The Athens Hotel of Old New York

The National Herald Archive

Daily menu held by Polymero and Ringa at the Greek restaurant 46 East-42nd St. (Photo TNH)

In Old New York, everyone who was anyone simply said they were going to 'The Greek'. Various reasons prompted visiting The Greek: an elegant leisurely breakfast, lunch, or dinner; just to meet some friends in the lounge over cigars and brandy; a safe clean place to stay while visiting New York City. Or in the evening for some elaborate social event. The sign out front, on 30 East Forty-second street, said 'Hotel Athens.' The hotel also had frontages on 42nd and 41st streets, 123 feet east of Madison Avenue (New York Tribune March 21, 1909). To be more exact “the hotel is T shaped, fronting 31.6 feet on Forty-second street and extends 200 feet through the block to Forty-second street. It fronts 23.9 feet on Madison Avenue (New York Herald January 28, 1921).” The main restaurant was on the ground floor.

“One of the men who used to be a frequent visitor at the restaurant was Chauncey Depew. He would come over from his office at the Grand Central Station, and often he chatted with one of the proprietors as he ate luncheon. Theodore Roosevelt, when he was Governor, would often drop in for a bite upon arriving from or departing for Albany. The place was then, as it continued to be for a long time afterward, the headquarters for Greeks. The Greek Minister, coming from Washington, never failed to show himself there, and the Consul General was the center of a regular group who gathered for dinner. But neither the food nor cooking was ever Greek, but American throughout (New York Times April 10, 1921).”

Chauncey Mitchell Depew (1834–1928) was an attorney for Cornelius Vanderbilt's railroad interests, president of the New York Central Railroad System, and a United States Senator from New York from 1899 to 1911. Another regular was Demetrius N. Bottasi, long-time Greek Consul General along with A. Manzavinos, his secretary. Among the most prominent literati were Solon J. Vlasto, editor of the Atlantis and C. Fassoularides editor of the Thermopylai although given their rivalry in the public press they never sat at the same table. (New York Times April 10, 1921).

A case in point of the prominence of the Athens Hotel to New York Greek social life can be read under the headline: Greek American Club Dines. Archbishop Alexander Is One of Chief Speakers, where we learn that “the Greek American Club of New York held its annual dinner last night at the New Athens Hotel, 384 Sixth avenue. Hamilton Holt, presided. The principal speakers were Archbishop Alexander of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America; Frank Jackson, former Consul General to Greece from the United States; Dr. Blanche Norton and Dr. Xenides. The officers are: President Hamilton Holt; Vice Presidents, George Nicholas and Prof. Clarence Young; Secretary-Treasurer. Mrs. C. Theodoroulos; Executive Committee, Dr. P. P. Nicholas, Miss Edith Jardine, Dr. Carusos and Miss Anne Darlington (New York Herald June 6, 1922).”

This institution did not simply spring up overnight. The establishment and daily operations of this exceptional hotel were due to the combined experiences and abilities of two Greek immigrants Demetrius Polimeros and Apostolos Ringa. These two men were certainly neither the first Greek immigrants to ever own and operate a hotel in the United States. But as numerous news accounts, testimony of those who visited and/or stayed at the Athens Hotel, and other published reports attest, these two individuals converted this structure into one of the most elegant establishments in the early 20th century history of New York City.

Polymeros was born, sometime in 1857, at the seaside village of Zagora, in Thessaly beside Mt Pelion. In 1888, Polymeros arrived in New York City. He was 31 years old. Polymero “had not a friend, or even an acquaintance, in the city. Appying for work at the Morton House, on lower Broadway, he was told that he might be a bus boy...The job was a decided come-down...and anybody would have been justified in putting him down as a failure. Himself, he wasted no time reflecting upon that. He did his menial tasks diligently and was promoted to the post of waiter. He skipped about from one hotel to the other, taking the best opportunities offered (New York Times April 10, 1921).”

During this time Polymeros met Apostolos K. Ringa at a resort of the New York Greeks. Ringa was also going through the experience of bus boy and waiter. More important perhaps was the fact that Ringa also came from the village of Zagora. The two fellow villagers soon became fast-friends meeting together every night.

By 1893, the two Greeks had finally “saved $3,000 from their wages and tips and in 1893 they bought out a little restaurant at 11 East Forty-Second Street. They had a dozen tables and three or four waiters and their place had no name. (New York Times April 11, 1921).” Aptly enough they named the new enterprise the Greek Restaurant. From this venture onward Polymeros was the senior partner with Ringa ever an equal, if junior, owner/operator.

In 1908, “[T]he Hotel Devonshire property, which was bought last October by a syndicate, is now owned by Polymero and Ringa, the lessees of the premises. The property is better known as 'The Greeks (New York Tribune March 21, 1909).” And then, in only a matter of months, “[T]he Greek Hotel...was transferred yesterday by Edward C. Post and others to Demetri Polymero. The sellers take back a first mortgage of $350,000 at 4 1/2 per cent, and a second of $8,000 at 5 per cent (New York Times March 17, 1909).” “[T]he Greek Hotel property...was transferred yesterday to the Athens Hotel and Construction Company, recently incorporated at Albany, with a capital of $400,000. Extensive alternations are to be made to the 41st street end of the property (New York Tribune May 6, 1909).”

Aside from the notable clientele that dined and relaxed at The Greek on a daily basis this New York City cultural institution was over the several decades the locale for a late night murder, suicides, fires, blackmail, American and Greek-American political gatherings, weddings, court cases, and even the site of a now famous New York City psychic premonition—all of which saw periodic description in the daily press of the day.

“Mrs. Jennings, a handsome woman, with a commanding appearance and blonde hair, was seated in the dining-room at dinner last night when she made the prediction that the hotel would be on fire by morning (Evening World (NYC) January 22, 1909).” She called it a 'presentiment.' “The hotel was on fire at 3 o'clock this morning and the fifty guests it housed fled to the street in all states of dress and undress, and among the first to reach the street was Mrs. Jennings (Evening World (NYC) January 22, 1909).”

“The Greek hotel is conducted by Polymero and Ringa and is now undergoing repairs. Because of the crowds of out-of-town persons who have flocked to the automobile exhibition there was a great overflow in the neighboring hotels last night, and many of the guests who could not be accommodated were sent to the Greek hotel, which made room for them in spite of the fact that the house is torn up (Boston Globe January 22, 1909).”

“Nicholas Tritakis, 23 years old, who said he was a clerk, pleaded guilty this afternoon to the charge of blackmailing Demetrius Polymero, one of the proprietors of a hotel in east Forty-second street. He admitted that he had written letters to Polymero threatening to blow up the hotel if he were not given $ 2,000. Although Tritakis signed his letters as the 'Hand of Fate' and spoke of a 'society,' as far as the police can learn the society consists solely of himself (Detroit Free Press February 11, 1912).” Before Tritakis was apprehended Apostolo Ringa was “advised by an unknown voice over the telephone that in view of his recent marriage it was desired by the society to cut the amount to $1,500 presenting the $500 as a wedding gift (Norwich Bulletin (CT) February 21, 1911).”

As one would expect the New York Public Library holds various documents on the Athens Hotel. The American Enterprise is one built on the constant flow of immigrants. Not all of whom are or ever were White, Anglo-Saxon, or Protestant. Teasing out who did what is not special pleading but rather the very cloth and bedrock of our collective history as Americans. It is not simply racist to claim that all these immigrants from across the planet became culturally Anglo-Saxon Wasps. It is an inaccurate description of how our ancestors saw themselves as well as who we are at this very moment in history. The real question should be who gains from promoting an ongoing distortion of American history?