It’s almost the weekend again, and as such time to go out on the town in the past, as we’ve been doing on this blog every Thursday night for basically the entire spring. (The other excursions into Manhattan in the past included brief trips to November 1938, March 1977, August 1922, October 1951, September 1985, April 1943, May 1967, December 1916, June 1997 and July 1905). Tonight we go back to the early 1930s, not the happiest time in American history. But in leaving no stone unturned in a search for historical evidence of restaurants, shows, watering holes and things to do with your weekend eons ago, we owe the period a visit. As always with this series, details like prices, show times, addresses etc. are all completely accurate down to the exact day.
It’s Friday, February 21, 1930. Despite being the middle of winter New York is in the midst of an unprecedented wave of springlike weather. Astonishingly it was 66 degrees yesterday, and the forecast is for similar temperatures today, clear skies and no wind. This is hard to believe, considering it was 7–yes, seven–degrees on Sunday! But we should definitely take advantage of it. Leave your topcoat at home, but fedora and spats are still mandatory. Or maybe a nice straw boater.
Although it’s true the stock market crashed four months ago, and the economy has definitely slumped, the economic disaster that’s engulfing America is still strangely invisible on the streets of Manhattan. Granted, the lines at soup kitchens are longer than they were last year, and the stock market did have a sharp downturn (13 points) yesterday, but the fall and winter weren’t that visibly different, at least for most people–unless you were heavily invested in stocks. Restaurants are still open, you can still fill up your flivver at the filling station and there are even a few jobs being advertised in the back pages of the newspaper. The huge new skyscraper they’re building in Midtown, the Chrysler Building, is advertising office space for rent. Life goes on, such as it is.
This site, at 10 East 60th Street, was in 1930 the location of Rudy Vallee’s supper club, called Villa Vallée. Evidently they put on quite a show.
Where shall we start? Unfortunately Prohibition is still in effect, so any drinking we do will have to be on the Q.T. There are plenty of speakeasies in Manhattan. But if we keep it legal, we could go to one of the many musical revue clubs that offer dinner and (non-alcoholic) drinks. Rudy Vallee is performing at his supper club, Villa Vallée, at 10 East 60th Street. Dinner will be served and there will be dancing, but they warn it’s formal. Where can I get a tuxedo on short notice? So many stores are closing early for Washington’s Birthday (tomorrow). If we can’t get in to Rudy, perhaps we can go see “Jungle Drums,” a musical revue produced by Clarence Robinson. (No, I haven’t heard of him either). It’s at a club called The Plantation, 166 Eldridge Street. No cover charge and they advertise a “special dinner” for only $1.50. There are shows at 8:30 and 9:30 PM.
There’s Janssen’s Hof Brau, which I think we’ve encountered before in this series. Anyway, they’re having a special for Washington’s Birthday, and also promise dancing and a revue. Nothing says you love the father of our country like showgirls in flapper dresses. Or, at the Hollywood Restaurant–Broadway and 68th Street–there are dinner and supper shows. I believe technically dinner is earlier. Prices can’t be beat: $1.50, $1.75 and $2.00 for a full dinner. Maybe this economic downturn isn’t so bad.
Talking movies in 1930 were filled with glitzy musical numbers like this one from Lilies of the Field, which featured Joe E. Brown.
Broadway is full of shows, though I don’t recognize any of the titles and very few of the stars in them. A show called Everything’s Jake!, which is advertised as “A Rip-Roaring, Alcoholic Comedy,” is playing at the Assembly Theater, 39th Street east of Broadway. Rebound, a comedy starring Hope Williams, is playing at the Plymouth Theater, 45th Street west of Broadway. Or there’s a show with the title Top Speed, which is either a musical or comedy. It stars Chester Allen, Irene Delroy, Paul Frawley and a woman named Ginger Rogers who I’ve heard can really dance. It’s playing at Charnin’s Theater on 46th Street. Frankly none of these sound Earth-shattering.
One thing that is Earth-shattering is talking pictures! They’re brand new out of Hollywood and getting better all the time. Much of the fare is light and musical. Happy Days, directed by Benjamin Stoloff and starring Marjorie White, evidently takes place on a show boat and has a lot of musical numbers. It’s at the Roxy Theater, 50th Street and Seventh Avenue. Chasing Rainbows, with Charles King and Bessie Love, is playing at the Capitol on 51st Street. Party Girl features the biggest star in Hollywood right now, Douglas Fairbanks. It plays at the Colony. Two rare dramas are also playing, the first Lilies of the Field starring Corinne Griffith and Disraeli, about the British prime minister of the 19th century, at the Central Theater, Broadway and 47th. George Arliss plays the title role.
The Bremen, the luxurious German superliner, sails at midnight tonight. We could be on it!
So what’s on radio tonight? At least that’s free, though we have to sit at home. Amos N’ Andy, one of the nation’s hottest radio shows, will be on WJZ at 7:00 PM. At 8:00 on WEAF is a concert by the Cities Service Orchestra featuring Jessica Dragonette, a soprano. At 9:00 we have our choice of the Cliquot Club Eskimos Orchestra (do they play wearing sealskin coats? We’ll never know on radio) on WEAF, or boxing broadcast live from Madison Square Garden on WMCA. Hearing someone talk about two guys beating each other up sounds even less appealing than watching it happen. And unless you can scare us up some bathtub gin, bootleg whisky or Canadian beer, it doesn’t sound like an appealing party. What I wouldn’t give for a glass of pinot noir. But hey, Prohibition may be repealed someday.
Honestly, do you know what I think we ought to do? Not only get out of New York, but get out of the whole country. It just so happens the Bremen, the new German luxury passenger liner, is sailing from the 58th Street pier in Brooklyn at midnight. It’s headed for Southampton, Cherbourg and Bremen. This is 1930, the height of the Weimar era, where we can indulge in the bawdy nightclub culture in Berlin, if we can avoid getting beaten up by Nazis. The Bremen is a posh and luxurious ship. And because it’s technically German soil, they serve drinks on board. If we head down to the North German Lloyd ticket office tonight we might be able to get a first-class cabin at the last minute. We could see the lights of Manhattan receding behind us in a matter of hours.
As always, I hope you enjoyed our outing in New York in 1930. Where will we land next week? Wait and see!