PODCAST REWIND The famous faces on the walls of Sardi’s Restaurant represent the entertainment elite of the 20th century, and all of them made this place on West 44th Street their unofficial home.
Known for its kooky caricatures and its Broadway opening-night traditions, Sardi’s fed the stars of the golden age and became a hotspot for producers, directors and writers — and, of course, those struggling to get their attention.
When Vincent Sardi opened his first restaurant in 1921, Prohibition had begun, and the midtown Broadway theater district was barely a couple decades old.
By the time the Italian-American restauranteur threw open its doors to its current locaton (thanks to the Shuberts) in 1927, Broadway’s stages were red hot, and Sardi found himself at the center of the New York City show business world.
We have some insider scoop from the old days — starring John Barrymore, Tallulah Bankhead, hatcheck girl Renee Carroll and a cast of thousands — and the scoop on those famous (and often unflattering) framed caricatures. So sidle up to the Little Bar, order yourself a stiff drink and eavesdrop in on this tale of Broadway’s longest dinner party.
PLUS: The birth of the Tony Awards!
FEATURING: Some 2022 updates including Sardi’s recent history.
LISTEN NOW: AN EVENING AT SARDI’S
Vincent Sardi and his world-famous wall behind him. (Courtesy NYT)
The outdoor garden cafe of the original Sardi’s, which opened in 1921 and was located two doors down from the current location. It was demolished to make way for the St. James Theatre.
The cover of the tell-all 1933 memoir by famed Sardi’s hatcheck girl Renee Carroll and illustrated by Sardi’s original caricaturist Alex Gard.
Tallulah Bankhead, Broadway diva and notorious Sardi’s customer. (Courtesy NYPL)
The failed experiment Sardi’s East, instantly problematic due to its distance from the theater district. Sardi Jr. attempted to solve the problem with a fun-filled double-decker bus — often accompanied by Broadway stars — that would zip diners to their shows after dinner. (source Flickr/edge and corner wear)
As we mentioned on the show, it’s difficult doing a history podcast on a private business without it sounding a bit like an advertisement, but hopefully we were able to execute past that. (We came across this odd feeling with other podcasts like Saks Fifth Avenue and The Plaza Hotel.)
We left a few details on the cutting-room floor, including Sardi’s lengthy involvement with the Dog Fanciers Club, which throws a congratulatory breakfast every year for the Best In Show winner of the Westminster Dog Show. Tom also did a rather nice job with reading an excerpt from Renee Caroll’s biography, but some sound problems forced us to cut it.
Tom mentioned the glory of Broadway in 1927. Show Boat is definitely the breakout show of that year, but theatergoers could also choose from one of these show that year — A Connecticut Yankee, Funny Face, Burlesque, Coquette, Hit The Deck, Rio Rita, Dracula and the hit play The Ivory Door, written by A.A. Milne of Winnie-the-Pooh fame. (Find a complete list here.)
Reading Recommendations: The best is Off The Wall by Vincent Sardi Jr. and Thomas Edward West, featuring full color representations of Sardi’s best known caricatures. Worth seeking out a copy at your used book stores. More difficult to find is Vincent Sardi Sr.’s own biography Sardi’s: A Story of a Restaurant, published in 1953 and well out of print. Carroll’s biography In Your Hat is also out-of-print, but you can find excerpts scattered online. You should seek out a physical copy if possible, as it features original artwork by original Sardi’s caricaturist Alex Gard.
Top picture courtesy Life Google images