times square 1951

This is the newest entry in my series celebrating the upcoming weekend by showing you what a typical weekend-night-out was like in New York City in various times in the past. In the first installment we went back to November 1938; the second, March 1977; and the third, the summer of 1922. This time we’re journeying back to the time of big-finned cars, flannel suits, cocktails and Commies: the fall of 1951. Everything in this article is accurate to the exact day: the shows and movies playing, addresses, prices, weather, etcetera. So without further ado, here we go.

It’s Friday, October 19, 1951. The weather tonight is mostly cloudy and windy, but it’s fairly warm; the high today was 68. America is enjoying the postwar boom years, but there are some troubling things. Right now President Harry Truman is deeply unpopular. There are two crises in the Middle East, both involving Great Britain: one little tussle with Egypt over the Suez Canal, the other with the government of Iran over oil. Labor strife, especially in heavy industries like steel, is rampant. And the worst of all is the fighting in Korea. North Korea invaded South Korea last summer, 1950, and since then U.S. troops have been heading a multinational United Nations force in a low-level war on the Korean peninsula. Just yesterday American troops attacked in Yonchon, Kumsong and Yanggu. Casualties are streaming back to the States fairly steadily, and many people are deeply aware of the Communist threat.

jack dempsey's

Jack Dempsey’s Broadway Restaurant–pictured here not in 1951, but in the early 1970s–was a landmark on Broadway for nearly 40 years.

But, let’s not think about that tonight as we go out. How do cocktails, dinner and a Broadway show sound? The early 1950s are the heyday of the Manhattan nightclub, and we’ve got plenty to choose from. Most nightclubs or places that have live entertainment with food have a dinner (earlier) and supper (later) show, probably to accommodate the crowds going to Broadway shows. Just tonight there’s a brand new restaurant opening up called Café de la Paix. It’s on Central Park South, and its ad copy–in today’s Times–reads, “New York’s newest, most luxurious café lounge for leisurely drinks and dining. Music. No cover or minimum.” There’s also another restaurant opening called the Restaurants Longchamps, in Manhattan House, Third Avenue between 65th and 66th Streets. They’re open for lunch, cocktail hour, dinner and supper. I’ve heard this place has a big stained glass window depicting a South Seas theme. Since the war, South Seas have been big in popular culture.

For something a little more elegant, we could try the Coronet Lounge, which is adjacent to U.N. Headquarters on the Upper East Side. (The U.N. diplomats might be working late tonight; there’s a vote on some sort of Korea-related proposal). The Coronet Lounge describes itself as “a colorful blending of subdued modern and coronet motifs highlighted by friendly Tudor service.” I’m not entirely sure what they mean, but Tudor makes me think of English food. Frankly I’d rather go to Jack Dempsey’s, which is still the same place it was when we visited in 1938.

John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage, which opened yesterday, got a generally favorable review from longtime critic Bosley Crowther.

So, what about a show? We have a lot of options. The hit Rogers & Hammerstein musical The King and I is playing at the St. James Theater, 49th and Broadway, at 8:25. Gertrude Lawrence stars. Or, we can see German-born actress Uta Hagen in George Bernard Shaw’s St. Joan, at the Cort Theatre, 8:30 PM. For more music and less drama, classic 1920s revue star Josephine Baker–yes, that Josephine Baker, the one famous for her banana skirt–is going to be at the Roxy, Seventh Avenue at 50th Street. Or, combining dinner with live music, Peter Lind Hayes & Mary Healy–singers famous for the “See The U.S.A. in your Chevrolet” ad jingle that came out last year–are at the Empire Room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, from 6 to 8PM. Helené Francois will be at the Carnaval Room tonight, also with dinner and supper shows. That’s at Fifth Avenue & 59th Street, and the cover charge is $4.25.

If you don’t want to do a live show, there are plenty of movies playing around Manhattan. Yesterday, John Huston’s new picture The Red Badge of Courage, starring war hero Audie Murphy in an adaptation of the famous Civil War book by Stephen Crane, opened at the Trans-Lux Theater on 52nd Street. The film got a decent review in today’s paper. Another critically-acclaimed movie is A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando. It’s playing at the Warner Theatre, Broadway at 47th Street. James Mason plays German general Erwin Rommel in a war film, The Desert Fox, playing at the Globe Theater, just a block away at Broadway and 46th. Or, for something a little less heavy, the science fiction film The Day The Earth Stood Still is at the Mayfair Theater, Seventh Avenue and 47th Street. The film came out a while ago but it’s been so popular it’s been held over in a number of theaters.

Of course, if you don’t feel like going out, we can stay in, but we’ll need some drinks. You can get a fifth of Philadelphia Whiskey for $3.99, not a bad price. Or, Bellows Whiskey, straight up, sells for $4.25 for a large bottle. The early 1950s are definitely the age of hard liquor, and you’ll probably want some unfiltered cigarettes, maybe Lucky Strikes, to go with that. Although not much wine is consumed in the United States, you can get some here an there. I know you can find a Cresta Blanca California Burgundy, but I don’t know at what price.

The biggest new thing, of course, is television. Stores all over town are offering TVs for sale, such as an RCA Talbot, 16-inch screen, with “picture power” and “supercharger,” on sale for $225; or perhaps the RCA Hampton 17″, a new model which has a phonograph jack for easy attachment of record players. We can get those at Davega stores, 200 Broadway. On our new TV, while guzzling $3.99 Philadelphia Whiskey, we can watch the science fiction show Captain Video on Channel 5 at 7PM. There’s a movie called Corregidor, starring Otto Krueger, on Channel 9 at 8:00, and on Channel 5 the live show You Asked For It with Art Baker. At 9:00 they’re showing wrestling, presumably live, from Laurel Gardens, and at 10PM on Channel 5 Cavalcade of Stars will feature Jackie Gleason.

Well, I hope you enjoyed our night out in the 1950s. This isn’t the liveliest decade we’ve seen in Manhattan. After doing four of these I must say I prefer both the 1930s and the 1970s. But, there’s still plenty more to go in this series, so check back next Thursday night for another one!

I believe the top photo of Times Square in 1951 is in the public domain. If it is not, fair use is claimed, as I could not find a free alternative; if anyone claims a photo credit I am happy to add it here. The photo of Jack Dempsey’s is by Wikimedia Commons user Malco23 and is used under Creative Commons 3.0 (Attribution) license.