NEW YORK – Greek-American restauranteur Dean J. Poll recalled the restaurants of old New York in a recent article in the New York Times. “Luchnow’s is gone, Mama Leone’s, Now the Four Seasons as we knew it, we’ll never it see again,” Poll told the Times, adding the French restaurant La Caravelle and the Cattleman steakhouse which featured nightly singalongs, have also closed down.
One of the venerable old New York restaurants still going strong is Gallaghers, 228 West 52nd Street in Manhattan, which Poll owns since 2013 and recently renovated for $5 million. Once a favorite spot for Broadway stars and gangsters, Gallaghers with its famous meat locker in the front window recalls the short stories of Damon Runyon which inspired many projects, including the musical Guys & Dolls. Famous guests over the years brought Gallaghers notoriety in the gossip columns whenever Elizabeth Taylor, Muhammad Ali, Gloria Vanderbilt, or Michael Jackson would frequent the restaurant.
Poll noted that the recent work on Gallaghers was, “More of a restoration than a renovation,” as reported in the Times.
He first became aware of the restaurant as a child since his father ran a restaurant in the nearby Time & Life Building in the 1970s, as the Times reported, noting that “I’d see that meat box. I’d say, ‘That’s the kind of place I want,’ so you can display what you bought, show what you were doing at 3 in the morning, 4 in the morning.”
Poll regarded the window as a “trophy case” and once he became the owner of Gallaghers, he noted that the floors above the restaurant “looked like the haunted house from Disneyland” as he discovered “stacks of old menus, ashtrays, cocktail napkins and matchbooks from different eras in Gallaghers’ long history,” as reported in the Times.
“I started looking up stuff and found that Gallagher was part of Gallagher and Shean, a vaudeville team,” Poll said, as the Times reported. Al Shean was the brother of Minnie Marx, mother of the Marx Brothers. “And a lot of pictures were inscribed to Jack Solomon, so I wanted to find out about him,” Poll said, as reported in the Times.
Gallaghers’ creative director, Amy Zimmerman, searched online for more memorabilia, and Poll hired a publicist, Regina McMenamin, to learn more about the restaurant, the Times reported.
Before November 1927, Gallaghers was known as Club Evelyn, a speakeasy, named after the beauty of her day Evelyn Nesbit, perhaps best known today for her affair with the famous architect Stanford White, her marriage later to Pittsburgh millionaire Harry K. Thaw who, in a jealous rage, shot and killed White in 1906. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent time in a mental hospital but after his release, he visited Club Evelyn and “got into a row with his own bodyguard,” as the Times reported, adding that Thaw said “the accounts of what had happened were exaggerated.”
The Times reported that “McMenamin said she found that the steaks for Club Evelyn were supplied by Helen Gallagher, the soon-to-be-ex-wife of a Broadway star” and that “Jack Solomon, the man Mr. Poll wanted to research because of photographs in the restaurant, was her partner and, later, her husband.”
The episode with Thaw resulted in Nesbit quitting her eponymous establishment and three weeks later the name was changed to Gallaghers. She had owned it with “Jules Martin, who was a protégé of the gangster Dutch Schultz, a mastermind of, among things, restaurant shakedown schemes,” the Times reported, adding that “when she left, she accused Martin of withholding profits” and “Schultz later shot and killed Martin, claiming Martin was skimming from the shakedown money.”
Poll had been interested in buying Gallaghers three years before the deal was made in 2013, as the Times reported. The recent renovation “kept the U-shaped bar and the original grills, which he said use 15 bags of charcoal every day,” the Times reported, however, not all is original in the vintage look of Gallaghers.
McMenamin said of the men’s room urinals that some customers say, “Babe Ruth then, Derek Jeter now,” but “Poll said that was only half right — Ruth no, Mr. Jeter yes,” as the Times reported.
“He said the urinals had come from the stables at John Hay Whitney’s estate in Manhasset, NY, near where he grew up” and Poll “bought them at a salvage store in Harlem about 15 years ago and used them in a restaurant he ran on Long Island before moving them to Gallaghers,” as reported in the Times.