The Joint that put the Sodom in Sodom by the Sea


Painting by Ilene Isseks

Painting by Ilene Isseks


The bar in the following excerpt from my novel is based on the Atlantis Bar as it was in the 1950s. It’s practically a character in itself.


“Sinners!” shrieked a paper-skinned preacher. He waved his hand to include the entire boardwalk. “Filthy degenerates!” He pointed a tremulous finger at the saloon, brazenly open to the boardwalk, its crimson neon sign glowing: Max’s Place. Dark and smoky, wallpapered in a flocked pattern of blood-red fleurs-de-lis, it had a horseshoe-shaped bar at its center, wrapped around a raised stage now in shadow. Max’s reeked of whiskey, beer, and cheap perfume, the whole place pulsing with drunken laughter. I could just make out my gangster uncle Max, tapping his cigar into an ashtray at a table near the back.


In my novel my young narrator, Brooklyn has an almost mystical attraction to the place because of its forbidden nature and her love of music.


Detail of my painting, "Mississippi."

Detail of my painting, “Mississippi.”

In real life, when I was a kid in the 1950s my mother told me to take a wide berth around the bars in the neighborhood. This only increased their aura of danger and mystery—dark, smoky, and reverberating with adult laughter. What were they doing in there that was evil but so much fun? Sometimes I’d see one of my parents’ friends in one of them. Oh my. The joint I loved the most was the Atlantis Bar on the boardwalk with its spot lit singers belting their hearts out to the dimly lit drinkers and out onto the crowded nighttime boardwalk.


"Coney Island Atlantis 1990" by k21958 on Flickr. It's gone through some changes since this was taken in 1990. I don't think the sign is even there anymore.

“Coney Island Atlantis 1990” by k21958 on Flickr. It was a hot dog stand in 1990 and has gone through more changes since. I don’t think the sign is even there anymore.

Photographer as of yet unknown to me, but I'm still looking.

Photographer as of yet unknown to me, but I’m still looking.

The only photograph I could find of the Atlantis in the 1950s is copyrighted, but here’s a link:

Postscript: Jerry Karp of the We Grew Up in Brighton Beach… Facebook group tells me that to his recollection Waylon Jennings, Lorretta Lynn & Willie Nelson played here before they got famous. Mitchel Cohen tells me he saw Phil Ochs here in the 1960s.

Posted in: Blog & Stories


  1. Marilyn S. says:

    I remember the bar, at least I think I do. Was it near the Half Moon Hotel?

  2. Marilyn Jones says:

    I love your painting. It is such a shame the sign is gone – it is a classic. Your art so much reflects your childhood experiences at Coney Island. The more I see of it and the more I read of your work, the more I understand that.

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