TODAY, Jimmy’s Corner on 44th street in Manhattan, is completely deserted. Any boxing fan who has visited New York will know the bar and remember the first time they stepped inside and left the pressures of real life behind. One shove of the tatty swinging door was all it took to be transported into an altogether less complicated time. Nostalgia emanates from old boxing photographs that are clumsily framed on the walls and are sellotaped to the bar. The blue-collar drinking hole – if you’re lucky enough to find a seat – is among the best places on earth to spend a few hours and get lost in the company of strangers. If you’ve been before, you will now be picturing the scene.
You will remember the small bowls of peanuts and the dollar bills on the bar ready to be picked up by the bartender once the drinkers nod when asked if they’d like the same again. You’ll remember conversations with those regulars, some of whom travel all the way from New Jersey every single day to get their fill of the three-dollar beers. You’ll remember the old school jukebox that sits in the corner, all lit up and proudly singing old songs that immediately make you want to sing along with them. Then there’s the note above the cash register that reads, ‘Let’s Not Discuss Politics Here’.
You’ll remember the three steps that lead to tiny tables that are full of conversations about what is permitted to be discussed at Jimmy’s: Boxing. Tables where the likes of Bert Sugar, Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali have sat. You’ll remember the life-sized cardboard cut-out of Joe Louis that guards both the toilet and the crates of beer out the back. And you might remember the slit in the double doors that you used to peer through in the hope of spotting Jimmy Glenn, the bar’s owner, sitting down in his tiny office and gathering his thoughts.
Jimmy Glenn is now four months shy of his 90th birthday and in hospital fighting the effects of Covid-19. He is into his sixth decade as the owner of Jimmy’s Corner. I interviewed Jimmy for the first time in 2012, a few days after Matthew Macklin had lost to Sergio Martinez at the nearby Madison Square Garden. It was the night after I’d been in the bar for the first time, when Jimmy had agreed to be interviewed at 9pm the following day. Not unusually, he was late. He strolled in a little after 11pm and, once reminded of our interview, he beckoned me to a table at the back.
“Why do you want to interview me?” he asked. “I’m just the owner of a bar.”
And the rest. A 14-2 amateur who had his tooth broken while losing to Floyd Patterson, Glenn – born in rural South Carolina in 1930 before relocating in Harlem – fell in love with the sport while watching a peak Sugar Ray Robinson train at a gym on 116th Street.
The first fight he went to was Robinson beating Tommy Bell to become the world welterweight champion in 1946 at the Garden. Since then, Glenn has not only been a staple of the New York boxing scene but the anchor.
“I wasn’t really good enough to fight,” Glenn whispered. But he would teach youngsters how to at a community centre at a local church until the 1970s. He opened the Times Square Gym on 42nd Street – where he got to know Ali – before the building was torn down.
Glenn always wanted to train a kid from the start of his career and take them all the way to a world title. The likes of Howard Davis Jnr, John Meekins, Terrence Alli and Jameel McCline all progressed under his watch, but a world champion eluded him. He’s worked with plenty, though.
“Boxing ain’t gonna make me rich,” he said. “I have no wish to be rich anymore. That’s why I have this bar that makes people happy because I sell three-dollar beers.”
It’s always difficult to hear that people like Glenn are not invincible. Our thoughts are with him and his family. We look forward to seeing him again, back in his bar, full of happiness, and an endless supply of three-dollar beers.