Everyone ate at Jack Dempsey’s in Times Square

He wasn’t just a champion heavyweight but a cultural icon of the 1920s and 1930s.

So what does a cultural icon do after his days in the ring are over? Open what today’s critics might consider a celebrity theme restaurant in the busiest part of the city, of course.

Jack Dempsey’s Broadway Restaurant, as it was officially called, opened its doors in 1935 on 49th Street, across the street from the third incarnation of Madison Square Garden.

In the restaurant’s early years, Dempsey was known to hold court at a table, a legendary figure greeting customers and glad-handling guests.

“The former heavyweight champion was a gallant hose,” The New York Times wrote a day after opening night. “He was everywhere, from the furthest corner of the glowing main dining room to the edge of the soft red carpet near the entrance.”

Pinned to the lapel of his morning coat was “a kewpie doll. That, it was confidentially explained, symbolized the new venture.”

Times Square changed and the restaurant moved to the Brill Building, and eventually Dempsey’s attracted dwindling crowds. “During its waning years, Mr. Dempsey was a fixture in the corner booth, where he usually sat with his back to the window, greeting customers,” wrote the Times in 2000.

In 1974, the restaurant closed after a lease dispute, its memorabilia lining the walls packed up—but not before an appearance in the first Godfather movie.

Dempsey died in 1983, and today the corner where he held court in his original restaurant on 49th Street is now named for him.

[Third photo: MCNY x2011.34.3827; fourth photo: Wikipedia; fifth image: MCNY 97.146.164]

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14 Responses to “Everyone ate at Jack Dempsey’s in Times Square”

  1. David H Lippman Says:

    Jake LaMotta did the same thing.

  2. Zoé Says:

    Grandpa Munster’s Italian restaurant in Little Italy/Greenwich Village. (Of the Munster’s 1960s tv sitcom). He used to greet people & sit w/ them I heard. 1980s. It may have been called ‘Grandpa’s’ (?). I hope someone writes in who knows more.

    • Zoé Says:

      Al Lewis (Albert Meister 1923-2006)

      It was opened in 1987 at 252 Bleecker Street.

      And in 1989 he owned a comedy club called Grandpa’s on Staten Island.

      He was born in Brooklyn & passed on Roosevelt Island in 2006.

  3. Zoé Says:

    This is a great story.

    There was an Irish boxer who owned a bar in South Norwalk CT on Wall Street. (50 mins from Grand Central/Midtown Manhattan). A succession of bars has taken its place since the 1980s when the elderly boxer retired & sold it. I think the bar predated the boxer because it’s very old. There were b&w photos of fighters on the wall. A bar was the norm for retired boxers vs restaurants.

    What a great sign shown in this photo. His name in *lights* ⚡️⚡️⚡️(no pun intended)

  4. JamesG Says:

    As a child I saw Dempsey near his restaurant and years later as I passed Gene Tunney in a private club he gave me a well-practiced greeting of the sort perfected by some celebrities.

  5. Jack Dempsey’s Broadway Restaurant Location in New York City (2019) | Brandon Ray Kirk Says:

    […] Here is the site of Jack Dempsey’s restaurant (1938-1974) as it appears today. 7 December 2019. For more history of the business, go here: https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2018/05/21/eating-at-jack-dempseys-in-times-square/ […]

  6. Anthony J Diamonti Jr Says:

    Took my then date to jack dempseys in time square 53years a go &fell in love we are married 50 years on 08 16 20 love that rest.&Jack Dempseys had our picture taken on there and little boy named Kenny wrote on it thank you Anthony J Diamonti jr

  7. L Roberts Says:

    Dempsey’s was an historic landmark. So sorry I never had a chance to visit. It closed a couple of years before I first went to New York. Tom Sharkey’s was another place I would’ve liked to see.

  8. Wally Beddoe Says:

    Jack Dempsey was my grandfather’s 1st cousin. I have an original menu from the restaurant and an autographed copy of “Dempsey”, the book.

  9. johnpressman Says:

    I had my 12th Birthday Party there in 1964. Still have the menu from that day. We offered Mr. Dempsey some birthday cake and he autographed a copy of his autobiography to me. I still have it as well. Years later, I was working at the Jack LaLanne Health Spa in the basement of the Biltmore Hotel near Grand Central Station when Gene Tunney and his wife came in to look around as he had attended the Biltmore Baths there. I gave them a tour of the club.

  10. Ray Purcell Says:

    My late father was a Royal Artillery Gunner who served on Merchant ship convoys throughout WW2. I was researching his WW2 history and whilst looking at some old photographs found some of himself and his shipmates taken at Jack Dempseys Bar around Christmas time circa 1942. The photos had been taken and presented in a Yellow Card sleeve that said Jack Dempsey on it. I then discovered in an old plastic wallet containing a folded piece of the same yellow card with a message “GOOD LUCK BOYS” signed Jack Dempsey, my late fathers war records show he was in New York IN Drecember and i checked the signature which was authentic

  11. Patricia Scopelite Miller Says:

    Mr. Purcell’s experience is similar to ours. My father was also in WWII in the Black Panther division. His division relieved forces during the Normandy invasion, narrowly escaping a torpedo meant for their ship that hit and sunk the Leopoldville. We have a wonderful photo of Dad with four of his buddies in Jack Dempsey’s. I have a photo cover entitled: “The Meeting Place of the World”. My father is the only one drinking milk. It is one of our favorite photos of his experiences during the war.

    • Kiwiwriter Says:

      The Belgian SS Leopoldville was carrying the entire 66th Infantry Division. The division was practically wiped out. The survivors (and the division) were assigned to picket duty around the besieged German positions at St. Nazaire and Lorient on the French west coast, where the Nazis held out in fortified bunkers, well-stocked with food. They were still in position on V-E Day.

      The Black Panthers? That was the 761st Independent Tank Battalion, and they were already in action by the time the 66th moved across the English Channel. Could have been a replacement for them?

  12. robert Says:

    Beautiful stories about Dempsey’s restaurant. I would give anything to go back in time to the 40s and spend a night there just about a week before Christmas Eve. For those were truly the days of an America that were really the best of times, war included!

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