Friday, July 19, 2013

The Stork Club Bar Book

The Stork Club Bar Book

Beebe, Lucius
(Holliston, MA, U.S.A.)
Quantity Available: 1
Price: US$ 250.00
Book Description: "Rinehart and Co., New York, 1946. Handsomely bound in finely woven red cloth stamped brightly in green, white, and black with art design by Paul Rand. Name in ink at the top of the front endpaper; otherwise, very clean and tight throughout. With bright white and black lettering on the spine. In a very good minus dust jacket with the original price of $3.00 at the top of the inside front flap. The jacket has the same art work by Paul Rand on the front panel and a photo of Lucius Beebe and Sherman Billingsley on the rear panel. The jacket is lightly rubbed along the spine edges. And a few short pieces of tape have been applied to the verso to strengthen the spine folds. With light chipping to the top and bottom of the spine ends and little nicks at the corners. A wag once remarked that the three most engaging phenomena of the contemporary New York scene were Mrs. Vanderbilt, the Stork Club and Lucius Beebe.Here is the Stork Club. Not the whole of it, for its legend has achieved Homeric proportions. But here is the essence of its being, a brandied core of its reality, a soufflé flavored with its personality atmosphere and glamour. Lucius Beebe, originator of the phrase "saloon society," was first introduced to the Stork Club back in 1930 in the brave old East 58th Street days by Heywood Broun.Of him Stanley Walker has written: 'Mr Beebe will drink a double bottle of champagne without batting an eye whenever the mood comes over him, and, from my personal conviction, he mood comes over him agreeably and often." First Edition with matching dates of 1946 on the title and copyright pages as well as the Rinehart colophon. Bookseller Inventory # 201"
OH2:  So imagine my surprise when searching for a good cocktail recipe the other evening and happening upon this old beauty, originally the property of one "H. E. Balfour", on the shelf in my wetbar!  Not only does it make wonderful reading (and the recipes wonderful drinking) but my copy appears to be in better shape than the above $250 one.  It even has the original recipe for a Prairie Oyster ... yum!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Stork Club

     The Stork Club was owned and operated by Sherman Billingsley (1896–1966) an ex-bootlegger who came to New York from Enid, Oklahoma.  From the end of Prohibition in 1933 until the early 1960s, the club was the symbol of cafĂ© society. Movie stars, celebrities, the wealthy, showgirls, and aristocrats all mixed here. Other New York City clubs had the sophistication (El Morocco) and drew the sporting crowd (Toots Shor's Restaurant), but the Stork Club mixed power, money and glamour. Unlike its competitors, the Stork stayed open on Sunday nights and during the summer months.
     The Stork Club first opened in 1929.  Billingsley's hand-written recollections of the early days recount his working in his New York real estate office when two gamblers he knew from Oklahoma came to him, saying they wanted to open a restaurant. Billingsley went into partnership with them. This was the beginning of the Stork Club, but he could not remember how the club's name was chosen.
     One of the first Stork Club customers was writer Heywood Broun, who was also a neighborhood resident. But Broun's first visit to the Stork was actually made by mistake; he believed it to be a funeral home. Billingsley wrote, "Broun walked in quietly, put his hat down on a table and went back in the rear room to pay his respect to the body but instead of a body he found a bar. He walked over to the bar, had several drinks, liked the place and came back very often, bringing his celebrity friends." Before long, Billingsley's Oklahoma partners sold their shares to a man named Thomas Healy.
     Eventually Mr. Healy revealed that he was a "front" for three New York mobsters. While now aware of the situation and uncomfortable with it, Billingsley was kidnapped and held for ransom by Mad Dog Coll, who was a rival of his mob partners. Before the ransom money could be collected by Coll, Billingsley's gangster partners put a bounty on his head; Coll was lured to a telephone booth where he was shot to death. The secret gangster partners reluctantly allowed Billingsley to buy them out for $30,000 after the incident.
     Prohibition agents closed the club on December 22, 1931. In 1934, the Stork Club moved to 3 East 53rd Street, where it remained until it closed on October 4, 1965. When the Stork Club became a tenant in 1934, the building was known as the Physicians and Surgeons Building. Many of the medical tenants were unhappy about the night club moving in. Billingsley purchased the seven story building in February 1946 for $300,000 cash, evicting the doctors to expand the club. By 1936, the Stork was doing well enough to have a million dollar gross for the first time. From the physical layout of the club, as described by Ed Sullivan in a 1939 column, the Stork should have been doomed to failure, since it was strangely shaped and far from roomy in places. Billingsley's hospitality with food, drink, and gifts overcame the structural deficits to keep his patrons returning time after time. When the East 53rd Street building came down to make way for Paley Park, one of the artifacts found in it was a still. Today the ornamental bar of the Stork Club is to be found in Jim Brady's Bar in Maiden Lane.
     Another New York nightclub owner named Tex Guinan (Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan) introduced Billingsley to her friend, the entertainment and gossip columnist Walter Winchell in 1930. In Winchell's column in the New York Daily Mirror, he once called the Stork Club "New York's New Yorkiest place on W. 58th". Winchell was a regular at the Stork Club; what he saw and heard there at his private Table 50 was the basis of his newspaper columns and radio broadcasts. Billingsley also kept professionals on his staff whose job was to listen to the chatter, determine fact from rumor, and then report the factual news to local columnists. The practice was seen as protective of the patrons by shielding them from unfounded reports, and also a continual source of publicity for the club. Billingsley's long-standing relationship with Ethel Merman brought the theater crowd to the Stork. A feature of the club was a solid 14 karat gold chain at its entrance; patrons were allowed entry through it by the doorman. The dining room featured live bands for dancing; Billingsley kept control of the action through a series of hand signals to his help.