New York City - The Supper Clubs
( Originally Published 1959 )
THE Blue Angel, at 152 E. 55th St., is the brain child of Herbert Jacoby, a tall, slightly cadaverous French-man, who set a new pattern for New York nitelife when he opened an upstairs bistro called Le Ruban Bleu on E. 56th St. in 1937.
Le Ruban Bleu (the Blue Ribbon) was named for a club in Paris opened by Jacoby the day the French liner Normandie won the transatlantic speed record. It was at the suggestion of George Gershwin, Cole Porter and other Americans that he decided to create a replica in New York.
The policy of sporadic entertainment, introducing new or little-known talent, such as Elsie Houston, Marie Eve, Jimmy Daniels, Greta Keller, et al., in lieu of one long-drawn-out show eventually caught on.
When Jacoby left to open the BLUE ANGEL, Julius Monk, who had worked for Jacoby in Paris, took over as talent director and master of ceremonies, doubling as pianist.
The BLUE ANGEL (the name suggested by Marlene Dietrich's first hit movie—also because Jacoby thinks "blue" is lucky for him) was a success from the day it opened, April 14, 1943. Jacoby formed a partnership with Max Gordon of the VILLAGE VANGUARD and performers who made good at the VANGUARD were usually shunted uptown to the ANGEL. Jacoby estimates that in the first 13 years of the BLUE ANGEL'S operation he auditioned around 6,500 acts, felt rewarded if he discovered two a year which could be developed as BLUE ANGEL material.
His success is evidenced by the roster of those who did make good there and went on to further fame and fortune elsewhere: Evelyn Knight, Yul Brynner, Pearl Bailey, Wally Cox, Kaye Ballard, Nancy Andrews, Harry Belafonte, Martha Wright, Phil Leeds, Monica Lewis, Mary McCarty, Jill Corey, Felicia Sanders, Alice Ghostley, the Bernard Brothers and dozens of others.
Jacoby has probably the most unusual background of anyone in the business. Born in Paris of a French-Swiss mother and an English father, his first schooling was in Manchester and he spoke English before he did French, though he still speaks English with an accent. His English grandfather, a celebrated violinist named Siegfried Jacoby, forbade any of his 11 children to go into show business "because it is so hard to make a living."
Jacoby was educated in Paris and London, majoring in economics and diplomacy. After World War I, aged 18, he served as a diplomatic courier for the French War Department, traveling all over Europe and Asia. He became secretary to Leon Blum, head of the Popular FLont in France, and continued with him until after Blum became Premier. After the fall of Blum's government, Jacoby took up journalism and press agentry and it was in the latter capacity that he first became associated with nite clubs at Le Boeuf Sur le Toit, a famous old Parisian cafe.
The BLUE ANGEL'S "continental type" entertainment has been copied extensively all over the country. Most of its patrons come in after the theatre to catch this or that act, or sit in the lounge, beguiled by piano music between shows. The BLUE ANGEL does serve food, but few people are aware of it.
Julius Monk's split-level cabaret, called the DOWNSTAIRS ROOM and the UPSTAIRS ROOM, recently moved from a dismal Sixth Ave. cellar to its present address 37 W. 56th St. in the former Wanamaker mansion. For several seasons he has been attracting capacity crowds with a series of tiny revues titled "Four Below," "Son of Four Below," "Take Five" at the old place; in the new location it is "Demi Dozen," to feature six per-formers and twin pianos.
Julius, following in Jacoby's footsteps at Le Ruban Bleu, discovered or developed Imogene Coca, "Professor" Irwin Corey, Thelma Carpenter, Monica Boyar, Sylvia Sims, Dorothy Loudon, Bibi Osterwald, puppeteers Bil and Cora Baird, concert guitarist Vicente Gomez, the Deep River Boys, the Four Lads and the Norman Paris Trio.
It was during a Ruban Bleu engagement that Walter Liberace decided to drop his first name and add a candelabrum to his act. Shirl Conway, Alice Pearce, Pat Carroll, Arte Johnson, Susan Johnson, Jonathan Winters were among Monk's protegees, also an outstanding comedian and sketch writer, Ronnie Graham.
Julius is a native of Salisbury, N.C., and graduated as a concert pianist at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He acquired his rather baffling pseudo-English accent after being exposed to the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Prince Philip of Greece (now Duke of Edinburgh), who enjoyed his piano-playing at the Dingo Bar in Paris and aided him in getting a working license to appear in London.
At No. 1 FIFTH AVE. he groomed Dorothy Lamour, introduced Eddie Mayehoff and violinist Florian Zabach; at Atlantic House, Provincetown, R.I., he introduced harpist Daphne Hellman, pianist Hugh Shannon, song stylist June Ericson (who went on to do Shakespeare at Stratford, Conn.); and at the DOWNSTAIRS ROOm Gerry Matthews, Jack Fletcher and a half dozen others.
Julius affects Edwardian clothes and has a lucrative sideline as a photographer's model, posing as snooty chauffeurs, butlers, housemen, etc.
One Fifth Avenue, at Eighth St., also known as "No. 1 Bar," is another supper club with the Julius Monk touch. Two pianos and an intimate floor show of three or four singing and comedy acts furnish entertainment nitely from cocktails to curfew. Quite a few of our newer stars of both TV and movies got their start there.
Goldie's New York, at 232 E. 53rd St., is the picturesque title of a small bistro owned and operated by an equally picturesque young pianist originally from Fort Deposit, Alabama, named Louis Goldson Hawkins, but known to all and sundry as Goldie.
Since his arrival in New York some 15 years ago, Goldie has been a featured entertainer at Tony's
Caprice, the LITTLE CLUB, BLUE ANGEL, L'AIGLON and Vieux Carre, and during the winter season at one of the Virgin Island cocktail lounges. He also appeared on Broadway in In Any Language, starring Uta Hagen, in the role of a piano-playing actor. When Memorial Day weekend arrives, he opens his Goldie's Fire Island at Ocean Beach.
Goldie's first bistro, at 302 W. 58th St., fell victim to the house wrecker, whereupon he settled in his present location in a house, if you can believe the legend, that goes back to the time of England's George II and is rich in history. Goldie is another supper club operator who nets a sizable income as a photographer's model. His piano-playing hands frequently appear in cigarette ads, with a Navy anchor tattooed across the back.
The Little Club, at 70 E. 55th St., centers around the personality of Billy Reed, ex-vaudeville hoofer and still a hoofer at heart. Billy is such a perennial juvenile that it is difficult to realize that he passed the half-century mark several years ago.
Billy attributes some of his success to the fact that he was born in a "vintage" year, the year that produced, among other things, a song hit titled "Will You Love Me in December As You Do in May?" by James J. Walker, much later the husband of Betty Compton, with whom Billy was teamed when he made his Broad-way dancing debut in Fifty Million Frenchmen.
At 10, Billy was hoofing for pennies on the sidewalks of New York, specializing in Pat Rooney's clog waltz. At 15, he became one of the vaudeville trio of Gordon, Reed and King, and at 21 hit big time at the Palace. He was the first tap dancer to appear in a movie—Gold Diggers, starring Ann Pennington.
During the war Billy was a familiar figure in a blue Navy uniform hopping around at the COPACABANA where he had previously staged productions. When peace came, he fulfilled a longtime ambition by opening the LITTLE CLUB, with the aid and advice of some seasoned restaurateurs—Charlie Berns of "21" among them. His first solo attraction was Doris Day, whom he could only guarantee $100 a week plus all she could eat.
Billy numbers Dan Dailey, also a hoofer, among his closer friends, and to celebrate one of Billy's recent birthdays, Dailey flew in from Hollywood with more celebrities than we have space to list.
TV, stage and screen stars, naturally, are the regulars at the LITTLE CLUB.
The Left Bank, at 309 W. 50th St., is owned and operated by Richard Kollmar, actorproducer and husband of columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, and is a special favorite with the after-theatre crowd. Features two pianists who spell each other throughout the evening, and a trio on occasion.
Kollmar's hobby is collecting models of hands, which are all over the place. He started a small art gallery and many of the paintings have been displayed at the LEFT BANK.
Le Cupidon, at 40 E. 58th St., is located in an oddly shaped cellar, with a balcony. The place has had many incarnations under other names. As a small supper club with a tiny dance floor and specializing in such over-sized entertainers as Betty George, Tina Louise and Monique Van Vooren, it has lasted about five years under its present name.
The acquisition of Robert Crescas, long with the Versailles and known as one of the best maitre d's in the business, has given the place a new interest as a restaurant. Robert is of Spanish descent, born in Yugoslavia, and majored as a teacher of French before becoming a restaurateur.
The Composer, at 68 W. 58th St., is, as the name implies, dedicated to the man behind the musical scene and specializes in "modified jazz" (in which you can frequently recognize the tune).
The COMPOSER is co-owned by Cy Baron, whose career goes back two decades and includes ownership of the old Onyx Club on W. 52nd St. during the heyday of Swing St., and Willie Shore, a five-by-five alumnus of the old two-a-day vaudeville, who owned the now defunct East Side Show Spot.
The Monkey Bar, 60 E. 54th St. (in the Weylin Hotel) has long been a fixture of New York nite life and is best known as the "home of the risque song." Three or four singing pianists spell each other throughout the evening and quite a few of them became famous, notably Consuelo Flowerton (mother of Nina Foch), Nancy Andrews, Nancy Noland, Johnny Andrews (now on TV), Jack Arnold and of course Johnny Payne, who was a fixture there for years.
The Living Room, at 915 Second Ave. (at 48th St.), is one of the newer and better small supper clubs and is aptly named. Its main decor does suggest a living room, with a working fireplace and comfortable sofas for customers in lieu of the usual restaurant chairs. The LIVING ROOm recently expanded to accommodate 90, with a new Upstairs Room on the second floor, to accommodate 60. Features intimate-type entertainment of the Bobby Short caliber, alternating between the two floors.
In recent years there has been a trend to small supper clubs with limited menus and modest entertainment. There has been a spate of them, particularly on the upper East Side, notably:
The Tender Trap, 1074 Second Ave. (at 57th St.) The Gothic Room of the Hotel Duane, Madison Ave. at 37th St.
Pygmalion, 1068 Second Ave. (at 56th St.)
Gatsby's, 873 First Ave. (between 48th and 49th Sts.)
In Boboli, 1591 Second Ave. (at 83rd St.), the name suggested by the famous Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy.
Most of New York's great hotels have "rooms" with food and entertainment of a superior quality, plus name bands for dancing. In recent years, they have been drawing on the little supper clubs for the entertainers. The Waldorf's EMPIRE ROOm presented Harry Belafonte and Pearl Bailey and the Plaza's PERSIAN ROOm introduced Eartha Kitt, all of whom graduated from the BLUE ANGEL.
The Waldorf's EMPIRE ROOm is open from September through May and the STARLIGHT ROOf takes it from there. The famous SERT ROOm, with its magnificent murals by Jose Maria Sert, is now used chiefly for private functions. There is also the PEACOCK LOUNGE, where one may dine as well as dance.
The Maisonette Room of the St. Regis featuLes such solo performers as Julie Wilson, a perennial favorite especially with the collegiate set; Doretta Morrow, Rosalind Courtright, Denise Darcel, and other singers who depend as much on their stylish clothes as they do on their voices.
The Hotel Astor, built in 1904 and for long New York's best known and most distinguished hotel, is due for a revival under the direction of Col. Serge Obolensky, who rejuvenated the St. Regis, the Plaza, the Savoy-Plaza (now the Savoy-Hilton) and the Ambassador (now the Sheraton East).
One of Col. Obolensky's first projects toward restoring the Astor to its oldtime splendor was to give the 40-yearold GRAND BALLROOM, one of the oldest and largest in the country, a general facelifting expected to cost around a million dollars, after which the adjoining ROSE ROOm and CORAL ROOm would be returned to their original French Renaissance design. The main ballroom and the other 18 banquet rooms of the Astor can accommodate 7,000 diners and many of the important social functions will be held there.
The HUNTING ROOm, long famous as a pre-theatre and after theatre rendezvous, has undergone a refurbishing which has helped restore its popularity.
The Persian Room of the Plaza follows much the same policy as the Waldorf and the MAISONETTE-usually a dinner show and supper show—with dancing in between.
The PERSIAN ROOm dates from 1934, when repeal of Prohibition made it possible for the great hotels to restore entertainment. Joseph Urban, cLeator of so many Ziegfeld Follies, designed the room, featuring Lillian Palmedo's murals. The opening attraction was the DeMarco (Tony and Renee) dance team and Emil Coleman's band. That set the norm for entertainment, which has been followed more or less ever since. The great dance teams, from Veloz and Yolanda to Marge and Gower Champion, have appeared there, Eddie Duchin and Leo Reisman have been among the bandleaders, and solo performers have ranged from Jane Pickens to Eartha Kitt.
The PERSIAN ROOm was redesigned in 1950 by Henry Dreyfuss, who created interiors for the luxury liners Constitution and Independence, also the New York World's Fair symbols, the Trylon and Perisphere. For several years Ted Straeter's band has been a hardy perennial at the PERSIAN ROOM, alternating with Mark Monte's Latin rhythms.
For style and class nothing in New York has ever topped the PERSIAN ROOM, particularly in the matter of service. The captains and waiters have grown up with the room and they all look like bank presidents.
The Plaza itself is one of the few souvenirs of the Age of Elegance in New York. Completed in 1907, at a cost of $12,500,000, the 18-story hotel, following the style then in vogue, was built along the lines of a French Renaissance chateau, similar to two of the nearby Vanderbilt mansions (now destroyed).
The Barberry Room of the Berkshire Hotel, 18 E. 52nd St., seems doomed to become a victim of the housewreckers since the Knott Hotel chain has decided to build a new annex. However, a new BARBERRY ROOM is on the agenda, so it might be well to revive the story of the old one.
It opened as the Elbow Room in April 1938, one of the most elegant and exclusive private clubs in New York. There was no press party and no fanfare because the press wasn't invited, then or thereafter.
Oddly enough, the man who barred the press was himself a former newspaperman, Alexander Woollcott. It had long been his ambition to found a private dining room catering to the culinary preferences of himself and a few favored cronies. Among those honored with membership were Harold Ross of the New Yorker and George S. Kaufman, both former newspapermen; Robert Sherwood, Moss Hart, William Paley, Robert Sarnoff, Raymond Massey, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and, on the distaff side, Alice Duer Miller, Mrs. Averell Harriman and Mrs. Samuel Weldon.
Money was put up by two other Woollcott cronies, George and Teddy Backer, both realtors. Norman Bel-Geddes was engaged to design it, and the net result was one of the most elegant and attractive eating places in the world.
The deep-seated, luxurious lounge chairs accommodated only 150, not enough for the first nite's 200—with a corner set aside for Woollcott and a few favored guests—so dissatisfaction began at the start. The room, which cost $200,000, was a flop.
Teddy Backer, forgetting Woollcott's snub to the press, wrote Lucius Beebe, asking for suggestions about what to do with the Elbow Room. Beebe wired his proposal that the room "be burned to the ground and salt sprinkled on the site, so that nothing will ever grow there again."
After a few alterations, it was remamed the BARBERRY ROOm and flourished thereafter under the successive managements of Jim Moriarty, Gogi Tchitchinade and Michael Pearman, who left to open his own MICHAEL'S PUB. The room became a particular favorite with theatrical and television people, many from CBS head-quarters across the street on Madison Ave. The new room, when it is built, will therefore have a ready-made following.
The Polo Grille in Hotel Westbury, 840 Madison Ave., is one of the half dozen excellent restaurants operated by the Knott Hotel chain, which includes the new CAFE INTERNATIONAL, located in the International Hotel at International Airport (Idlewild).
The POLO BAR & GRILLE, dating from 1938, was organized by and designed for Long Island sportsmen and socialites but became a rendezvous for other types of celebrities, including ex-Governor Dewey of New York, Judge Medina and—before he took off for Washington—Dwight Eisenhower. Bing Crosby likes the place so much that he once remarked on CBS that he would appear there nitely, heading a small singing combination, if the offer were tendered him. General manager of the POLO GRILLE is John Sandham, formerly of Florida's Boca Raton Club. The room has been so successful that Knott Hotels Corporation has reproduced it in their London and Toronto Westbury Hotels.
Cafe International, spectacularly decorated by Dorothy Draper, opened last May 8. Only ten minutes ride from International Airport, it draws its patronage not only from airborne transients but also from resident neighbors. The resident manager is Herman Hanfland, formerly of the BARBERRY ROOm.
Knott Hotels Corporation also operates the Delegates' Dining Room at the United Nations, so is expert at catering to international tastes.
The Cotillion Room of the Hotel Pierre is one of the more attractive show spots of New York. Its policy of presenting varied entertainment, with such stars as Denise Darcel, Yma Sumac, Gisele Mackenzie, Constance Bennett, Marguerite Piazza, et al., was discontinued about a year ago, but there is at this writing talk of restoring the big names as star attractions. Meanwhile, two orchestras, the Cotillion Strings, under Alex Rosatti, and the Joseph Ricardel dance band supply dance tempos.
The COTILLION ROOm dates from 1941. Bandleader Stanley Melba has been entertainment director from the time it opened. If Chicagoans find a striking re-semblance to the Pump Room in Chicago's Ambassador East Hotel, this is not surprising; they were both designed by Samuel Marx.
The Taft Grill, of the Taft Hotel, Seventh Ave. at 50th St., has had Vincent Lopez playing there for more than 18 years, and is unique in that the band plays for dancing at both the luncheon and the dinner hour.
The Algonquin Hotel, at 29 West 44th St., has al-ways been favored as a place of residence for literary people and is chiefly famous for having once entertained the "Algonquin Round Table" set which included such worthies as Alexander Woollcott, George S. Kaufman, Robert Benchley, Heywood Broun, Harold Ross and a dozen or so others who met there for luncheon, behind an all-protecting velvet rope, and made history for the hotel and money for its proprietor, Frank Case. Case passed on some time ago and there is a new set of occupants for the overstuffed chairs vacated by the Round Table clique, most of whom have also passed on. And of course, the Round Table itself is now only a tradition.
Ben Bodne, who had honeymooned there many years previously and fallen in love with the place, raised the requisite million dollars to buy the hotel following World War II. Both Ben and his wife are theatre-minded and continue to encourage the pre-theatre and post-theatre patronage that flourished in Case's time. Raoul, the headwaiter, who has seen them all come and go, is still on the job.
The Raleigh Room of the Warwick Hotel, at 65 West 54th St., is not only one of New York's most beautifully decorated restaurants but is, in a way, an illuminated page out of the city's history. The striking murals by Dean Cornwall, from which the room gets its name, depict the colorful and romantic adventures of Sir Walter Raleigh as soldier, explorer, states-man, alchemist and scholar. But they also incorporate the names of dozens of important newspaper and theatrical figures, many of whom have now passed on (O. O. McIntyre, Conde Nast, Theodore Dreiser, Mark Hellinger, Frank Buck, et al.). The room was frankly designed as a rendezvous for celebrities 20 years ago by William Randolph Hearst and Arthur Brisbane (who built the hotel) and Dean Cornwall received $500,000 for doing the decorations.