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Owner Of Off-Broadway Theater, Tavern Struggling To Keep Historic Business Open

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The pandemic has hit the theater industry hard, and now a well-known spot in the East Village with quite a history is in danger of closing.

Lorcan Otway is struggling to hold on to the legendary property he owns at 80 St. Marks Place.

"It's like losing a piece of myself," he said.

It houses a popular off-Broadway theater and the William Barnacle Tavern. It began back in the prohibition era as a speakeasy.

"From 1922 to 1933, this was all hidden," Otway told CBS2's Dave Carlin. "They let you pass through the butcher shop into an alleyway that you can't see from the street ... You'd knock on the door that was here and a little hatch would open."

Before Otway's family owned Theater 80, it was a popular jazz club.

"John Coltraine played here and Thelonius Monk," he said. "By 1964, we started building Theater 80 and we opened with 'You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown.'"

Out front, there's a who's who of entertainment throughout the years with signatures and prints in concrete. A photo shows Joan River with cement on her hands, one of many signed photos of celebrities in the lobby.

Despite this rich history, Theater 80 is on the brink of becoming another casualty of the pandemic.

"We had to take a mortgage just before COVID hit, and the state then closed us for two years," Otway said. "But what they didn't do is protect us from our debt being bought."

Otway, who declared bankruptcy, says a company is trying to auction the building out from under him.

"We're looking for a $10 million loan from the state," he said.

"Their hardship is due to no fault of their own," New York State Senator Brad Hoylman said.

Hoylman and other elected officials want the governor to step in and help Theater 80 secure a loan.

"I think there's really good evidence why the state of New York should step in and ensure that Theater 80 survives and reopens," Hoylman said.

Otway says he'll pay the state back and do whatever else it takes to hold on to a crucial piece of his personal history and the history of New York City.

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