Legendary Watering Holes

          During New York’s Classic Years


                                                            The Oak Room at the Plaza                                              nydailynews.com 




By Megan McKinney


During New York’s classic period, there were any number of great restaurants, nightclubs, cocktail lounges and bars, many of which are now long gone. Some, although legendary were short-lived, including Toots Shor’s, which lasted not quite twenty years.  We have selected a few to visit today in a tour that begins with Costello’s on Third Avenue at 44th Street. Yes, the place is seedy looking on the exterior, but stick with usyou’ll see why it was once among the city’s top gathering spots.

Costello’s location made it a hangout for writers and cartoonists sneaking away from The New Yorker offices for a tipple during the day, and they attracted other writers and artists. You’ll recognize the names. For example, there was a collection of shillelaghs hanging over the back of the bar—one was broken in two, but it had been patched. Tradition was that John O’Hara dared Ernest Hemingway to break the shillelagh over his head, which Papa did. Then he patched it for us to see through the years.

Photo Credit: Ed Feingerish

If you think the girl is Marilyn Monroe, you are right and the year is 1955 (she was in town for the shooting of The Seven Year Itch with Tom Ewell). First she ordered vodka and orange juice, but the waiter—who didn’t like her looks (!) and hoped she would leave—told her they didn’t have orange juice. So she changed it to pineapple juice, which he said they didn’t have, so she ordered tomato juice. They didn’t have that either.  Actually, the point of this photo is not Marilyn, vodka or juices, it’s the drawings behind her that The New Yorker cartoonist James Thurber doodled on the wall. What you see is just a sample; more Thurber drawings stretched the length of the room.

Next stop is Sardi’s. Just a quick spin across town, also on 44th Street.


Sardi’s was the theater area restaurant in New York, the place to dine before the theater, after the theater or even to wait for the newspapers to come out to see how your performance was reviewed. If you went to lunch there, you would see all the Hollywood stars who were in town that week. (For some it was the only New York place they knew.)


Every star on Broadway has a cariacture on the wall somewhere in Sardi’s. Look around the room or sit at the bar and you will see some of the same actors in the flesh.  

The St. Regis Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street hadand still hasa great deal going for it.

But its King Cole Bar with  its marvelous mural behind the bartender remains one of the great spots of the city. 

On to Toots Shor’s,  terrific place while it lasted.


Toots Shor’s was known for it’s big round bar. One of its two star patrons was televison’s Jackie Gleason, here with his left hand in the air. He and Toots, second from left, were famously great drinking buddies. 


The other legendary regular at Toots Shor’s was baseball hero Joe DiMaggio. Here he is with his wife at the time—the girl we saw at Costello’s—and Jackie Gleason.

On to the Stork Club which survived until 1965.


Like so many midcentury nightclub and restaurant owners, the Stork Club’s Sherman Billingsley was a former bootlegger who came into the business through the speakeasy route.


The bar at the Stork Club was one of the most convivial spots in Manhattan, a true classic. Billingsley did his best to populate the club with young, good-looking customers, who often ate and drank free. 

Winding up we move down to the Village and Minetta Tavern on MacDougal Street, hangout since 1937 of the likes of Ezra Pound,  e.e. cummings, Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O’Neill and Dylan Thomas.

What are those bar stools doing there? Regulars stood at the window end of the bar, where we are now. And when Jackson, the bartender, bought a round for the groupwhich he frequently diddrinks were to be held in the right hand only and sipped verry slowly.

Ahhh, tradition.


Author Photo: Robert F. Carl