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Archive for the ‘Nightlife’ Category

Texas Guinan Owney Madden Hotel Harding Club Intime Speakeasey Club Abby

Address: 205 West 54th Street

Status: Standing (now Flute Bar)

 

It was the swingingest speakeasy of the roaring 20s. A partnership born out of the union of the fast talking queen of New York nightlife, Texas Guinan, and the real life Great Gatsby, Owney Madden, the duke Manhattan’s West Side. Their joint was the Club Intime, a lush cabaret dripping with wall-to-wall red velvet and hanging Chinese lanterns, an open secret hidden in the basement of the Hotel Harding on West 54th Street.

 

Owney The Killer Madden

 

The hotel represented the pinnacle of Owney Madden’s rags to riches story. A veritable Horatio Alger tale, Owney came up in the Irish slums of Hell’s Kitchen around the turn of the century. Owney ran with the Gophers, the most vicious mob ever to romp on the West Side. After being shot to pieces in a dancehall, Madden became the Gopher’s king but a murder conviction in 1915 put Owney on ice for the next nine years.

 

Oweny Madden was a gangland rags to riches story. We went from West Side tough to prohibition power broker.

Oweny Madden was a gangland rags to riches story. We went from West Side tough to prohibition power broker.

 

Madden emerged from Sing Sing in 1923 penniless. Prohibition was in full swing and all of the Gophers had gone into bootlegging. His old pal Larry Fay made a fortune operating glitzy speaks and a fleet of white and purple taxi cabs, but Fay had problems, problems that a man of violence like Madden could solve. Waxey Gordon, Dutch Schultz and heavies from the other New York mobs were moving in on the pacifistic money making Fay. Owney became Fay’s partner, protecting their clubs with fists and bullets and bombs.

 

Fay and Madden grew wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. His beer, “Madden’s No. 1 Beer,” which he brewed on West 26th Street, became the gold standard of Jazz Age New York. Flush with cash,  they ran an armada of rum runners, ferrying booze across the ocean that quenched the thrust of their speakeasies including the famed Cotton Club. However, the Hotel Harding and Club Intime would become the crown jewel of Madden’s empire.

 

Owney Madden purchased the Hotel Harding to be the crown jewel of his underworld empire. Legs Diamond and Mae West lived in the hotel above Texas Guinan's speakeasy, Club Intime.

Owney Madden purchased the Hotel Harding to be the crown jewel of his underworld empire. Legs Diamond and Mae West lived in the hotel above Texas Guinan’s speakeasy, Club Intime.

 

Hello Suckers! Texas Guinan

 

Born Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan in Waco, Texas, everyone in New York called her Texas for her oversized persona and trademark greeting, “Hello Suckers!” Guinan could shoot and rope and ride with the skill of Tom Mix. She could belt out a show tune with a belly full of bathtub gin. Texas was larger than life and no one, including gangsters, politicians, or coppers could evade her ascorbic zingers.

 

In her short career, Texas was a vaudevillian, a silent movie star, and  New York City’s greatest prohibition emcee. The gangsters loved her, especially Larry Fay, because she ran the most lucrative clubs in town, taking arrests like a hard nosed hood. Together the duo ran a string of clubs all over Broadway. The El Fay, the 300 Club, and Texas Guinan’s, bouncing from club to club as the authorities raided and padlocked their nightclubs, but eventually Fay and Guinan would come to rest at Madden’s Harding Hotel, with Texas headlining.

 

 

Madden Acquires The Hotel Harding

 

Built in 1903, The twelve floor Hotel Harding stood in an important crossroads situated in the heart of the Times Square speakeasy district. Always a shadowy figure, Madden acquired the Harding using Max and Tilly Landauer as fronts to purchase the hotel. Within months, the swank building was packed with showgirls, actresses, playwrights, gangsters, boxers and associated high-end riff raff. Legs Diamond lived upstairs in the Harding, providing freelance guns for hire for Madden’s mob. The boxer Kid Berg, and Madden’s latest infatuation, an actress named Mae West, also called the Harding home.

 

Owney Madden and Texas Guinan owned the Club Intime located at 205 West 54th Street inside of Madden's posh Hotel Harding. In the 1930's Dutch Schultz acquired the club and renamed it the Club Abby.

Owney Madden and Texas Guinan owned the Club Intime located at 205 West 54th Street inside of Madden’s posh Hotel Harding. In the 1930’s Dutch Schultz acquired the club and renamed it the Club Abby.

 

“So Sweet and So Vicious,” Mae West and Owney Madden

 

Although it’s pure speculation, Owney Madden probably fell in love with Mae West during her 1916 White Rats benefit in Sing Sing. In those days, Madden was nothing more than a small time hood with a chest full of bullets and a hacking, bloody cough. However, Madden and Mae would soon be together again. In 1928 after Madden acquired the Hotel, Mae and her mother were some of his first residents. Texas Guinan and Mae held a seance there in which Ethel Barrymore and Heywood Broun helped conjure the spirits of Rudolph Valentino and Arnold Rothstein.

 

A love affair soon blossomed in the Harding Hotel. Mae affectionately nicknamed madden “her clay pigeon” for all of the bullets in his chest, later saying he was “so sweet and so vicious.” Madden invested in her plays and backed the actress when the cops jailed Mae for her risque show, Sex. The gangster’s connections with Blackwell’s Island warden earned Mae a private cell and silk underwear.  Mae was of course a regular at the Club Intime downstairs.

 

The Hullabaloo of Broadway: Club Intime

 

When Guinan and Madden opened the Club Intime the suckers came by the boatload. Crooked politicians, actors, writers, stock brokers and mobster moguls all fought for the chance to pay an unfathomable $25 cover charge and the right to be zinged by Tex.

 

Texas Guinan's speakeasy, Club Intime, was located beneath 205 West 54th Street. It is now Flute Bar.

Texas Guinan’s speakeasy, Club Intime, was located beneath 205 West 54th Street. It is now Flute Bar.

 

Once inside inside the lush speakeasy, “the suckers” were greeted by Guiana’s troupe of scantily clad fan dancers and the chance to empty their bankrolls on $5 drinks and $35 bottles of erstaz champagne of dubious vintage.

 

 

On the postage stamp sized dance floor, playwrights, Broadway crooners, top shelf gangsters,  and half naked chorus girls danced the night away. Oweny’s childhood best friend, Broadway dancer and future Hollywood actor, George Raft,  could be seen cutting a rug with Legs Diamond and Dutch Schultz. Club Intime was trailblazing cabaret, a sign of the future, a harbinger of the sexual revolution, utterly modern and utterly American. Of course the coppers wanted it closed. In April of 1929, Police Commissioner Grover Whalen raided the club for operating an unlicensed cabaret. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

 

“Texas Guinan’s Club Intime was Evicted from the Hotel Harding, 203 W. 54th Street Yesterday… Kennedy and his assistants piled the pianos, chairs, tables, draperies and other furnishings on the sidewalk…” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1929

 

The eviction was for show, however, Guinan and Madden simply sold the club to Dutch Schultz and within days the club had morphed into an even more decadent establishment, the Club Abby.

 

Club Abby: Dutch Schultz, Gene Malin and the Pansy Craze

 

Quickly after the demise of Club Intime, the Club Abby sprouted up in its place, this time with another emcee- Gene Malin, Broadway’s first openly gay drag performer.  By the 1930s, Pansy bars were all the rage and gangsters and homosexuals rubbed shoulders in the ultimate sign of social defiance.

 

 

The Abby’s tenure at the Harding hotel was short lived, however, and gunplay would bring about the end of an era.

 

Dutch Schultz Gets Blasted

On January 24, 1931 all hell broke loose in the Club Abby when the Dutch Schultz and Waxey Gordon mobs collided. While waltzing on the dance floor the two gangs began arguing over a female companion. Suddenly, Schultz and Waxey’s lieutenant Charles Chink Sherman exchanged punches on the crowded dance floor. Sherman landed multiple punches, staggering the Dutchman, causing Schultz to ram a broken beer bottle into Sherman’s face.  The Waxey Gordon mob pulled guns and pumped lead into Dutch, but his bulletproof vest saved his hide, leaving him with a shoulder wound.  Because of the wild affray, the police closed the basement speakeasy for good.

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Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

The Wickedest Man’s Dance Hall and bordello at 304 Water Street circa 1868

Location: 304 Water Street

Status: Demolished

Priests, police, and just about everybody in Manhattan called John Van Allen the Wickedest Man in New York, and he reveled in it. A born self-promoter, if Allen had been alive today he probably would have had a reality television series.

 

In a twenty-year life of crime, Allen set the tabloids aflame with his wacky antics even attracting the attention of Mark Twain who described the forty-five year old dancehall owner and pimp as,

 

“A tall, plain, boney, fellow, with a good-natured look in his eye, a Water Street air all about him, and a touch of Irish in his face.”—Mark Twain

 

John Allen Wickedest Man In New York

John Allen the Wickedest Man in New York and his son, Chester, a lad “hell on reading, writing, praying and fighting.”

 

House of Rum and Prostitution

Strangely enough, Allen and his criminal brothers Westley (Wess), Theodore (The.), Martin and Jesse were the sons of a wealthy Presbyterian minister. John amassed over 113 arrests for running disorderly houses across the city, but his most infamous den was a dancehall located at 304 Water Street.

Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

Known for dancing prostitutes and cheap rum, Allen’s Dancehall would earn him the title: Wickedest Man in New York

Demolished to make way for the Brooklyn Bridge in 1870, his three story bilious green, bordello offered several dance floors, an orchestra pit and booths for sex. According to Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York, Allen staffed his club with twenty prostitutes dressed in,

 

“…low black bodices of satin, scarlet skirts and stockings, and red topped boots with bells affixed to the ankles.” 

Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

The Wickedest Man In New York holds court in his bar.

A Breathing Hole of Hell

According to Edward Winslow Martin’s Secrets of the Great City published in 1868, Allen’s dancehall was:

 

“…a breathing hole of hell—a trap door of the bottomless pit… where lousy loafers lurk..”

 

Allen lived above his bar with his wife, seven daughters and son, Chester, a lad who according to his dad was “hell on reading, writing, praying and fighting.”

In reality, Allen probably wasn’t the wickedest man on Water Street by a long shot (the title rightly belonged to Tommy Hadden), but after his ceaseless campaigning for the title, the moniker stuck when the Allen transformed his whorehouse into New York City’s wackiest religious revival.

 

Wickedest Man in New York, John Allen. 304 Water Street, Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport, Corlear’s Hook, 4th Ward, Westley Allen, Wess Allen, The. Allen, Theodore Allen, Gangs of New York, Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York, Saloon

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Mike Salter. Pelham Cafe

12 Pell Street

Status: Standing

Nestled among the steaming chop suey joints and smoldering opium dens of turn of the last century Chinatown, there was a dingy saloon that spilled ragtime piano into the moonlight.

On any given night, the bar played host to a packed crowd of millionaires and murders, pickpockets and tourists, all on account of The Professor on the piano and a seventeen year old singing waiter named Izzy Baline, who would one day be known as Irving Berlin.

Mike Salter's Pelham Cafe. Birthplace of Irving Berlin.

12 Pell Street today. The site was once home to Mike Salter’s election rigging gang. The ragtime piano saloon was the birthplace of the Irving Berlin.

 

The place was The Pelham Café, headquarters of the unbelievably politically incorrectly nicknamed Nigger Mike Salter, a Russian-Jewish gangster. The papers called Mr. Salter the uncrowned prince of Chinatown, and the prince had his hands in everything: prize-fights, dice games, opium parlors, and most of all, politics. He was rumored to have killed ten men on the road to becoming Big Tom Foley’s chief election captain, and Salter’s specialty was getting out the vote.

 

The House of a Hundred Entrances

 

False registration, ballot box stuffing, and good old fashioned repeat voting earned Salter a special place in the heart of Tammany Hall. As a reward in 1904, the Hall permitted him to open a saloon in the Chinatown vice district in a tenement known as the house of a hundred entrances located at 12 Pell Street.

Salter spared no expense decorating the joint. Ivory inlaid teak furniture filled the front room. Red burlap wallpaper, framed by gold paint, lined the walls. Sawdust covered the floors, and a dense, ever-present fog of bluish cigar smoke hung above the bar, a bar that sat the A-list of the New York sporting set.

 

A Den of Ragtime and Vice

 

Characters like Big Mike Abrams, Chuck Connors, Staten Island Sally, and Hoboken Harriet, wined, dined, and danced the night away. At the bar, Sulky, a homicidal loanshark that kept a tidy ledger, served brews to gangland’s finest. Part time pugilist and full time gangster, Jack Sirocco, and his chief gorilla, Chick Tricker, could be found there on the regular.

In the back room, the Professor, “Nick” Nicholson manned a tinpan piano while Izzy the singing waiter belted out raunchy versions of hit songs that kept Chinatown abuzz.

 

Mike Salter Pelham Cafe Irving Berlin

Mike Salter’s Pelham cafe was located at 12 Pell Street in the heart of the old Five Points district.

 

Nobility Visits The Pelham

 

Word spread of Izzy’s musical talents, and Chuck Connors guided legions of celebrity slummers through the saloon’s double doors. John Jacob Astor, Sir Thomas Lipton (of tea fame), and August Belmont all came to sample the hullabaloo, but nothing could top the visit by Prince Louis of Battenberg, a Rear Admiral in the British Navy and the fourteen reporters following him.

Before leaving the prince remarked to Izzy:

I have had a delightful time, not dreariness, not weariness, and not one bit lonesome.

 

Ludwig_Alexander_von_Battenberg

Prince Louis of Battenberg.

 

When the prince attempted to tip Izzy, the singing waiter waved away the coin, exclaiming:

No, sir, it was my honor to sing.

On the Prince’s way out, Izzy and the orchestra of banjos, coronets, and fiddles stuck up a ragtime version of God Save the King.

 

The Making of Irving Berlin

By this point Salter knew he had something. Inspired by booze, he badgered Izzy and The Professor into writing a song because of the success of “My Mariucci Take a Steamboat”, a ditty written in a rival saloon on Doyers street.

 

 

The result of their collaboration was: “Marie from Sunny Italy.” The effort earned Izzy a whopping thirty-seven cents; but more importantly, the sheet music listed the lyricist as I. Berlin, and Irving Berlin was born.

 

IrvingBerlin

 

Berlin later reminisced:

It was an important song, though, because it did get me out of Chinatown.

 

However, Salter’s success was short lived. In 1907, the police arrested The Prince of Chinatown on charges of false voter registration. Marshals closed down his bar, and Salter skipped bail and skidooed off to Canada for three years. Berlin wouldn’t see his boss again until 1922, when he came to pay his respects at Salter’s Funeral.

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