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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5 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.

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