Polly Holladay was an radical and an anarchist born in Evanston, Illinois. When she moved to New York she quickly found her peers in the free-thinkers and bohemians of Greenwich Village. She established a restaurant in the basement of 137 MacDougal Street, where the Liberal Club, another popular incubator for artists and intellectuals, also operated. Polly’s Restaurant would move locations twice before eventually closing, but it never left the Village.
In true bohemian fashion, the restaurant didn’t even have a formal name , it was often referred to it as “The Basement.” Locals knew it as “Polly’s Restaurant,” and they came to discuss art, science, politics and revolution in the early 1900s.
They didn’t come for the food, but for the conversation and camaraderie. Polly’s was one of the bohemian-owned businesses in the area where people felt free, and encouraged, to express themselves. Groups like the Heterodoxy Club, established by Marie Jenney Howe, formed and held meetings in Polly’s. The Heterodoxy Club was a forum for women to discuss and develop tactics of progressive feminism, and was an early leader in feminist, lesbian and bisexual culture. To be a “Heterodite” as they were called, a woman was simply “not orthodox in her opinion.” Polly, and the other bohemians at the restaurant, certainly fit that bill. The restaurant was known for not only Polly, but her lover, Russian Anarchist Hippolyte Havel (chef), who wander the restaurant calling everyone “Bourgeois Pigs.”
Little is known of Polly after the restaurant closed. The building the restaurant was on McDougal Street and is no longer standing, having been demolished by New York University to make more office space for the Law School. The building had been eligible for landmark preservation.