Throwback Thursday: A night out in Manhattan…in 1977.

times square 1977

Here’s the second in my “Throwback Thursday” series, presenting a you-are-there account of what it might be like to go out on the town in New York on some weekend in the past. Last time I transported you back to November 18, 1938. Now we’re going to move a couple of decades forward, to the late 1970s. Once again I’ve chosen a Friday night, and as with all the details in this series, prices, menus, addresses, shows playing and such are all totally accurate as of the exact date. You’ll need your platform shoes and polyester bell-bottoms for this one.

It’s Friday night, March 4, 1977–thirty-eight years ago this weekend. Wherever we decide to go, you’ll need an umbrella. The forecast calls for cloudy weather with periods of rain especially in the evening. The high today was in the mid 40s, temperatures in the evening will be in the upper 30s. Our city is in the midst of crisis. It’s broke. Just last night before a city council meeting Mayor Abraham Beame took responsibility for the city’s financial crisis, which has left the city teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Crime is out of control. Wherever we go tonight I suggest we don’t take the subway. The police still haven’t caught the “Son of Sam” killer, who last struck on January 30. Manhattan is still the center of the world, but it’s also a mean and scary place sometimes.

Where shall we eat this evening? Manhattan is full of great restaurants. Besides the old standby’s like Tavern on the Green, we could set our sights on something a bit lower key. There’s a restaurant called the Magic Flute Café at Broadway & 64th, right across from Lincoln Center. They advertise quiches, omelettes, burgers and such, ranging in price from $3.35 to $10.25. There was an ad in the Times today where if you clip the coupon and bring it in you can get a free cocktail. With the Son of Sam on the loose and the city going bankrupt, I could definitely use a drink. Or, we could go to a place called Sir Walter’s, 54th Street just east of 6th Avenue, right next to the Warwick Hotel. Their ad says, “Welcome, you intrepid drinkers and steadfast eaters!” You can get a complete steak and prime rib dinner there for $10.25. Not bad.

This YouTube video (not by me) features a potpourri of snapshots of New York in 1977.

Do you feel like Chinese food? Peng’s, one of the finest Chinese restaurants in the city, is a real treat. It’s located at 219 East 44th Street, and it was founded by Peng Jia, a Chinese chef who came to New York from Taiwan, where he fled the Communist takeover of China in 1949. Peng opened his own restaurant in 1971, six years ago, and it’s been a favorite ever since. It’s said Henry Kissinger loves the place but I’m not sure he’ll be there tonight. Peng’s claim to fame is a great spicy dish called General Tso’s Chicken. Peng claims to have invented it, but I’m not entirely sure he was really the first.

So what do we do after dinner? Depending on your persuasion, we could drop in to the world-famous Playboy Club for a few drinks. The famous bunny hutch is located at 5 East 59th Street, barely a block from Central Park and within a stone’s throw of such famous addresses as the Plaza Hotel and Tiffany’s. You can get a one-year membership for just $25. I expect drinks are extra but probably discounted. If you’re wondering why, in this era of platform shoes and Kool & the Gang, we don’t go to Studio 54, it’s because it hasn’t opened yet. A few people in the know are aware that a swanky disco club is being put into a remodeled space on 54th Street, but it’s not slated to open until late April.

42nd street 1977

42nd Street was quite seedy in the late 1970s. In this picture taken in 1977 you can see many porno and grindhouse theaters, almost all of which are gone now.

If you don’t want to do drinks, we can catch a show, and there are plenty, both highbrow stuff and more earthy fare. Famous Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, who defected from the Soviet Union in 1961, is in town. Tonight he’s performing at the Uris Theater (51st & Broadway), the show beginning at 8PM. Tickets for orchestra seats are $18.50. Or, we can go see an original play by David Mamet. American Buffalo is playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater at 47th and Broadway. It stars Robert Duvall (The Godfather) and Kenneth MacMillan. Tickets ate $13.50. Godspell is playing at the Ambassador Theater, 49th and Broadway. Orchestra seats are $15. The great comedy genius Zero Mostel is starring in Fiddler on the Roof at the famous Winter Garden Theater, 1634 Broadway. The show is 8PM and tickets are $20. Or, again depending on your persuasion, we could go see Steven Baker’s All Male Revue, 10PM at a place called Dramatic Personae, 114 West 14th Street. Tickets for that are only $5. As far as live music is concerned, Johnny Winters, Muddy Waters and James Cotton are playing at club called the Palladium, 14th Street near Third Avenue. This doesn’t sound too interesting, but Sunday night Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band is playing.

Movies are bigger than ever in Manhattan. Many of the titles in theaters now are holdovers from the 1976 Christmas release season. For example, Rocky, that boxing picture staring Sylvester Stallone, is still playing at 7 theaters across Manhattan. The comedy Silver Streak starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor is still running in its 13th week in several theaters. A big movie that just opened is the hockey film Slap Shot, starring Paul Newman and directed by George Roy Hill. We can see that at the National Theater, Broadway and 43rd Street, and there are shows at 6:55 and 9:10. Better do the 9:10, especially if we’re trying to get dinner at Peng’s and a drink at the Playboy Club. As I said, the subways are dangerous, so we’re going to be taking a lot of cabs this evening.

Slap Shot, starring Paul Newman, was a comedy hit in theaters in March 1977. This is one of its iconic scenes.

Of course, we could just stay home and watch TV. Walter Cronkite is America’s most trusted news anchor–still–and he comes on at 7PM on CBS, Channel 2. At 8:00 on Channel 9 they’re showing A Man For All Seasons, the film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1966. At 8:30 is the Merv Griffin Show and his guest tonight is Dyan Cannon, ex-wife of Cary Grant. Sonny & Cher comes on at 9:00, with Charo as the guest. If we’re up late we can watch The Third Man, the classic 1949 film noir, also on channel 9.

Just in case you’re thinking that, as this is 1977 the age of disco, why don’t we go to the famous dance club 2001 Space Odyssey (which is in Brooklyn) and watch Tony Manero do his stuff in his elegant white disco suit, sorry to burst your bubble but the disco scene that supposedly inspired Saturday Night Fever was a fabrication. This is March, and the disco scene doesn’t really get going until after the film comes out, which is in December. Sorry!

Well, that’s an evening in the Big Apple in 1977. I’m not sure when this time machine of a series will land us next, but hope you enjoy!

The photo at the top of this article was taken by Wikimedia Commons user Derszi Elekes Andor in 1977 and is used under Creative Commons 3.0 (Attribution) license.
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14 Comments

  1. AAH the memories. I wax too young for the nightlife in 1977 but I can remember a lot of what you wrote including Son of Sam. I was an avid watcher of Sonny and Cher. I actually miss the variety show genre.

  2. You are wrong about the Disco scene. The club the movie “Saturday night Fever” did exist and was called “2001 Odyssey”. The film did add the lighted dance floor (which was similar to one that was in a club in Abilene, Tx in 1972 and there was another one at the Chartruse Turtle in Plattsburgh, N.Y. I know because I DJd at both clubs). So Disco did exist and great Disco clubs existed prior to 1977 across the U.S.A. I’m sure that Manhattan had them before the film and before Studio 54.

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