Sardi's Restaurant. Note the rows of caricatures visible through the upstairs windows.
|Established||March 5, 1927|
|Street address||234 West 44th Street (between Broadway and Eighth Avenue), in the Theater District in Manhattan|
Sardi's is a continental restaurant located at 234 West 44th Street (between Broadway and Eighth Avenue) in the Theater District in Manhattan, in New York City. Known for the hundreds of caricatures of show-business celebrities that adorn its walls, Sardi's opened at its current location on March 5, 1927.
Creation and early years
Melchiorre Pio Vincenzo "Vincent" Sardi Sr. (born in S. Marzano Oliveto, Italy on December 23, 1885 – died November 19, 1969) and his wife Eugenia ("Jenny") Pallera (born in Castell'Alfero, Italy on July 14, 1889) opened their first eatery, The Little Restaurant, in the basement of 246 West 44th Street in 1921. When that building was slated for demolition in 1926 (to build the St. James Theatre), they accepted an offer from the theater magnates, the Shubert brothers, to relocate to a new building the brothers were erecting down the block. The new restaurant, Sardi's, opened March 5, 1927.
When business slowed after the move, Vincent Sardi sought a gimmick to attract customers. Recalling the movie star caricatures that decorated the walls of Joe Zelli’s, a Parisian restaurant and jazz club, Sardi decided to recreate that effect in his establishment. He hired a Russian refugee named Alex Gard (1898–1948) (born Alexis Kremkoff in Kazan, Russia) to draw Broadway celebrities. Sardi and Gard drew up a contract that stated Gard would make the caricatures in exchange for one meal per day at the restaurant. The first official caricature by Gard was of Ted Healy, the vaudevillian of Three Stooges fame. When Sardi’s son, Vincent Sardi Jr. (1915–2007), took over restaurant operations in 1947, he offered to change the terms of Gard's agreement. Gard refused and continued to draw the caricatures in exchange for meals until his death.
Height of popularity
Frequent mentions of the restaurant in newspaper columns by Walter Winchell and Ward Morehouse added to Sardi’s growing popularity. Winchell and Morehouse belonged to a group of newspapermen, press agents, and drama critics who met for lunch regularly at Sardi’s and referred to themselves as the Cheese Club. Heywood Broun, Mark Hellinger, press agent Irving Hoffman, actor George Jessel, and Ring Lardner were also Cheese Club members. In fact, it was Hoffman who first brought Alex Gard to Sardi's for lunch at the Cheese Club table. Gard drew caricatures of the Cheese Club members, and Vincent Sardi hung them above their table. It was then that Sardi recalled the drawings at Zelli's and made his deal with Gard.
The restaurant became known as a pre- and post-theater hangout, as well as a location for opening night parties. Vincent Sardi, a theater lover, kept the restaurant open much later than others in the area to accommodate Broadway performers' schedules.
Alex Gard, who created more than 700 caricatures for the restaurant, died in 1948. After Gard, John Mackey took over drawing for the restaurant but was soon replaced by Don Bevan. Bevan did the drawings until 1974 when he retired, and was replaced by Brooklyn-born Richard Baratz, a banknote and certificate engraver by profession. Baratz, who lives in Pennsylvania, continues to the present day as the Sardi's caricaturist. As of 2005, there are more than 1,300 celebrity caricatures on display.
According to actor Robert Cuccioli's spokesperson Judy Katz, in an interview with Playbill: "On the day Jimmy Cagney died, his caricature was stolen from the Sardi's wall. Since then, when drawings are done, the originals go into a vault, and two copies are made. One goes to the lucky subject of the caricature, the other up on the Sardi's wall. This way, potential thieves won't have their moment."
In 1979, Vincent Sardi Jr. donated a collection of 227 caricatures from the restaurant to the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
While the Sardi family was Italian, their restaurant's cuisine is not; rather it tends toward "English food", a Continental menu. In 1957, Vincent Sardi Jr. collaborated with Helen Bryson to compile a cookbook of Sardi's recipes. Curtain Up at Sardi's contains nearly 300 recipes ranging from a grilled cheese sandwich to a Champagne cocktail. By 1987, however, Zagat was describing the food as "a culinary laughing stock." One customer who was surveyed called Sardi's "the longest running gag on Broadway."
In 1932, a Los Angeles location of Sardi's opened on Hollywood Boulevard, where it was similarly popular with celebrities. It has since closed.
Sardi's is the birthplace of the Tony Award; after Antoinette Perry's death in 1946, her partner, theatrical producer and director Brock Pemberton, was eating lunch at Sardi's when he came up with the idea of a theater award to be given in Perry's honor. For many years Sardi’s was the location where Tony Award nominations were announced. Vincent Sardi Sr. received a special Tony Award in 1947, the first year of the awards, for "providing a transient home and comfort station for theatre folk at Sardi's for 20 years." In 2004, Vincent Sardi Jr. received a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre. Sardi's is also the venue for the presentation of the Outer Critics Circle Awards, as well as many other Broadway events, press conferences, and celebrations.
The restaurant is today considered a Broadway institution, to the point that composer Stephen Sondheim pointed to it when lamenting the changing climate of New York theater in a 2000 interview. Asked about the Broadway community, Sondheim replied, "There's none whatsoever. The writers write one show every two or three years. Who congregates at Sardi's? What is there to congregate about? Shows just sit in theaters and last."
In popular culture
Movies that have filmed scenes in Sardi's include:
- Love Is a Racket with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Ann Dvorak (1932)
- The Velvet Touch with Rosalind Russell (1948)
- Forever Female with Ginger Rogers, William Holden and Paul Douglas (1953)
- The Country Girl with Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and William Holden (1954)
- But Not for Me with Clark Gable (1959)
- Please Don't Eat the Daisies, with David Niven and Doris Day (1960)
- Critic's Choice (1963) – While this Bob Hope–Lucille Ball film was shot in Hollywood, the Sardi's interior was authentically recreated with menus, plates, and memorabilia sent from the restaurant.
- No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)
- Made for Each Other with Renée Taylor and Joseph Bologna (1971)
- Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)
- The Fan (1981)
- Author! Author! (1982)
- The King of Comedy (1983) – Includes an appearance by Sardi's caricaturist Richard Baratz
- The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
- Radio Days (1987)
- Switch (1991) directed by Blake Edwards – Ellen Barkin and Lorraine Bracco discuss their relationship over a dinner at Sardi's
- Naked in New York (1993)
- The Producers (2005)
- Shortcut to Happiness (2007) with Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Anthony Hopkins.
- Frost/Nixon (2008) – David Frost talks about the restaurant to John Birt when both are leaving for California.
- In the January 20, 1957 episode of The Steve Allen Show, Ingrid Bergman and Kirk Douglas were interviewed by Steve Allen at Sardi's. The actors were there to receive the New York Film Critics Award.
- In The Twilight Zone episode "A Stop at Willoughby", James Daly's character, Gart Williams, asks his protegé's secretary to look for him at Sardi's.
- In the M*A*S*H episode "House Arrest", Hawkeye Pierce is being escorted to the swamp by MPs. He smirks at them to get him home quickly because "I'm dining at Sardi's tonight."
- In the Newhart episode "Saturday in New York with George", Bob Newhart's character, Dick Loudon, offers to take George Utley to an all-night deli. Utley replies that eating anywhere after Sardi's would "be a let-down".
- In the Seinfeld episode "The Summer of George", the exterior of Sardi's is shown as Kramer is eating there with the Broadway crowd after falsely accepting a Tony Award.
- The Mad Men season 2 episode, "The New Girl", Donald Draper arrives at Sardi's to have drinks with Bobbie Barrett, when he runs into his former flame, Rachel Menken. Rachel explains she is now married and introduces her husband, Tilden Katz. The caricatures are clearly visible along the wall in the scene.
- In the Glee episode "New York", Finn Hudson took Rachel Berry there for a date and even saw Patti LuPone there.
- In the Glee episode "Love, Love, Love", Rachel Berry is seen walking past it and looking inside it while singing "Yesterday".
Books that have referenced Sardi's include:
- In "Zooey" from Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, the cluttered walls of the Glass family apartment are likened to those of Sardi's.
- In Someday Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham, Franny and Dan first kiss
- In Diamonds are forever by Ian Fleming
- In Don't Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk, the protagonist Norman Paperman, a public relations/press agent considers Sardi's his venue of choice for entertaining his clientele.
- In "Humboldt's Gift", by Saul Bellow, the protagonist Charlie Citrine quotes the name of Sardi's as a symbol of accomplished popularity and fanciness.
Songs that have referenced Sardi's include:
- "This Could Be the Start of Something (Big)" (music and lyrics by Steve Allen)
- "I Wanna Be A Producer (The Producers (musical))" (music and lyrics by Mel Brooks)
- "Part of it All" (title of show) (Music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen)
On March 8, 1947, Vincent Sardi Jr. began a radio show broadcast live from the Sardi's dining room, called Luncheon at Sardi's. It was hosted originally by Bill Slater. Subsequent hosts were Tom Slater, Ray Heatherton and Arlene Francis. Currently, on WOR Radio, Joan Hamburg occasionally does broadcasts from Sardi's.
- New York Times, January 5, 2007, "Owner of Sardi’s Restaurant Dies at 91"
- Richard Baratz
- Lefkowitz, David (October 28, 1997). "Cuccioli Gets His Moment -- On Sardi's Wall, Oct. 28" Archived 2008-02-16 at the Wayback Machine. Playbill.
- Vincent Sardi Sr. with Richard Gehman. Sardi's: The Story of a Famous Restaurant (Henry Holt and Co., 1953)
- "The Story of the Tonys". The Official Website of the American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards. Retrieved January 23, 2007.
- Rich, Frank (March 12, 2000). "Conversations With Sondheim". The New York Times. Retrieved April 4, 2008.
- Vincent Sardi Jr. with Thomas Edward West. Off the Wall at Sardi's (Applause Books, 1991) ISBN 1-55783-051-7
- Vincent Sardi Jr. with Helen Bryson. Curtain Up at Sardi's (Random House, 1957)
- Vincent Sardi Sr. with Richard Gehman. Sardi's: The Story of a Famous Restaurant (Henry Holt and Co., 1953)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sardi's.|
- Official website
- Sardi's (Restaurant) caricatures, 1927-1952?, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Sardi's (Restaurant) papers, 1913-1976, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Video of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels cast caricature event at Sardi's in 2005
- Playbill: "Vincent Sardi Jr. Remembered at Broadway Memorial"
- The Joan Hamburg Show
- Eugenia Pallera e il Ristorante Sardi's di New York (italian)