11 Broadway Landmarks That Are Gone (But Not Forgotten)

Lists   11 Broadway Landmarks That Are Gone (But Not Forgotten) What bar did Al Pacino go to for a post-show drink? Where did Florenz Ziegfeld drown his sorrows? From Colony Records to Café Edison, Playbill.com remembers 11 theatrical landmarks.
Lost_Broadway_Landmarks_HR

As the old makes way for the new in Times Square, beloved places are lost and new favorites are found. With the announcement of the impending closing of the iconic Carnegie Deli, Playbill.com updated this list of unofficial community landmarks we’ve bid farewell to most recently.

1. Carnegie Deli—closing soon

Carnegie Deli
Carnegie Deli

After nearly eighty years, the Carnegie Deli will close December 31, 2016. Named for its proximity to Carnegie Hall (at its address on Seventh Avenue between 54th and 55th Streets), the delicatessen was famous for its massive portions—have you ever seen that corned beef sandwich—and creamy cheesecakes. The midtown spot opened in 1937 and its walls are decorated with the signed headshots of its famous clientele. From Jerry Orbach to Woody Allen (who has a sandwich named for him), it seems no one lived in New York (or visited) without a stop at the eatery. Comedian Adam Sandler even mentions the joint in his “Chanukah Song.” The Carnegie will maintain its branching in casinos and sporting venues throughout the U.S. and will continue to ship its world-famous cheesecake. But how will we get the pickles?

2. Colony Records

Colony Records
Colony Records

A fixture in Times Square since the 1940s, when it opened at 52nd Street and Broadway, Colony Records moved to its well-known 49th Street location in the 1970s. For more than four decades, Colony occupied the ground floor of the Brill Building, right next to the Ambassador Theatre. It was the main destination of those who wanted to purchase cast recordings and sheet music, as well as other theatre and music items, like karaoke tapes, posters, and collectibles.

Colony Records employees were known for being extremely knowledgeable, often able to recommend an item based on just a few words ("New tenor uptempo sheet music?"). With both digital music and online shopping changing the game, Colony Records was forced to shut its doors in 2012.

3. McHale’s

McHales
McHales

When the bar first opened, it was called the Gaiety Café, but by the 1950s, it was McHale’s. The demolition of McHale’s is still lamented by Broadway’s stagehands and by those cool enough to grab a beer with them. This beloved theatre bar stood on the northeast corner of 46th Street from 1944 to 2006, feeding the city juicy burgers and providing a watering hole not just for stagehands but also for nearby firefighters, blue collar workers and other local professionals. This was the bar to go to if you were really “in the know.” Stars would sit, unbothered, amongst other Broadway workers, especially between shows on matinee days and after shows every day of the week.

Run by the same family since the 1950s, McHale’s boasted a long wooden bar that came from the 1939 World’s Fair. The bar was ousted by a new apartment building, the Platinum. McHale’s neon sign now has a home inside Emmett O’Lunney’s, an Irish bar on 50th Street.

Broadway’s Amy Spanger (Matilda the Musical) waited tables here when she first moved to New York City. When she made her Broadway debut, one of the stagehands—a regular at McHale’s—asked, “Hey! What’re you doing here?” Amy replied: “I work HERE now!! I’m an actress.”

4. Jimmy Ray’s

Jimmy Rays
Jimmy Rays

Jimmy Ray’s has been one of my favorite place to learn about while writing my "Untold Stories of Broadway" books.

Known as the “late Broadway bar,” it sat at the southwest corner of 46th Street and 8th Avenue, catty corner from where McHale’s once was. While all of the other joints frequented by Broadway babies would close around 2 AM, Jimmy Ray’s closed at 4. If McHale’s was for stagehands, then Jimmy Ray’s was for chorus kids. With its large semi-round wooden booths, and cheap food and drinks, Jimmy Ray’s was the place to chill out after your show, find out about the next audition, kick your heels up with your friends—though you might find Al Pacino sitting at the bar. Jimmy Ray’s burned down in a fire in 1988. The restaurant was completely gutted. French bistro Brasserie Athenee is now on the spot.

5. Café Edison

Cafe Edison
Cafe Edison

In December 2014, we lost this one-of-a-kind diner, teeming with New York character, in the heart of the theatre district. Thousands of people protested and signed petitions, but the charming, old-school eatery inside the Edison Hotel on 47th Street, is gone for good, taking its matzo ball soup and blintzes genuine character with it.

The Café Edison was a favorite of Broadway producers, New York Times reporters, theatre actors and crew. In 1931, when the Edison Hotel opened, it boasted an intricately designed dining room on the spot. In 1980, that dining room was converted into this cafeteria haven for show folk. Mana Allen confided that while playing in Smile at the Lunt-Fontanne in 1986, the “Smile girls” would dine at the Edison between shows, and often be seated between the theatrical cognoscenti and Times Square’s transvestite hookers, with everyone enjoying the soup.

A VIP table, with a red velvet rope in front, boasted the key players of Broadway, usually the Shuberts or the Nederlanders. Both Doug Henning and David Copperfield were regulars at the “Magic Table” in the corner, where a playing card was above on the ceiling as part of a trick occasionally done for the unassuming tourist. August Wilson reportedly wrote several scripts on Café Edison napkins. Neil Simon was always around, and immortalized the café in his play 45 Seconds From Broadway. (Faded posters and clippings from that play dotted the walls of the venue.) When it was reported that Simon had written a play chronicling the Café Edison, Wilson simply replied: “He beat me to it.”

6. The Coffee Pot

Coffee Pot
Coffee Pot

The Coffee Pot differs from nearly every other establishment on this list, as it never served alcohol! (Or did it?) An afternoon respite for the young actor or writer or producer, The Coffee Pot was a rare non-chain coffee shop. At the southeast corner of 49th Street and Ninth Avenue, it stood out from the nearby Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts stores because of its scrappy, comfortable furniture, low prices and informal pastel décor. The Coffee Pot closed up shop for good in late 2011. The spot is now a loud bar called Mickey Spillane’s.

7. Sam’s

Sam's
Sam's

When the real estate market boomed in the early 2000s, there were plans to knock down all of the buildings dotting the east side of Eighth Avenue, between 45th Street and 46th Street, in order to build giant high rises. The Broadway Inn was demolished, J.R.’s was demolished, Barrymore’s was demolished, Sam'’ was demolished… and the real estate bubble burst, giving us a decade of abandoned lot space, and currently an outdoor flea market.

Sam’s was a music-filled theatre bar dating back almost an entire century. Opened as simply “The Theater Bar” in the 1920s, the space was first known as Charlie’s and then Sam’s, from 1988 onward. Those just starting out could afford the drinks, although even Jason Robards and the elite of Broadway loved the joint, too. From Grease to A Chorus Line, from the days of World War II to the dawn of the new millennium, this eatery with its walls of brick and round-the-clock beers was an institution in New York City.

Louis Bergen, the original owner, came to the city a poor German immigrant with dreams of owning his own restaurant. Once he established the Theater Bar, Bergen was known to take messages for struggling actors who were regulars, but couldn't afford an answering service of their own. He and his staff took such great care of regulars that, actors who later became successful after dining there would often send Bergen checks at Christmastime. He would take the money and find a new crop of emerging artists to feed and support with the money.

8. Music Row

Music Row
Music Row

Between Sixth and Seventh Avenues on 48th Street, the block used to be littered with Broadway houses: the Cort, the Playhouse, the Vanderbilt, the 48th Street, the Belmont. It hasn't been that way since the 1950s (the Cort is the lone survivor), but what it has been for over 80 years is a mecca for musicians and music lovers.

Since the 1930s, Music Row, on this very block of Times Square, has been home to places like Sam Ash Music, Manny’s Musical Instruments, Rudy’s Music Shop, Alex Music, Rod Baltimore’s, Terminal Music, Associated Recording Studios, Stuyvesant Music, MSR/ Legacy Studios, Silver & Horland and many others. Lining the street were stores to buy instruments, music equipment, instrument repair shops, recording studios, sheet music shops, even an accordion museum… until this past year when the last one closed. Greats like The Beatles, The Ronettes, Bette Midler, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix all shopped on this block.

9. The Mayfair Billboard

Mayfair Billboard
Mayfair Billboard

You might remember it as the “five-show” billboard on the northeast corner of 47th Street and Seventh Avenue for over 80 years! The space often served as a place for five separate Broadway shows to advertise, in four square mini-billboards, next to one longer vertical ad, until Times Square renovations.

Back in 1909, the building behind the Mayfair Billboards housed four- and five-story brownstone homes. There were families of the early 20th century who lived in brownstones, just a couple steps away from where the Palace Theatre was about to be built! In 1910, the Columbia Theatre was erected on the spot, to be a home for “clean burlesque” shows—that is, burlesque that you could take the whole family to see. The Columbia Theatre was turned into the Mayfair, a movie theatre in the heart of Times Square. This was when it started being the home for one of Times Square's most distinctive billboards.

By the early 2000s, the Mayfair had begun its five-show display, with the demand for Broadway billboards in Times Square at a premium. No longer the Mayfair Theatre underneath, the building had been split into three movie theatres, an Embassy triplex and then made into a restaurant over the years, before being gutted completely.

10. The Times Square Visitors Center

Times Square Visitors Center
Times Square Visitors Center

In mid-2014, the Times Square Visitors Center, just next to the Palace Theatre, permanently closed. Located in the former Embassy Theatre, visitors could speak to concierges or learn more about Broadway shows and tourist attractions. A rotating museum display featured costumes from shows, Times Square artifacts, and interactive art pieces.

11. Dinty Moore’s

Dinty Moores
Dinty Moores

Volume One of “The Untold Stories of Broadway” tells the stories of the Richard Rodgers Theatre, and it was all but impossible to tell these without telling the stories of Dinty Moore’s. An upper end Irish joint just to the left of the 46th Street Theatre (now the Rodgers), Dinty Moore’s was where Damn Yankees received its revision, where Florenz Ziegfeld drank,where George S. Kaufman and Damon Runyan and Bob Fosse were inspired.

The owner was James Moore, and the place was first called James Moore’s. Then, restaurant regular George McManus penned the comic strip Life With Father, featuring an Irish tavern owner, Dinty Moore. James loved this presumable tribute, and changed the name of his venue. In the 1920s, Dinty Moore’s was the place to go for hooch, as the restaurant paid no mind to Prohibition. A raid in 1930 revealed that Dinty Moore’s had a secret latch under a counter in its kitchen that could be pulled to reveal a subbasement full of booze. Upon this discovery, several men were arrested to answer to Prohibition laws.

Over the years, the place was populated by everyone from Walter Winchell to Will Rogers to Audrey Hepburn to Frank Sinatra to Judy Garland. Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon were said to have re-choreographed dances at the restaurant, away from the hubbub of the theatre. Florenz Ziegfeld was so depressed after the audience left the opening night of Show Boat in silence, that he spent the night drowning his sorrows at Dinty Moore’s—before returning to the New Amsterdam the next morning to discover lines around the block to buy tickets.

Legend has it that George S. Kaufman was once kicked out of Dinty Moore’s for ordering a hamburger without onions. James Moore was known for booting even the most notable of his patrons, and this time, he hollered, “I don't tell you how to write your goddamned plays, don't tell me how to serve my hamburgers!” In 1932, George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's play Dinner At Eight opened around the corner at the Music Box, with a character uttering a passingly throw-away line: “I’ve only got a minute. I got a classy dinner date—I've got to meet a hamburger with onions, at Dinty Moore’s.”

Damon Runyon was also a regular. Police raids and unsavory dealings were frequent there during his time, which is especially poignant given that Runyon's Guys and Dolls would open next door at the 46th Street Theatre, years later.

The establishment closed in the early 1970s, shortly after a change in ownership. The last crowd to spend time there was the No No Nanette cast, after performances next door.

The original version of this article was published on October 18, 2015.

Recommended Reading: