Ghosts of New York’s Glamorous Past Haunt an Empty Pub
There’s an old Irish pub in Manhattan’s financial district, Jim Brady’s, that closed at the start of the pandemic and has been sitting empty ever since. The stockbrokers and construction workers who once drank there now walk past with indifference.
But peer through the sooty windows and you’ll see a relic of glamorous midcentury New York — a mahogany bar adorned with floralcarvings that is said to have belonged to the Stork Club, a fabled nightspot whose customers included Grace Kelly, Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, J. Edgar Hoover, Marilyn Monroe and members of the Roosevelt and Kennedy families.
Those who made it past the gold-chained entrance stepped into a place where the cult of modern American celebrity was arguably born. From Table 50, the journalist Walter Winchell gathered materials for his nationally syndicated gossipcolumn and radio show, ensuring that Stork Club’s legend loomed large.
The mahogany bar at Jim Brady’s, which improbably ended up there in the 1970s, now collects dust in obscurity.
“It’s still in there, the original Stork Club bar,” Paul Quinn, the former owner of Jim Brady’s, said in an interview. “I was there when the pub opened, and it became known to our regulars that we had a piece of New York history.
“The bar had been in storage for years,” he continued, “and the founders of Jim Brady’s purchased it and brought it down piece by piece.”
Mr. Quinn, who started working at Jim Brady’s as a bartender almost 50 years ago, said he would have taken the bar with him when his tavern went out of business, but his lease stipulated that the fixtures had to remain on the premises.
“I took pride in taking care of it all those years,” he said. “Once a man called me and asked, ‘Is it true?’ I told him, ‘Yeah, it is.’ So he came down to look at it. He touched the wood and felt the bar. I could tell it meant a lot to him. He’d gone to the Stork long ago.”
Today the Stork Club’s lore is of interest mainly to New York history buffs, but during its reign, what happened in the Cub Room — its windowlessinner sanctum — riveted the American public.
Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III of Monaco mingled at the Stork Club just before news of their engagement circulated the globe.Ernest Hemingway got into a brawl there with the warden of Sing Sing. John F. Kennedy brought dates there — Jacqueline Bouvier and, later, Marilyn Monroe.
The fantasia was orchestrated by the club’s owner, Sherman Billingsley, a former bootlegger from rural Oklahoma who reinvented himself as a nightlife impresario. He wore gold cuff links and watches, uttered regionalisms like “golly” in conversation with stars and used secret hand signals to telegraph messages to his staff that ranged from “Bring a bottle of Champagne” to “Not Important People.”
“I have seen mothers steal their daughters’ boyfriends and marry them,” Mr. Billingsley wrote in an unpublished memoir. “I have seen girls steal their sisters’ boyfriends and marry them. In one case the loser went insane. I know one father that was familiar with his son’s wife. These were all high-society folks.”
Founded in 1929, and closed in 1965, the Stork Club’s three successive Midtown Manhattan addresses rode out the Great Depression, World War II, the arrival of Elvis and the start of the Vietnam War.
Its first iteration was a speakeasy that Mr. Billingsley operated with mobsters before it was smashed up and shut down by federal agents enforcing Prohibition laws. Its second location had the beginnings of his opulent vision, drawing fans like Winchell and the underworld boss Frank Costello. This iteration survived past Prohibition’s end in 1933, leading Mr. Billingsley to move the Stork Club to its final and most famed address, 3 East 53rd Street.
The first location is now a Greek restaurant, the second is an office building, and the third was demolished to make way for the pocket-size Paley Park.
The bar that ended up at Jim Brady’s is said to have come from an early Stork Club location. For decades, it was admired mostly by its happy-hour regulars. A replica of a vintage Stork Club menu — featuring dishes like green turtle soup for $1.50 and stuffed Cornish hen à la Walter Winchell for $5.75— sat near the Jim Brady’s cash register.
The bar’s presence at Jim Brady’s was noted in articles published in Time Out and Shecky’s Bar, Club & Lounge Guide that were displayed in its window. It was also