Admit it. You love Mad Men geography. This is Sardi’s, one of the most famous restaurants in Manhattan. Sardi’s is woven so tightly into the history and culture of the Broadway theater district that it’s almost a synonym for the theater district nightlife. You go to Sardi’s after the big show–if you can get a table. If you’re as important as Don Draper or Roger Sterling, that’s a cinch, but not so much for the rest of us who live in the real world.
In Season 2 of Mad Men, episode 5, “The New Girl,” Don’s mistress, Bobbie Barrett, calls him from Sardi’s wanting to celebrate the news of her obnoxious comedian husband selling the pilot of his proposed comedy series. Don goes there and unexpectedly runs into a previous mistress. The episode takes place in 1962. Sardi’s certainly was there then, and already an institution. Sardi’s is famous for the caricatures of famous Broadway, Hollywood and TV celebrities hung on the walls. In 1962 they probably included Sid Caesar, Milton Berle and Marilyn Monroe.
Sardi’s opened at this location in March 1927. The restaurant was the creation of Vincent Sardi, an Italian-born restauranteur who opened his first eatery on West 44th Street in 1921. When that place had to close when it was condemned, he quickly moved to this location a few blocks down. The idea of the celebrity caricatures was a gimmick to attract customers. The first Sardi’s caricaturist was Alex Gard, who drew caricatures in exchange for a daily free meal at the restaurant, which he did until his death in 1948. John Mackey, Don Bevan and Richard Baratz succeeded him as the official Sardi’s inker, the latter continuing today. The idea of the Tony Awards for Broadway was hatched here in 1947, and in fact the Tony Awards nominations were announced at Sardi’s for many years.