New York City - The Cabarets
( Originally Published 1959 )
THE BIGGEST VALUE, IF IT'S A SHOW YOU WANT
The Latin Quarter, located in a triangular building on W. 48th St. that is sandwiched in between Broad-way and Seventh Ave., is the oldest and, with only two exceptions, the last of the great, glittering cabarets that once lined Broadway.
When in doubt, take out-of-town visitors to the LATIN QUARTER, for this is the type of nitelife they have been led to believe is the typical of New York. It has elaborate music-and-dancing shows, beautiful girls, gorgeously dressed and undressed, fast and funny vaudeville turns, and usually one of the big names of show business. Among the important ones who have appeared there are Sophie Tucker, Mae West, Milton Berle, Frankie Laine, Frank Sinatra and Johnnie Ray.
The LATIN QUARTER building itself has quite a history. It has housed, successively, the Palais Royale, where Paul Whiteman's band made its debut; the downtown Cotton Club, and also another Harlem derivate, Connie's Inn; and George White's Gay White Way. Also two elaborate Chinese restaurants. For a variety of reasons—including Pr0hibition—such veteran cafe showmen as Sam Salvin, Ben Marden and Connie Immerman failed to last long in that location. Lou Walters, a Bostonian, took over the place and on April 23, 1942, opened the LATIN QUARTER there and made a success of it.
The LATIN QUARTER has continued to be a bigtime operation, even after Lou Walters left last year to concentrate on nite clubs in Miami Beach. Donn Arden, a Broadway dance director, has been putting on the shows, which have been even more elaborate than Walters had it. Among the show girls under the Walters regime who went on to fame and fortune were Arlene Dahl, Julie Wilson, Pamela Britton and Irene Vernon.
The LATIN QUARTER maintains that it is the best bargain, pricewise, in New York, and considering what you get—a two-hour show, plus dinner and dancing at a reasonable cost—it well could be.
The Copacabana, at 10 E. 60th St., is the only other major cabaret to give the LATIN QUARTER serious competition. It features a line of beautiful and stylish girls, picked less for their dancing talent than their ability to wear clothes, two dance bands—one for the Latin-American rhythms—singing and dancing soloists and one big-name star. Joe E. Lewis is a perennial favorite, and so is Jimmy Durante. Whenever they perform in
New York, Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis, Jr. pick the COPA for their appearances. Some of the beauties who graduated from the COPA chorus line are June Allyson, Joanne Dru, Janice Rule and Carrol Baker.
The COPA is open seven nites a week the year around and is one nite club which puts an emphasis on good food. It has a special kitchen for Chinese dishes, which are popular with stay-up-lates.
Like most every other nite spot in New York, the COPA has an interesting background. During Prohibition era it was known as the Villa Vallee, featuring (naturally) Rudy Vallee. Jules Podell, the owner, previously operated a Coney Island restaurant, a Fulton Street chop house, and the Kit Kat Club, a late nite rendezvous where the BLUE ANGEL is now located. A friend who had returned from a visit to Rio suggested the name COPACABANA for Podell's new nite club when he took over in 1940. The first floor show was staged by Ramon, popular as part of the dance team of Ramon & Rosita when the Latin-American dances first came in. With his new partner, Renita, Ramon headed the show, but the vogue for their type of ballroom dancing had gone out and the early shows were flops.
Podell took on as press agent Mary Anita Loos, niece of Anita Loos, and now a well established writer herself. She proposed bringing in Don Loper, who danced with Maxine Barratt. Loper designed all of Maxine's clothes and she was the first member of a dance team to wear a hat and long gloves. Loper costumed the COPA girls in the same style, and that style has changed very little in the past 18 years.
Jules Podell usually puts in a full day at his club but seldom puts in a personal appearance in front. His club employs 275 people and his is one of the few restaurants where there is an employee pension plan for retirement.
The COPA is far more expensive than the LATIN QUARTER and its patrons are mostly big spenders from Miami Beach, Hollywood and New York. The name stars draw highly professional audiences.
Jack Silverman's International, downstairs on Broadway at 52nd St., is a vastly expanded version of Jack Silverman's Old Romanian which for years flourished on Allen St. Originally a 75-seat restaurant featuring a 75 dinner and an itinerant accordion player, it expanded to a 500-seat affair featuring some of the great names of the Jewish stage—Boris Thomashefsky, Ludwig Satz, Betty Zuckerberg, et al. Sadie Banks, whose name eventually became synonymous with the Old Romanian, came to work for a weekend and remained 25 years. Sadie is now in semi-retirement, playing only an occasion club date and working week-ends in the Catskills.
It was at the Old Romanian that Paul Muni, then known as Mimi Weisenfreund, courted his wife, Bella. Sholem Secunda sketched out many a musical comedy on its table cloths, and persuaded the vocalist, Ethel Bennet, to introduce a new tune called "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen." At the height of his fame, Rudy Vallee took his entire floor show from the Hollywood Restaurant on Broadway to perform in honor of Thomashefsky. Milton Berle once emcee'd the Old Romanian floor show and regaled the audiences for hours while still carrying a plate of soup.
In 1956 the City Fathers decreed that there should be a housing project on the site, so the Old Romanian moved to Broadway, became the New Romanian, and then, at the suggestion of several kibitzers, was recently renamed the INTERNATIONAL. Operated on a big-name policy, in one season it featured Julius La Rosa, Alan Dale, Ted Lewis, Joey Adams, Lennie Kent, Jackie Miles, Jean Carrol, Eileen Barton, Sid Gould and Myron Cohen.
The CAFE DE PARIS, alas, folded in July, a $400,000 flop.
Bill's Gay Nineties, at 57 East 54th Street, in the mahogany-paneled former mansion of the Butterworth family, is literally a museum, filled with priceless theatrical posters, covers of antiquated sheet music and show business memorabilia of a bygone day. The entertainment is supplied by barbershop quartets and other entertainers in period costumes. Popular with patrons who like to "join in."
For 27 years the GAY NINETIES was owned and operated by Bill Hardy (Hardey is the correct spelling) who created its atmosphere out of nostalgia for a past he knew only by hearsay. Before opening his own place, originally called the Silver Dollar, Hardy served as a bartender for Jack Kriendler and Charlie Berns at several of their earlier speakeasies, and had become fascinated by the anecdotes and reminiscences of older barflies and newspapermen. When in his teens, Bill had been a winner of dance contests judged by Vernon and Irene Castle.
At BILL'S GAY NINETIES, Hardy introduced benefit plans which endeared him to his employees and during the serious illness which caused his retirement three years ago they created an improvised shrine in the back of the night club where prayers could be made for his recovery.
Sammy's Bowery Follies, at 267 Bowery (at 3rd St.), might be described as a downtown, downbeat version of BILL'S GAY NINETIES. SAMMY'S 1S now included in
the Gray Line Bus Company's sightseeing tours, and that, if you ask me, is the best way to visit it. Originally a Bowery hideaway for beat and off-beat characters, Sammy claims the idea for his BOWERY FOLLIES was suggested by Cecil M. Picktheall, Britain's Commissioner General in charge of the British Pavilion of the New York World's Fair in 1939. As a result, Fuchs' is the only Bowery saloon with a cabaret license. The revue features oldtime performers whose voices and figures are a thing of the past but who make up for it in volume and verve. Murals over the bar, executed by one Aaron Krugly, allegedly in exchange for free drinks, include portraits of some of Skidrow's older barflies, such as Boulevard Rose, Greenpoint Gertie, Bilious Margie, and Toothless Kate.
Sammy on June 5, 1946 was named honorary "Mayor of the Bowery" by the then Mayor of New York, William O'Dwyer. His personal history is an exercise in statistics. His father Paul Fuchs, an Austrian, was a peddler of underwear. The family lived in three rooms with four boarders. Sammy was the 11th of 13 children and worked as a grocery clerk for $12 a week. From busboy and waiter he came to own his own restaurant, the Old Oriental, where he claims he served an eight-course dinner for 50¢ and made a profit. Incidentally, Fuchs was born in the Bowery tenement where Stephen Foster died, his throat cut by a broken water pitcher.
Sammy collects Skidrow slang and hopes some day to compile a dictionary, which will include some of the newer definitions such as "belly robber" (a chronic drunk who never eats), "gravedigger" (the cheap wine also known as "Sneaky Pete"), etc. Sammy often helps out some of his more unfortunate patrons but abhors being considered a "sucker."
Something else different with a positively exotic flavor is a rash of Greek-Armenian spots that have come into some prominence and favor with cafe society as of late. They serve those wonderful snacks of olives, cheese and rice-meat concoctions and some feature the most authentic tummy tossing seen outside the Middle East. The better known spots include the PORT SAID at 257 W. 29th St., EGYPTIAN GARDENS at 301 W. 29th St., and the KIFISIA at 250 W. 27th St.