El Morocco

Coordinates: 40°45′32″N 73°58′11″W / 40.75875°N 73.96975°W / 40.75875; -73.96975
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El Morocco
Photo taken at the club in 1965
Coordinates40°45′32″N 73°58′11″W / 40.75875°N 73.96975°W / 40.75875; -73.96975
Opened1931 (1931)
Milan Condominium

El Morocco (sometimes nicknamed Elmo or Elmer) was a 20th-century nightclub in the Manhattan borough of New York City. It was frequented by the rich and famous from the 1930s until the decline of café society in the late 1950s. It was famous for its blue zebra-stripe motif (designed by Vernon MacFarlane) and its official photographer, Jerome Zerbe.


In 1931, John Perona (born Enrione Giovanni Perona in Chiaverano in the Province of Turin, Italy),[1] an Italian immigrant, with Martín de Alzaga[2][3] opened El Morocco as a speakeasy at 154 East 54th Street, on the south side of 54th Street in the middle of the block between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue, where the Citigroup Center now stands.

After prohibition was repealed, it became one of the most popular establishments in New York City. Its regular clientele consisted of fashionable society, politicians, and entertainers. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had their wedding reception here. Part of what made the club the "place to be" was the photographs taken by Jerome Zerbe which were always in the news the next day. Everyone always knew where the celebrities had been from the background zebra stripes on the banquettes.

The neighborhood started changing after World War II. Eventually, Perona moved El Morocco to a four-story townhouse at 307 East 54th Street, on the north side of the street near the corner of Second Avenue, in 1960.

Perona died in 1961, and his son, Edwin took over the proprietorship. Later that year, Edwin Perona sold the club to John Mills, who owned it for three years.[4] It was then owned by Maurice Uchitel (1964–70) and Sheldon Hazeltine.[5] Before taking over El Morocco, Uchitel owned the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach for several years.[6] In 1981, the Second Avenue wing operated briefly as a steakhouse.[7][8] In 1992, it operated as a topless bar.[9] In 1997, Desmond Wootton bought the property and opened the Night Owls nightclub. The site is now occupied by the Milan Condominium.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

The 1955 film My Sister Eileen includes the club, starring Janet Leigh and Jack Lemmon.

  • The club is a setting for a scene in the 1973 Arthur Laurents film The Way We Were. Katie Morosky spots a nodding-off Hubbell Gardiner at the bar, and a flashback ensues.
  • A fictionalized version of the club featuring distinctive zebra-striped banquettes is featured in the Woody Allen movie Cafe Society (2016). The club is referenced by name in Woody Allen's movie Radio Days (1987).
  • John Perona, billed as the club's "owner and operator", appeared as a mystery guest on the television show What's My Line on April 6, 1958. The particular panel included three regular panelists, Orson Welles. Perona himself was so well known that the panelists were blindfolded and he disguised his voice, following the show's custom with readily identifiable guests.
  • Allen Cooper takes Anne Welles to El Morocco in the 1966 novel Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann.


  1. ^ "New York City – Cafe Society or Up from the Speakeasies". Oldandsold.com. Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  2. ^ Gorbato, Viviana (October 26, 2009). "Macoco, El Playboy Del Siglo" [Macoco, The Playboy of the Century] (in Spanish). Archived from the original on October 26, 2009. Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  3. ^ "Martín de Álzaga" (in Spanish). pilotosmuertos.es. Archived from the original on February 2, 2008. Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  4. ^ "Nightclubs: In Old Morocco". Time. December 25, 1964. Archived from the original on December 3, 2009. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  5. ^ Edwards, Joe (1986). "Hazeltine acquires N.Y.'s El Morocco; targets October reopening". Nation's Restaurant News.
  6. ^ "Maurice Uchitel, 88, Owner of El Morocco". The New York Times. May 7, 2000. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  7. ^ Sheraton, Mimi (March 20, 1981). "East Side steak and side dishes of Japan". The New York Times. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  8. ^ Prial, Frank J. (April 29, 1987). "'21' And El Morocco: 2 Legends Reopen". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  9. ^ "El Morocco: Famous Sup 'n' Sip Is a Strip". The New York Times. September 27, 1992. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  10. ^ The Milan Condominium, New York City

External links[edit]