Throwback Thursday: A night out in Manhattan…in 1991!

new york 1991 by lars plougmann

This is the final article in my “Throwback Thursday/A Night Out in Manhattan” series. For the last fourteen weeks we’ve been “going out” on the town, seeing what was doing in the Big Apple on a weekend night at various points spanning the entire 20th century. Now I’m afraid we’ve come to the end of our relationship, at least with this series. We must be free to see other people. It’s not you, it’s me. I still want you as a friend. But before we break up, let’s go out one more time.

So far this series has taken us to November 1938, March 1977, August 1922, October 1951, September 1985, April 1943, May 1967, December 1916, June 1997, July 1905, February 1930, January 1959, and October 1972. I’ve certainly learned a lot about the history of entertainment in New York, especially Broadway, and the city’s fascinating background of restaurants, nightclubs and going-out spots. Tonight we’ll make our final visit, this time to the early 1990s. As with all the articles in this series, details such as shows playing, prices, show times, addresses etc. are all accurate to the exact day.

It is Friday, November 15, 1991. The weather today is warm for November–the high was 60 today, low 50, and we might have a brief rain sprinkle at some point, with clear skies later. In the news, the U.S. government yesterday indicted two Libyan intelligence agents for complicity in the horrifying December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. In Louisiana, a special election is being held between longtime Democrat Edwin Edwards and Republican David Duke, who is seeking the governorship; Duke is a virulent racist and former KKK Grand Wizard. Pat Buchanan said yesterday he’s thinking about running for President. The economy is in the tank. The Soviet Union is disintegrating.

roccos italian restaurant

Rocco’s Italian Restaurant, photographed here in 2014, has been here since 1922. I’m sure it looked much the same 24 years ago.

Where should we start? Dinner is our traditional starting point, and New York in this era is full of great restaurants. The Jewel of India advertises it is “Positively the Finest Indian Restaurant in New York.” It’s located at 15 West 44th Street. They have a dinner special, $19.95 per person–that’s not bad. We could try 4 Winds, a Japanese restaurant, at 135 East 62nd Street, two blocks from Bloomingdale’s. (I don’t feel like shopping on a Friday night). They have a sushi bar that’s gotten decent reviews. There’s a Spanish restaurant, El Quijote, which I believe is quite famous. It’s at 276 West 23rd Street. Paella is on the menu, plus there’s a special of 1 1/4 pound lobsters at $11.95. If it’s fish you want, there’s a place called Flying Fish, which is West Indian cuisine. It’s at 395 West Street. Their menu features goat, fish, jerk chicken, fresh tuna and curry goat–not sure why they had to mention goat twice. “Hot Spicy Music” is also a draw. Dinner is $6.95-$9.95 a person, but they don’t take credit cards. Or for traditional Italian food we could go to Rocco’s, 181 Thompson Street, a fixture since 1922. If I’d known about that place, we could have gone there in various other eras too!

As for the shows playing, this is, incredibly, the third era in which we have to avoid Cats. That insipid musical is still playing at the Winter Garden Theater. For a much more limited engagement, the classic old musical Brigadoon is showing at the NYC Opera (Lincoln Center) at 8PM. Orchestra seats are $52–that’s a little steep! Believe it or not, the Moscow Circus is in town. They’re performing at the Gershwin Theater, 222 West 51st Street, at 8PM. Tickets, depending on seats, are $25, $30 or $35. With the USSR breaking up I wonder if anyone will try to defect. A Russian circus coming to New York was the scenario for the Paul Mazursky film Moscow on the Hudson from the 80s, starring Robin Williams.

This ominous scene is from Martin Scorsese’s chilling Cape Fear, released in November 1991 to great critical acclaim.

Grand Hotel, a musical version of the old 1932 MGM movie, is at the Martin Beck Theater, 302 West 45th Street at 8PM. Jason Robards and Judith Ivey star in a play called Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, at the Music Box, 239 West 45th, also at 8:00. There’s a show that sounds interesting over at Irving Place. Song of Singapore is advertised as “Exultantly Trashy!” The ad tells us we’d better be there an hour before curtain for drinking, dancing and dining. I doubt it’s as exciting as Doraldina and her Hawaiians from 1916, but I’ll take what I can get…as long as I don’t have to sit through Cats.

There are some great movies playing. Martin Scorsese’s thriller Cape Fear, a remake of the 1962 noir, has gotten excellent critical reviews. It’s playing many places, including Regency Cinemas, Broadway and 67th, at 7:00 and 9:40. An art film called Meeting Venus, starring Glenn Close, is beginning an exclusive engagement in New York tonight. It’s at Loew’s Fine Arts, 58th Street west of Seventh Avenue, at 8:10. Decidedly more lowbrow, House Party 2, starring rappers Kid n’ Play, is at the Criterion, Broadway and 45th. It’s gotten terrible reviews, though. Strictly Business features Joseph C. Phillips and a brand new actress named Halle Berry. Or there’s the new Wes Craven horror film, People Under the Stairs, at Worldwide Cinemas, 50th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenue. On the total opposite side of the spectrum is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast which opens tonight. No thanks. I don’t feel like a kids’ cartoon. But even that might be preferable to Highlander 2: The Quickening, playing at Embassy 6 Theaters at 8:40. Why is there a Highlander 2? I thought there could be only one.

1983 cheval blanc

A 1983 Cheval Blanc? Don’t mind if I do! We’ll enjoy it while watching Frank Sinatra.

The final option is always to stay in and watch TV. Actually tonight that’s not a bad option, as we could have a celebratory bottle of wine. 67 Wine & Spirits Merchants has a sale on great wines. We can get a Stag’s Leap 1988 Cabernet Sauvignon for $15.99, an estate botled Chalone Monterey Pinot Noir, 1986 vintage, for $24.99, or a Mouton Rothschild 1983 for $59.99. Also at that same price they have a Cheval Blanc, 1983 vintage. It’s not the ’61, but if we’re just staying home and watching TV, it should be perfectly adequate. This is the era of Blockbuster Video. New releases on VHS include Backdraft, V.I. Warshawski, Scanners 2 and Look Who’s Talking Too. Frankly I think the wine will be much more interesting than whatever we watch. And at least it’s not Cats.

Television is pretty much a wasteland tonight. Matlock is on Channel 4 at 8PM. Except for Andy Griffith’s white suits there’s nothing to see there. I can’t stand that babbling Balki on Perfect Strangers, Channel 7 at 9PM, or Father Dowling Mysteries on the Family Channel, same time. Murder She Wrote has a rerun on USA at 8:00. Even most of the movies on broadcast and cable are lackluster. Rocky V is showing on HBO at 10:00. Rock & Roll High School Forever, starring Corey Feldman, will be on Cinemax at 9:00. That’s a terrible film. Indeed the only good thing on is The Manchurian Candidate from 1962, starring Frank Sinatra, on Channel 55 at 8PM. I wonder how it will pair with a 1983 Cheval Blanc?

Sometimes the old classics are the best. The Manchurian Candidate, 1962. Pour me some more Cheval Blanc, please!

And that brings to a close our final night out in Manhattan in the past. This has been one of the most fun, interesting to research and well-received series I’ve ever done on this blog. Thanks to everyone who kept reading week after week, commenting and sharing.

The header photo of the New York skyline in 1991 is by Flickr user Lars Plougmann and is used under Creative Commons 2.0 (Attribution) license. I do not know the copyright status of the photo of the 1983 Cheval Blanc, but I got it from the German language blog Weintasting.de, and I hope they are all right with me using it.
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