Hold That Ghost

A quick one a little late at a midtown holdout that surprises.

You do run into old acquaintances in the strangest places.

There is a certain sainted saloon we’ve read about for years, a celebrated writers’ hangout of the last century, a place called Costello’s. Gone since 1992, so it was a shock to say the least when we encountered a bit of this storied joint’s remains in an aggressively average midtown sports bar.

But first, let’s raise a glass to holdouts, those little buildings that have resisted progress, and to their plucky owners who gave the middle finger to the fat cat high-rise developers. Such a painful amount of fine stock has disappeared from midtown, so we hold in esteem those tough nuts, the heroes who spare us from a homogenous glass and steel cityscape. There are a number of famous holdouts: there is Hurley’s bar*, the four story building on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 49th Street that refused to sell out to Rockefeller Center; there remains the weenie 19th century building at 34th and Broadway that Macy’s was forced to build around; the townhouse on 60th Street across from Le Veau d’Or, now dwarfed by skyscrapers; and of course P.J. Clarke’s saloon. None of these were architectural show-stoppers in their day, but today they shine as reminders of when cities were built at a more human scale.

At the moment, cranes are everywhere you turn. The current monsoon of money (which somehow avoids our grasp) fuels rampant construction which means a heaping helping of rabid destruction of New York City. The blocks of 43rd and 44th Streets between Second and Third Avenues are, as we speak, being ripped apart by a full block-through pull down, and old office buildings, printing plants and garages are pfft. While the neighborhood suffers the unendurable noise and unimaginable loss of business, a wee 1926 townhouse at 225 East 44th Street stands up defiantly to the scaffolding and open pits that soon will sprout even more soulless towers. This holdout is the now aptly named Overlook bar. It is the kind of place we would have passed without a glance just a few years ago: the ubiquitous sports-woo! atmosphere, the corporate post-collegiate clientele, it’s an utterly bland and uninviting run-down joint illuminated by a couple dozen TVs. It has the look of a rock club in the daylight: no character to speak of, not even the gloss of one of those cookie cutter prefab Irish bars. But if there’s one thing we know about New York City, it’s that there is always something you never saw before. And indeed the Overlook has a startling and unique bonus. Venture past the branded beer sign décor and hypnotic sports screens to the back room and you’ll find the walls are covered with cartoons – so many familiar faces, and some obscure characters nearly lost to time. They commemorate not only the work of dozens of comic artists, but also the last remnant of Costello’s, the famed newspapermen’s saloon. This was the last outpost of the bar, established as a speakeasy, surviving into the 1990s, and immortalized by Tim and Joe Costello’s regular customers, many of whom were top-drawer writers.

Costello’s was a favorite stop for a hard-drinking literary set which included Ernest Hemingway, John O’Hara and the New Yorker bunch. Its earliest edition was upstairs at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 44th Street, but its most celebrated locations were at the corner, and near corner, of Third Avenue and 44th from the ’30s-‘70s, where it became known as a shining example of an old-fashioned Irish bar of the under-the-Third Avenue Elevated variety. John McNulty set countless Talk of the Town pieces there, and made the recurring character of Tim Costello famous in its pages. Another star at the magazine, James Thurber, made his mark on Costello’s in a different way. In 1934 he covered a wall with his cartoons to settle his bar bill. When in 1973 the building was to be razed, the bar moved again and landed finally at 225 East 44th. Thurber’s art survived the journey but was sometime thereafter “lost.”

By this time the crowd at Costello’s included newspapermen from the Daily News, nearby wire services, and artists from the big cartoon syndicates. The walls seemed a little bare, and one May afternoon in 1976, after some nudging by Tim Costello, Jr., Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo organized a party of fellow National Society of Cartoonists members to decorate the place.

Costello’s passed into saloon history for good in 1992.

225 East 44th served the thirsty as the Turtle Bay Café through the early 2000s when it lost its lease and there was talk – crazy talk that is – of gutting the premises, but that is when the Overlook stepped in.

And today – in the same year that The Palm cruelly whitewashed comic art history – almost miraculously, the murals remain. They may be a little beat up, but the cream of cartoonery is there, dominated by Stan Lee’s Spiderman and Milton Canniff’s Steve Canyon, alongside Bullwinkle the Moose, courtesy Al Kilgore: Mad Magazine is represented by a gang of Sergio Aragones’ Mexican revolutionaries and a self-portrait by the great Al Jaffee; there is a fabulous array of funny pages superstars from the 1970s: Hagar the Horrible (Dik Browne), the Lockhornes (Bill Hoest), Boner’s Ark and Beetle Bailey (two smash hits from Mort Walker); for fans of the obscure, McGown Miller gives us a classic gag from his King Features one-panel character Noah Numskull and Bill Yates offers up professor Phumble; sharp-eyed New Yorker fans may spy a disgruntled dog from the pen of Charles Barsotti; the op-ed crew is here too, with Dick Hodgins giving us a pan-handling Mayor Abe Beame, and all this is just for starters. Appropriately for the time and place, there is a booze-happy theme to many of the yuks.

But wait, there’s more. In 2005 the owners of the Overlook took a stab at honoring their historical windfall by inviting Bill Gallo back to decorate the opposite walls. The new gang of cartoonists reprised several characters from the old mural, including Beetle Bailey, Dondi, and the Lockhornes. A highlight of the new wall is an Alfred E. Neuman by Mad art director Sam Viviano.

This is no shrine or museum. There is no velvet rope or protective Plexiglas bolted to the wall. In the freewheeling spirit of Costello’s the art is presented in the raw, subject to the wear and tear of seepage and careless patrons. Visit on a weekend afternoon when it is quieter and you can commune with the cartoons without bugging anybody. Settle in with a beer or a Bloody Mary, and a copy of McNulty’s “This Place on Third Avenue,” and tune out the comical present.
*Hurley's saloon is no more; the building was ultimately sold and today houses a branch of a particularly loathsome cupcake chain.


¡Viva WFMU!

Santa laid the gift of properly cold weather on us, just for the day, on our annual visit over the river and across the light rail tracks to the fur-lined fallout shelter and Fool’s Paradise with Rex.

Festive is one word you could use for Rex’s annual office party/wild-and-sordid -45-a-thon. While the grease was spread from 1-3:00, the party raged.  Twisting was seen.  The crisp cheezy crackers from chef Coco were wolfed.  The meat pops looked jolly, and with sugar plums, party mix and jillion cookie varieties no one went hungry.

And then ¡Viva Santa!, this year’s holiday cocktail was served.  We have to say it was a fine companion to snacks both salty and sweet.

For the home game:  You’ll need tequila, Strega liquor, a lemon to juice, a cinnamon stick, a chunk of pineapple, and a cocktail cherry. Also a cocktail shaker, a toothpick or cocktail sword type thing, and ice.  Here’s how you do it.

Shake up over ice:

1 1/2 ounce tequila blanco (we used Pueblo Viejo)

3/4 ounce Liquore Strega

1/4 ounce lemon juice

When you’ve got it nice and cold, pour into a chilled cocktail glass. From a cinnamon stick, grate a dusting on top.  And your garnish is a speared cube of pineapple plus a cocktail cherry.  A green sword looks great if you’ve got one.

Some fine-tuning may be necessary depending on sweetness of lemons.

Ground cinnamon is not recommended; it can get lumpy.

For those not familiar with Strega, it’s a not-too-sticky-sweet Italian herbal liqueur that somehow has a note of cocoa.  It’s great in cookies and cakes btw.  Most famous is the torta caprese.

Writer Paul Lukas chews the fat with Rex on-air.  Fool’s Paradise general counsel Nancy advises.

  Kathleen was let out of her go-go cage for the holidays.
 ¡Viva Santa! in its natural habitat.
Mary surveys the scene and finds it o.k.
Rex starts the day the Grade “A” Fancy way.
Miss Philippines  – er, Vicky, receiving gifts as Chris and Gaylord lurk festively in the background.
A toast:  Feliz Whoop De Doo!

This year's cocktail recipe, all potions of Christmases past, and sundry other meditations on the season and cocktails in general, can be found in the lavishly illustrated booklet we have titled Hark! the Radio Bartender Brings. Don't delay order today!


Holiday Cocktail Replay

From the pages of our new holiday cocktail book, Hark! The Radio Bartender Brings, here is one of our favorites. An early effort—and a tasty one—from 2009, called Tight Before Christmas.

Tight Before Christmas

December 19, 2009

A Gimlet in fir

Our radio host, Rex, is a man of definite tastes. Because his usual cocktail bar nip is a Gimlet, we fashioned this special holiday version with him in mind.

Zirbenz has a beautiful piney scent, and this drink will bring back memories of the time you woke up facedown in the snow with a Christmas tree branch in your mouth. What? Come on, everybody’s done that.
1 ½ ounce Bombay Dry Gin
¾ ounce Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur
¼ ounce Rose’s Lime Juice
¼ ounce pear nectar
Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

Get your own copy of Hark! the Radio Bartender Brings by hitting the Buy Now button below. While supplies last!

The holidays will be upon us in no time. So that you receive your copy as quickly as possible we'll send your order by genuine USPS Two-Day Priority Mail. On the drop-down menu you can choose to buy up to four copies at one time, but the affordable shipping rate of $6 per order never changes. Shipping multiple copies won't cost you one thin dime more than an order of one! This is a money saving offer that thrifty gift-givers will not want to pass up.

Order today!  US addresses use the button below.
Worldwide orders, please contact us for shipping info.

Number of copies:

U.S. and Canada


Hark! The Radio Bartender Brings!

It’s that most wonderful time of the year — the hustle-bustle and anticipation as everyone prepares for a very special visitor. Yes, of course we mean The Bartender of the Airwaves, bringing a gleaming new holiday cocktail for all the parched listeners of Fool’s Paradise on radio station WFMU.

Due to popular thirst, NEW for 2015, we’ve collected all our original cocktail recipes in this eyeball-pleasing 44-page booklet, Hark! The Radio Bartender Brings.  This is a lavishly illustrated, ink-papery, real old-fashioned book we’re talking about, none of your digital tat. It tells the tale of the Radio Bartender, provides guidance and counsel to make your holiday cocktail hour merry and bright, and for a bonus, you can get a jump on this year’s Fool’s Paradise cocktail – yep, the recipe’s inside.

Stumped for that nonpareil gift this year?

You’ll want a copy for yourself, naturally, but not so fast! This handsome volume may be the answer to your holiday shopping woes. Get it for the bon vivant on your list who’s seen it all, the liquor lover with no stomach for cocktail twee-ness, the art maven, or the connoisseur of small-press books. Buy one to go along with that fake i.d. for your kid brother, one for Dad’s cookbook collection, and one for Mom’s bar.

To purchase Hark! The Radio Bartender Brings via PayPal, click on the Buy Now button below.

The holidays will be upon us in no time. So that you receive your copy as quickly as possible we'll send your order by genuine USPS Two-Day Priority Mail. On the drop-down menu you can choose to buy up to four copies at one time, but the affordable shipping rate of $6 per order never changes. Shipping multiple copies won't cost you one thin dime more than an order of one! This is a money saving offer that thrifty gift-givers will not want to pass up.

Order today!  US addresses use the button below.
Worldwide orders, please contact us for shipping info.

Number of copies:

U.S. and Canada


A Quick One With Texas Guinan

New York City is a boîte boneyard, a nite-spot necropolis, a potter’s field of cabarets, oyster palaces and hotel lounges.

 Some names of past hotspots live on in popular lore — your Stork Club, your El Morocco. But there were so many others, maybe smaller in size and fame, that were at one time just as legendary with a certain clientele. Today they are nearly unknown. The heyday of these storied joints can never be recreated.  Well, if we can’t step inside, let’s loiter outside and toast, in salute to good times past. We may be a little late, but we have time for a quick one.

In today’s installment of A Quick One, A Little Late, we call on Texas Guinan on the anniversary of her death, 82 years ago today. Guinan was one of the most famous and colorful characters of the Prohibition years. That’s really saying something given that the era of the Noble Experiment boasted a splendid trove of interesting characters:  cynical newspapermen, flamboyant gangsters, inventive saloonkeepers, daredevil rumrunners, hot-cha songwriters and tin pan alley tune pluggers, hep musicians, imaginative undercover Feds, exceptional bohemians, and underage chorus girls.

Some of those chorines like Ruby Stevens (Barbara Stanwyck) and Ruby Keeler worked for the most notorious niteclub hostess, Texas Guinan. While the Twenties were roaring, Guinan was always news; reports on her doings -- clubs opening, clubs padlocked, and court and jail appearances were constant fodder for the press. Her greeting of “Hello, Suckers!” shouted at her guests was as ubiquitously popular as Little Orphan Annie.

She hosted clubs through the era, usually partnered with legitimate businessman Larry Fay. Some of her joints: the El Fay, the 300 Club, the Century Club, the Texas Guinan Forty-Eighth Street Club, Salon Royale, Club Argonaut, Club Intime and a roadhouse called Texas Guinan’s Show Palace (later La Casa Guinan), on Merrick Road in Valley Stream.

*      *      *

Mary Lousie Cecilia Guinan grew up in Waco, Texas. She had a career in vaudeville as a showgirl and songster. Beginning in 1917 she featured in silent pictures, cowgirls a specialty, and continued right through to talkies. In 1933, when she appeared in her last movie, she pretty much played herself. All tolled, she had 51 credits to her name. In 1945 Paramount released a posthumous Hollywoodized biopic called “Incendiary Blonde,” starring Betty Hutton.

 We came a-calling on a warm, sunny Halloween afternoon.  Miss Guinan’s final resting spot in Long Island City's Old Calvary Cemetery is literally monumental, but it betrays none of the bawdy hell-raising glamour of the notorious Queen of the Nightclubs.  It’s an elegant crypt, only steps from the noble limestone beehive chapel, a mini Sacré-Coeur built in 1895.

We brought along a flask of Corpse Revivers, because, you never can tell.  But did you know? A corpse reviver isn’t a recipe, it’s a category. It is the morning pick-me-up, alternatively known as an eye opener. That’s why you’ll see entirely dissimilar cocktails named Corpse Reviver in your how-to manuals.  We concocted a thermos-full of our favorite formula, a healthful revitalizer known as Corpse Reviver #2.  It’s a shaken gem of gin, Cointreau, lemon juice, Cocchi Americano (stepping in for the extinct Kina Lillet) and absinthe. Our guests for this semi-spooky jaunt were pals Scott and Gabrielle, who thoughtfully supplied a tin of All Soul’s Day cookies, which were the perfect nosh for our spirit-raising mission.

A toast to Texas Guinan,
“Give the little lady great big drink!”