Archive for the ‘Bars and restaurants’ Category

The most sensational actress of the 1860s

March 16, 2015

Adahmenken19Adah Isaacs Menken (at right, in her teens) was never considered a great actress.

But she sure was a colorful one, hanging out with Walt Whitman, Ada Clare, and other bohemians at Pfaff’s saloon on Broadway and Bleecker Street and earning notoriety in a tawdry play that required her to appear naked on a horse.

She spun many tales about her origins, but Adah may have been born Ada Berthe Theodore to mixed-race parents in New Orleans in 1835, according to Rebel Souls, Justin Martin’s wonderful book chronicling New York’s 19th century bohemian crowd.

To support her family, she became a New Orleans chorus girl, then joined a traveling circus.

After a few marriages, some theater work, and a conversion to Judaism, she arrived in Manhattan, taking roles at the Chatham Theater and working at the Canterbury Concert Saloon on Broadway in today’s Noho.

Adahmenkenmazeppa

She was fearless, sensual, acrobatic, and gorgeous—all of which helped her land her big break: the lead in Mazeppa (above), a play based on a Byron poem about a 17th century Cossack.

Menken would play the title role, requiring her to wear a body stocking for a pivotal nude scene during which she was strapped to the side of a horse.

Adahmenken1855“The audience was shocked—scandalized—horrified—and delighted!” states one source.

A huge hit, Mazeppa toured the nation before landing on Broadway in 1866 at Wood’s Theater at 514 Broadway.

Adah never abandoned her literary aspirations, publishing a book of poems in 1868 dedicated to Charles Dickens.

“Although world-renown because of her appearance in Mazeppa, Menken’s deepest desire was to be known as a serious poet,” states jewishvirtuallibrary.org.

She maintained her friendship with Whitman and the Pfaff’s crowd and also became close to Dickens, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Alexandre Dumas, and Algernon Swinburne.

Adahmenkennapoleons

Adah was a sensation during her life, but she died young, succumbing to tuberculosis and peritonitis in Paris in 1868.

[Bottom photo by Napoleon Sarony]

A wood telephone booth hides on 54th Street

March 9, 2015

After an 88-year run in a townhouse on East 54th Street, Bill’s Gay Nineties closed in 2012.

Billsphonecloseup

The shuttering of the former speakeasy turned saloon and restaurant was a big loss for New Yorkers who love a time warp and a mahogany bar.

BillsphoneboothReopened and rechristened Bill’s, it’s a cleaned-up version of the old place, with much of the same decor, framed old photos, and finishings (and the silver dollars long embedded into the floor).

And luckily, the old wood telephone booth (with a phone with separate coin slots for quarters, dimes, and nickels!) off to the side of the front doors is still in place as well.

Sightings of wood phone booths are rare in Manhattan, so it’s a relief that this one wasn’t turned into a coat check or closet.

But why in the world does the staff keep one of those yellow wet-floor warning signs in there?

Billsbar

Where New Yorkers met for coffee in the 1790s

February 23, 2015

Tontine Coffee House, meeting-place of New York brokers who formed the NY Stock ExchangeIn late 18th century New York, with a revolt against tea in place and plain water mostly undrinkable, coffee’s popularity surged.

And the city’s love affair with coffee beans began.

Coffee houses soon sprang up. Unlike the cafes of today, these were more like taverns, where the city’s political and merchant elite met to exchange ideas and do business while nursing a cup of joe (and probably stronger drinks as well).

One coffee house on the bustling corner of Wall and Water Streets, the Tontine (the second building on the left, above), bore witness to some of the events and the development of the booming city.

Tontinefrancisguy

First, the Tontine (above on the left, in 1797) doubled as the original site of the New York Stock Exchange, with trading going on in a second-floor room from the early 1790s until 1817.

On a more gruesome note, the Tontine was where a notice was posted in 1804 informing New Yorkers about the death of Alexander Hamilton, after his infamous duel with Aaron Burr.

Tontine4“When a handwritten notice of Hamilton’s death went up at the Tontine Coffee House, the city was transfixed with horror,” wrote Ron Chernow, by way of the Aaron Burr Association.

Also, it was a place where deals were made on all kinds of goods . . . and that included human beings.

“As soon as a ship’s captain reached the harbor, this is where he came to register his cargo,” explains Mapping the African American Past.

“The goods coming into New York in the 1790s included coffee, tea, sugar and molasses, fine furniture, cloth, cotton, and enslaved men, women, and children.”

Slavery gradually ended in the city between 1799 and 1827.

Coffeehouseslip

An Englishman who visited Tontine (up the street from Coffee House Slip, above) recalled it this way:

“[Y]ou ascend six or eight steps under a portico, into a large public room, which is the Stock Exchange of New York, where all bargains are made. . . . You can lodge and board there at a common table, and you pay ten shillings currency a day, whether you dine out or not.”

Sounds not unlike the 18th century equivalent of hanging out at a cafe today, ordering the minimum amount of coffee you can to partake in the free WiFi and comfy communal table.

Churchill’s all-night restaurant in Times Square

February 16, 2015

When Times Square became the city’s premier entertainment district at the turn of the century, palatial “lobster palaces” like Churchill’s was a big part of the fun.

Churchillsrestaurantpostcard

This incarnation of Churchill’s, launched by a former police captain, opened in 1910 at the corner of Broadway and 49th Street.

On opening night, “fully 2,500 guests dined either in the main dining room or the balcony,” noted the New York Times. These guests were the “leading lights of the city’s political and theatrical circles.”

By 1921 it had shut down, a victim of the Volstead Act. This might be a piece of a menu from Churchill’s in 1917, with quite a meat list!

is this the most wonderful sign in Soho?

November 3, 2014

Long before Soho became Soho, Fanelli’s was a no-frills bar that served up cheap food and drinks for the men who worked in the neighborhood’s factories, plus the occasional artist or stumblebum.

Fanellissign2014

And at least since the 1970s, that neon sign has been affixed to the red-brick building at the corner of Prince and Mercer Streets, a wonderful sight on a cold New York City night.

Fanellis1976nyplFanelli’s has a long and fascinating history. The building that houses the bar apparently has been around since 1857, when a grocery store was located on the ground floor, according to newyorkartworld.com.

A residential building on Prince Street adjoined the Mercer Street building. “The suspicion arises that it must have been used as a brothel since Mercer Street was lined on its west side, almost solidly by brothels during the 1850s and 1860s,” states the site.

By the 1860s or 1870s, depending on your source, various saloons served beer and liquor there. In 1922, former boxer Michael Fanelli turned it into a cafe/speakeasy.

2013_3_2_ 039

By the 1970s, Soho had arrived—and you know the rest of the story.

[Middle photo: Fanelli’s in 1976, NYPL Digital Gallery. Bottom: Fanelli’s in 1975, MCNY]

Ghost signs hanging over storefronts in Manhattan

August 18, 2014

New York is filled with ghost signs for store that have long departed an address. Yet the new shop owners never remove the old signage, giving the old businesses a phantom presence on city streets.

Ghostsignliquorsavenuea

The liquors sign above is at Avenue A and 14th Street. As you can see, there’s no corresponding liquor store, just a nail salon and a karaoke bar.

Ghostsignpizza18thstreet

When this pizza joint on West 18th Street pulled up stakes, the Persian restaurant that moved in didn’t mind the green Pizza Paradise awning. Maybe the Ps made it close enough?

Ghostsignsuperbuyfirstave

Superbuy was one of the names of an old-school pharmacy that once existed on lower First Avenue across from Stuyvesant Town. The store is gone, but the orange sign remains.

Ghostsignjewelry14thstreet

I’m not even sure which of these signs is actually the ghost sign and which represents the business currently occupying this space on West 14th Street!

The brothel above an 1880s Gramercy saloon

August 15, 2014

There’s a wonderful bar and restaurant near Third Avenue on 23rd Street.

The wood and glass entrance is lit by amber lanterns; chandeliers inside cast a glow onto the tin ceiling. Everything about the bar radiates that enchanting, old New York feel.

Klubesrestaurantfacade

Now it’s known as the Globe. Not too long ago, it was the Grand Saloon. Reportedly it’s been a food and drinking establishment since the 1880s.

KlubesrestaurantchandelierClearly it’s been called many things over the years. Yet the name it had at least a century ago still emerges like a ghost above the entrance: Klube’s Restaurant.

Who was Klube? Sometime before 1912, a German immigrant named Charles (or Carl) Klube bought the place with a partner named Klinger.

Klube and his wife operated the restaurant as part of hotel, which occupied the top three floors of the building.

The hotel, called the St. Blaise, wasn’t just your standard neighborhood lodging house—it was actually a 15-bedroom brothel.

City of Eros, by Timothy J. Gilfoyle, references it in a passage on Manhattan’s various East Side houses of assignation.

Klubescloseup “More modest hotels like the Delevan, the German Hotel, and the St. Blaise were subdivided row houses that resembled parlor houses from the outside,” wrote Gilfoyle.

“They had between 15 and 50 rooms that were used by prostitutes who frequented the hotels and nearby saloons.”

At some point, the St. Blaise name faded away, and Klube established Klube’s Steak House here. It went out of business in 1965, but in 1950, The New York Times described it as a “homey little German restaurant.”

No word about what happened to the brothel above.

Browsing the Flat Iron Restaurant menu, 1906

August 4, 2014

Since it opened in 1902, much has been written about the Flatiron Building, the triangular beauty that helped usher in New York’s 20th century skyscraper era.

Flatironrestaurantmenucover1906nypl

The Flat Iron Restaurant and Cafe, though, seems to be lost to the ages.

By 1906, Madison Square was no longer a desirable residential neighborhood for the city’s elite, as it had been earlier in the Gilded Age.

It was now a bustling commercial district, and that seems to be reflected in the menu offerings, which include an incredible selection of not-expensive shellfish, meats, and sandwiches.

Flatironmenu

I wonder if any contemporary city restaurant will bring back things like clear green turtle in a cup, eels in jelly, and breaded calf brains?

The rest of the four-page Flat Iron menu can be found here.

[Images: NYPL Digital Gallery]

Gorgeous neon signs illuminating the West Village

June 27, 2014

On this warm June evening, some old-school neon eye candy is called for. Neon is at its most enchanting at twilight, isn’t it?

Each of these signs have lit up the sky on the other side of Seventh Avenue South for decades—even if the establishments they advertise are a trendy parody of the bar and restaurants they they once were.

Beatriceinnsign

The Beatrice Inn opened in 1924 on West 12th Street. But it’s trended up these days and is no longer the comfortable if unspectacular neighborhood Italian place it had been. “Old Village ambience” wrote Cue magazine in 1975.

Fedorabarsign

Almost a century old, the Fedora, on West Fourth Street, was also recently revamped from a longtime local gay bar to a cocktails and cutting-edge menu kind of place.

Arthurstavernsign

Arthur’s has been a venue for live music since 1937. The vertical Arthur’s sign is wonderful but doesn’t light up anymore, unfortunately.

Johnspizzeriasign

Infamously known as the no-slices place, John’s has been serving meals (originally on Sullivan Street) since 1929—the year of the stock market crash.

This place is one of the few reminders that Bleecker Street was once a thriving Little Italy neighborhood, not an imitation of one.

 

The legendary appetite of Diamond Jim Brady

June 9, 2014

DiamondjimbradyheadshotNew York in the late 19th century was filled with gluttonous characters. But James Buchanan “Diamond Jim” Brady may have topped them all.

Born on Cedar Street the son of a saloon owner, Brady made millions selling railroad supplies.

By the 1880s, that allowed him to indulge in his passion for glittery jewels, beautiful women (his longtime ladyfriend was A-list actress Lillian Russell), and food.

 The chronicles of his consumption are legendary. “I have seen him eat a pound of candy in five minutes,” a friend is quoted saying in his obituary. [Below, at Delmonico’s, second from right]

Diamondjim1905delmonicos

“A typical lunch consisted of two lobsters, deviled crabs, clams, oysters, and beef,” wrote H. Paul Jeffers, in his book Diamond Jim Brady: Prince of the Gilded Age. “He finished with several whole pies.”

NYT2008122315471033CDinner included “a couple dozen oysters, six crabs, and bowls of green turtle soup. The main course was likely to be two whole ducks, six or seven lobsters, a sirloin steak, two servings of terrapin, and a variety of vegetables. . . . Because Jim did not partake in alcohol, all this was washed down with carafe after carafe of orange juice.”

Restaurant owner George Rector, who ran one of the fashionable “lobster palaces” of Times Square, reportedly said Brady was “the best 25 customers I ever had.”

“When he pointed at a platter of French pastries, he didn’t mean any special pastry, he meant the platter,” William Grimes quoted Rector saying in Grimes’ book Appetite City.

NY3DBoxCould Brady, admittedly a very large man who held court night after night in the city’s poshest eateries with groups of friends and celebrities, really have wolfed down all this food?

Grimes poses the possibility that the myth played into the sense of excess and extravagance that characterized the Gilded Age.

“[Brady’s gluttony] symbolized the outsized appetites of a gaudy, grasping, exuberant America, where income went untaxed and a robust mass media panted after images of the rich at play.”

Read more about Diamond Jim Brady in New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age.

[Photos: second: MCNY photo collection, 1905]


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,881 other followers