleep. You were up for hours.”

“You had all this energy and all this uplift and you had to sort of work it off, so you could go to the Blues Bar, where you could dance and you could drink and you could be funny and could meet a lot of people and really carry on,” Murray continues. “It was necessary to have a place to go. You couldn’t just go to an ordinary place, because there were a lot of people who would crash into it.”

Murray describes the bar as a safe haven for the atypical personalities that thrived on SNL. “You had a very weird energy; it was just a completely different energy after you did that thing. You weren’t fit for normal people. You had to go someplace where you could let yourself down gradually. So that was great that they provided this place where you could go and you’d be safe.”

Adding: “At any point, if there was someone that was bothering you, every person that was already in was a bouncer. And you’d just say ‘You’ve got to go. And it was kind of funny, because they would think they’d just walk away from you, like, ‘No, that’s all right, man, I won’t bother you anymore.’ ‘No, no, you’re not going to bother anybody else either.’ And it was a shocking moment when someone would get in and start working it and then get evicted by anybody.”

Murray indicates that lecherous guys were a problem, and it wasn’t restricted to regular people either. “The women would just go, ‘He’s out. Danny? Billy? This guy – out.’ And out he’d go. I know famous people got tossed out too. Famous people in their own area came, and when they were obviously just sucking blood, they were just evicted. We had no time for that. We were really trying just to get down to a safe level so you could sleep. Because you couldn’t really sleep until six in the morning no matter what you did.”

After the original Not Ready for Primetime Players slowly left the show one by one, Aykroyd decided to sell the property, where it later became Cody’s Bar and Grill. Cody’s has since closed, and today the space is occupied by Local and Vine, a wine bar that retains the speakeasy feel of the original Blues Bar.