On the circuit of hangouts, watering holes, taverns, gin joints (of all the gin joints in all the world . . .), eateries, saloons, grilles, speakeasies, et al, that are frequented by every conceivable member of the big town’s performing-arts community, the above quotes sum it up. It’s the fantastic range of choice–first, of where to go, and second, of what to choose once you get there–that really stands up under scrutiny (and a few cocktails). Surprised? Would this be the Big Apple otherwise?
From lush dining extravaganzas to down-and-dirty drinking/carousing, exquisite Old European decor to sawdust and smoke-filled “dart pubs,’ we went “on tour’ to track down the hot spots and cool jewels that among stage and screen folks are where it’s at these days.
Approximately 25 joints were chosen and visited, primarily on the basis of tradition and word-of-mouth from those who know–a “straw poll,’ if you will. There was an amazing litany of responses from various personnel on the trail–after they got over the initial fear that they were under Board of Health investigation or something–and, generally speaking, a lot of it boiled down to the same things: actor-types like the places because of (pick one from column A, two from column B) “tradition,’ “location,’ “ambience,’ “comfort,’ “economy,’ “prestige,’ or, oh yes, the quality of food and drinks.
Other factors: These are most definitely places to see and be seen, so the rosters of “heavyweight’ regulars and visitors–fictional or otherwise–are electrifying. Name a Broadway actor, a prime-time TVite, a big-time director–hey, name any celeb–and chances are great that he/she “is one of our best customers’ or “stops by for a drink now and again.’ Let’s just say that one wonders how Al Pacino finds the time to work, since he was mentioned at more hangouts than we can count.
Quite a few respondents were quick to add that August may not be truly representative of their drawing power–”Everybody’s out doing summer stock,’ or at least “you should have been here last night’– and that the coming weeks are when things really start to cook. In that sense, then, Back Stage is right on time in providing this recap, if you’re planning your fall “hangout’ itinerary (and aren’t we all?).
These places are caught in films and on tv (sometimes showing characters with Back Stage tucked under their arms), they appear as subjects of entire plays, and they’re often your second home or your strategy headquarters. It was not a terribly scientific process, so if we overlooked your favorite stop for script-reading over a plate of nachos, kindly refrain from contacting Back Stage indignantly–otherwise you’ll receive bemusement and a shrug as your answer.
So, in keeping with the diversity theme: bon appetit, smoke “em if you got “em, votre sante, here’s lookin’ up your old address, salud, and CHEERS.
Barrymore’s 267 W. 45th St. 391-8400
An absolutely superb location and a fair amount of tradition combine to give Barrymore’s a solid rep. Within shouting distance of a bunch of Broadway houses, it’s made up in a classic Olde English pub style with the ambience to match. Up to 90 percent of the crowd in the post-theatre hours are show people, says manager Mike Kerr, but “you’ll see big Broadway stars in here slapping rope-pullers on the back,’ adds Tom McKeon, an actorcustomer.
Kerr insists that Barrymore’s is “the best-kept secret on Broadway’ (a likely story), and to prove it he produces a theatre-district restaurant recap from that day’s New York Post which fails to mention Barrymore’s, in business for about 12 years under that name. The darkish two-room set-up (one a former tailor shop), surrounded with stained glass plus ancient photos and lithographs of theatre lore, can handle nearly 70 at the tables and a dozen or so at the sizable bar.
Two notable features: Kerr claims that Barrymore’s is the only area joint to offer a separate “theatre snack’ menu day and night (chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, calamari, etc., from $1.75-7.95). Also, the regular menu notes a tradition, dating back to John Drew’s era (the 1860s): On a Broadway opening night, the staff sends a basket of apples to the theatre, with each apple bearing the name of a cast member.
“We go as Broadway goes,’ says Kerr.
Menu notes: Primarily American (veal, steaks, burgers, fish, etc.) plus sandwiches, soups, many salads, specials. Top price: $14.95. Desserts (“awesome,’ says Kerr): $3.50-3.95.
Hours: Mon. 11:30 am-1:00 am; Tues.-Sat. 11:30 am-3:30 am; Sun. 12:30 pm-7:30 pm
PHEBE’S 361 Bowery 473-9008
This is the “southernmost’ stop on the gin-joint tour, a look at the “Sardi’s of Off Off Broadway,’ the “Ellis Island of the Lower East Side,’ and, by several accounts, a god-send and a savior for this transitional neighborhood.
Phebe’s, impossible to miss from blocks away with its blaring yellow letters on the side of its building, opened on the same day as the nearby Truck & Warehouse Theatre in 1969. The T & W shut down, but Phebe’s remains, as the “only reasonable place in the area for actors,’ says long-time employee Joseph Blunt, a composer. “Some of the best deals in Off Broadway history were signed here: “Torch Song Trilogy,’ “Hair’ . . . it’s now in some ways “the office’ for Ellen Stewart and the La Mama people. I mean, people like Lanford Wilson, Sam Shepard, and Michael Bennett have written scripts here, and Robert Patrick’s “Kennedy’s Children’ has Phebe’s as the setting. A lot of actors come into town, call their friends, and know that if they’re not home they’re at Phebe’s.’
The late Lester Nichols, original founder, is mentioned with considerable respect and admiration for his efforts in providing and maintaining Phebe’s for the artistic-minded regulars and for his causes on behalf of the then-sagging area. “Lester would plant trees, pick up garbage, give publicity to the shows and credit to the actors, lend props, and try out new food combos on actors,’ says Ozzie Rodriguez, a resident director at La Mama and a frequent Phebe-ite. “It’s because of him that many actors and dancers actually get jobs while here.’
Phebe’s (“open 365 1/4 days a year’) is quite a bit larger than it looks (258 legal limit, 55 tables), especially since Nichols bought the bar next door years back and expanded. The hushed, muted-wood set-up gives a dark-and-light feel and is dotted with posters and candle-lit tables, surrounded by expansive windows on two streets. Menus are broad and very American, with accents on the burgers and sandwiches.
The “cast’ over the years is among the most interesting anywhere: Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Tennessee Williams, Anthony Perkins, Harvey Fierstein, Harold Prince, a guy named Pacino . . . “Everybody from Buddhists to mudmen eat burgers at Phebe’s,’ says Rodriguez.