times square 1920s

Here’s the third article in my “Throwback Thursday” series, celebrating the upcoming weekend by taking you on a you-are-there virtual tour of a weekend night out in New York City in various times throughout history. So far we’ve been out on the town in November 1938 and March 1977. Now we’re going to go back a bit farther, to the height of the Jazz Age, and spend a Friday night in the Big Apple in the summer of 1922.

It’s Friday, August 25, 1922. This is a strange time in New York’s, America’s and the world’s history. The Great War (we won’t call it “World War I” until much later) has been over for about four years. America’s officially dry, with Prohibition having gone into effect nationally in 1920, and in many states earlier than that. The economy is booming. Warren Harding is in the White House, and he’s very good for business. But there are some wrinkles. Just this month a coal miners’ strike is threatening to shut down the East Coast; just yesterday the U.S. Senate suggested seizing coal mines nationwide. Europe, rebuilding from the war, is in turmoil. Ireland is in the midst of civil war. But what does that concern us Americans? We’re living the good life.

What should we do this evening? Summer is the off season for high culture, so we don’t have the opera in town or other highbrow entertainments to choose from. We can take in a show, but let’s do dinner first. We can go to Janssen’s Hof Brau at Broadway and 30th, which is advertised as the “Quaintest Place in America.” Luncheon, dinner and beefsteak parties–whatever that is–are offered. (Incidentally, we did Janssen’s in 1938 too, but it was at a different location). Or there’s Luchow’s Famous Restaurant at 14th Street and Fourth Avenue. From the name I guess it’s Chinese. For finer dining, we could try Louis H. Saltzman’s Diplomat, a place known as “a restaurant of distinction.” It’s at 94th Street & Broadway, pretty far up, but I’m sure we can catch a cab. Or we can go to the Italian Garden at the Ambassador Hotel, Park Avenue & 51st Street. That would be nice on a warm evening like tonight (the high was 77 today), because it advertises it’s “a beautiful spot kept constantly at seashore coolness by refrigerated air. A delightful place for luncheon, tea or dinner.”

Here is a scene from the 1922 version of Monte Cristo, in theaters on the night of our experiment. Sound pictures didn’t come in for another five years.

After dinner, Broadway beckons, and this is its golden age. One of the biggest hits on Broadway right now is the comedy Abie’s Irish Rose which opened in May. Critics hate it, but audiences love it. It’s playing at the Republic Theater, West 42nd Street, at 8:30 PM. Or we can go see another comedy called “The Goldfish,” starring Marjorie Rambeau. That’s playing at the Schubert, 44th and Broadway, also at 8:30. There are lots of revue shows playing on Broadway now. The famous Ziegfeld Follies is at the New Amsterdam Theater, West 42nd Street, starting at 8:10. If it’s revues you want, this one sounds interesting: Oh Joy, the ad for which promises a “Cream Colored Creole Chorus,” which I gather from that tag line might be some sort of reverse-Cotton Club type of thing. This is at the Bamboo Isle Theater, 57th and Broadway, at 8:30. There’s an “outdoor tent theater” here, and smoking is permitted. We might want to sit indoors, though, because the forecast calls for a possibility of rain in the evening. Tickets are $1.00.

Motion pictures are big business now that the war is over. (They were big business before the war too, but like everything else they’re booming). A new film called Monte Cristo, starring John Gilbert, is playing at the 44th Street Theater. The Prisoner of Zenda is playing at the Astor, Broadway & 45th, at 8:30. Tickets start at 50 cents and go up to $1. The big news in cinema this week, though, is the new picture by heartthrob Rudolf Valentino, Blood and Sand. It’s playing at the Rialto Theater at Broadway and 42nd, basically Times Square.

Valentino is the biggest star in Hollywood right now. Here’s a scene from his new picture, Blood and Sand.

If you don’t feel like going out, there’s always the radio. Radio as an entertainment medium is only two years old but already everyone’s listening. Station WJZ out of New Jersey is playing tonight, at 8PM, the 460th Mayor Hylan People’s Concert by the Police Department Band. The soloist will be Margaret Ringo. These concerts are provided regularly by the city government; “city officials will make non-political talks” during the broadcast. At 8:35 PM there’ll be a cooking show, “Cooking by Temperature” with Richard Crosby, culinary advisor for the Good Housekeeping Institute. On WWZ out of Manhattan there will be an hour of Hawaiian music at 7PM, and then at 8:00 a joint recital by Rose LeVal, soprano and Hans Markov, baritone. (Any relation to Harry, I wonder?) Mayo Thompson will be playing piano.

Honestly this sounds kind of dull. What we really ought to do is go get a drink. Yes, there’s Prohibition, but everyone ignores it. There are thousands of speakeasies in New York City. Some of them are quite swank. If you’re up for some illegal hooch, the best place to go is a bar in Greenwich Village called the Red Head. It’s owned by cousins Jack Kriendler and Charlie Burns. Not to spoil anything, but in a couple of years they’ll change the Red Head’s location and its name, and it will be known as the 21 Club. If you want to get in on some history, let’s go there. Or, really anywhere with an iron gate and a doorman is likely to be a speakeasy. We just better hope the Prohibition agents don’t choose tonight to raid the place, wherever we end up going. Honestly this Prohibition thing is silly. Hopefully they’ll repeal it eventually.

Because of Prohibition, a private party is really where we’re going to find the best action–the most glamorous girls, the most suave guys, the best imported booze and lots of great jazz music. This summer, 1922, is the year The Great Gatsby takes place. It’s fictional but definitely captures the spirit of the age accurately. So if you know any Long Island millionaires who like to have parties, now’s the time to mention it!

I hope you enjoyed our night out in 1922. I honestly have no idea where this series will land next, but rest assured, as in this articles, everything–show names, addresses, prices, etc.–will be accurate down to the exact day. Have a great weekend!