Stefan Lutak, 89, owner of Holiday Cocktail Lounge

By Albert Amateau

Stefan Lutak, owner and guiding light of the gritty Holiday Cocktail Lounge on St. Mark’s Place near First Ave. for 43 years, died Feb. 3 at the age of 89.

The downstairs bar, which he opened with his wife, Jeri, became the haunt of poets like W.H. Auden and Allen Ginsberg, who both lived in the East Village, among a large clientele drawn to the raffish charms of the neighborhood dive.

A heavy drinker, Lutak developed a serious reaction to alcohol and quit booze several times in the past 10 years, according to a December 2004 New York Press profile. The bar was frequently closed in the month before his death.

Born in 1920 in Ukraine, Lutak played professional soccer, fought in the Battle of Stalingrad and deserted the Russian Army in 1945 to join the mass of refugees bound for the West. He arrived in New York with his wife in 1949. She died several years ago.

“When he arrived on Nov. 18, 1949, a Friday, to Pier 82 on the West Side of Manhattan, the boys from the Ukrainian Sport Club on 10th St. between Avenues A and B came to pick him up,” the New York Press profile said. “By Saturday morning he was playing soccer in Van Cortlandt Park. His team won.”

Recalling the Battle of Stalingrad, Lutak told the Press, “The ice came from your mouth. We were sleeping in snow, nothing to eat. Two, three, four days, a whole week with empty stomach. They killed the horses. Then they killed the cooks. We ate leaves and in November the leaves were gone.”

Auden, who died in 1973 at age 66, used to drink cognac V.S.O.P. sitting by a window in Holiday Lounge writing with a stubby pencil, Lutak told the Press. Auden was picking through a trash can outside the bar one day and explained to Lutak that “someone threw out my $30,000 check,” the story said. Not finding the check, Auden came into the Holiday for a drink with bits of trash still clinging to his sleeve, Lutak said in the article.

Peter Jarema Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements, and the funeral was Mon., Feb. 9.