Seventy one years ago tomorrow, April 16, PM published a photo of Dora Pelletier, an entertainer at Sammy’s Bowery Follies (267 Bowery), singing, and the words of Weegee, a freelance photographer (who lived a few blocks away at 5 Centre Market Place).
Weegee reports on Sammy’s, the Bowery
At No. 267 on the Bowery, among the missions and the flop houses is Sammy’s, the poor man’s Stork Club [14322.1993], the only saloon on the Bowery having a cabaret license. There is never a cover change. There’s no cigaret girl – a vending machine puts out cigarets for a penny apiece [14349.1993]. There’s no hatcheck girl – patrons prefer to dance [20068.1993] with their hats and coats on. But there is a lulu of a floor show [14298.1993], according to Weegee, who covers Sammy’s for us.
The place was opened 10 years ago by Sammy Fuchs [2384.1993] as a regular Bowery barroom. Three years ago a well-dressed man wearing a monocle began dropping in. He would sit at a table by himself and drink. Then Sammy got curious and asked the fellow how come. The fellow answered, “I am an English lord who is tired of the stuffy and formal drinking places uptown and prefer the Bowery, where I know I will escape my friends.”
It grew and it grew
Sammy figured there must be hundreds of characters like that, so he enlarged his place, took out the cabaret license, put in an orchestra and entertainers and the place began to grow. Now Sammy has just taken over the building next door to double the capacity of the place [2032.1993].
As customers arrive from uptown in cabs they are besieged by a bunch of panhandlers asking for a dime for a glass of beer. They get it, too. The place is jammed, the uptown crowd mingling happily with the Bowery crowd [125.1982].
Jimmy Durante once dropped in and gave a free show; also Irving Berlin and wife. (Mr. B. got his start in the Bowery, you know.) Toward midnight some odd types [14228.1993] drop in for a quick one. There is a woman called Pruneface; a man called Horseface; Ethel, the Queen of the Bowery [2023.1993], who generally sports a pair of black eyes “that nature did not give her,” (according to Weegee); a man with a long white beard called The Bishop who, old timers say, is looking all over the Bowery for the man who stole his wife 40 years ago.
Weegee says that one evening “while I was at Sammy’s absorbing the atmosphere and drinks, a midget walked in. He was about three and one-half feet in height. I invited him to have a drink with me. He said he had just arrived from Los Angeles where he had been working for the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., walking the streets dressed as a penguin advertising Kool cigarets. The midget was flush and started buying me drinks. He proudly showed me his social security card and told me that he was 37 years old, and single, as the girls were only after money. After the seventh round of drinks this midget got boisterous and offered to fight [2029.1993] any man (his size) in the house.”
Scotch at $1 – and why
Sammy told Weegee the other night that the new 30% Federal tax hadn’t affected the volume of business. A sign [14305.1993] over the bar says “Drinks of Scotch, $1.” [14307.1993] Sammy gave Weegee the breakdown for the figure…
The extra penny is added because Sammy’s cash register doesn’t add odd numbers. Bowery drinkers don’t mind paying a buck for a drink of Scotch, says Weegee, because it makes them feel important and besides they are helping the war effort by contributing the tax money to Uncle Sam. Sammy sells beer for 15 and 20 cents, rye for 55 and 65.
Sammy greets his patrons at the door. He frisks some of the Bowery ones if he spots a bulge on their hips. They sometimes try to smuggle in a bottle of smoke (straight alcohol) to drink in the washroom. Sammy is wise to the chisellers, but he is a friendly fellow.
“I know Sammy gave $100 without being asked for it for a woman in the neighborhood who died and there was no money for for the funeral,” Weegee told us. “He also takes care of customers’ valuables. I also saw him turn men away from his bar, telling them not to drink till their day off. I saw one woman at the bar give Sammy her wrist watch and $30 to save for her until the following day.
“Sammy [14305.1993] is sector commander of the air raid wardens in the neighborhood and has contributed $5000 worth of equipment. He is known as Mayor of the Bowery and his ambition is to become Mayor of New York City.
PM, April 16, 1944, pp. m4-m5
Weegee’s reporting in PM resembles Weegee’s entertaining encounters with, and photos of, the denizens of Sammy’s published a year later in Naked City (1945). The text in Naked City was entertainingly embroidered with a few more gags and the tax and war material was cut.
At No. 267 Bowery. sandwiched in between Missions and quarter-a-night flop houses, is “Sammy’s,” the poor man’s Stork Club. There is no cover charge nor cigarette girl, and a vending machine dispenses cigarettes [14349.1993]. Neither is there a hat check girl. Patrons prefer to dance [20068.1993] with their hats and coats on. But there is a lively [14298.1993] floor show [2032.1993]… the only saloon on the Bowery with a cabaret license.
As the customers arrive from uptown in cabs, they are greeted by a bunch of panhandlers who don’t ask for the usual “got a nickel for a cup of coffee mister,” but instead for a dime for a glass of beer… and get it too. Inside, the place is jammed with the uptown crowd mingling with the Bowery crowd and enjoying it [125.1982]. But towards midnight some odd types [14228.1993] drop in for a quick one. There is a woman called “Pruneface,” a man called “Horseface”… “Ethel” the queen of the Bowery [2023.1993] who generally sports a pair of black eyes that nature did not give her, a man with a long white beard, who old timers say is looking all over the Bowery for the man who forty years ago stole his wife… they wonder when the two meet whether the wife-stealer will get beat
up or thanked.
While I was there absorbing the atmosphere and drinks, a midget walked in… he was about three and a half feet. I invited him for a drink. He told me that he had just arrived from Los Angeles, where he had been working for a Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., walking the streets dressed as a penguin. The midget was flush and started buying me drinks. He proudly showed me his social security card, told me that he was thirty-seven years old, was single as the girls were only alter money, that once in a while he got some affection, but had to pay for it… After the seventh round he got boisterous and offered to fight [2029.1993] any man his size in the house. Sammy grabbed the midget and threw him out through the doorway which has a red neon sign saying “Thank you, call again,” hollering at him not to ever come back again. Sammy’s has a blacklist just like Billingsley’s Stork Club [14322.1993] uptown.
Sammy greets all his patrons at the door. I noticed he frisked some of the Bowery ones. He told me that they were the “bottle” babies and he could spot them by the bulge in their hip pockets. They would try to smuggle in a bottle of “smoke” into Sammy’s place to drink in the washroom because if they drank out in the street or hallways the cruising patrol wagons would pick them up. Sammy is wise to all the tricks of the Bowery chiselers. but he is also a friend and always ready to lend a helping hand… lending money so a man can get cleaned up, load and a room while he is getting over a hangover. I know Sammy gave $l00 without being asked for it for a woman in the neighborhood who died and there was no money for the funeral. He also takes care of his customers’ valuables. I saw one woman at the bar give Sammy her wrist watch and thirty dollars to save for her till the following day, and I also saw him turn men away from his bar, telling them not to drink till their day off.
Sammy [2384.1993] is known as the “Mayor of the Bowery” and his ambition is to become Mayor of New York City. And when that happy day arrives Sammy [14305.1993] promises free drinks in every gin mill in town.
Weegee, Naked City, pp. 138-139
It’s really Weegee Wednesday, a weekly series of Weegee related posts. The premiere post begins with Weegee’s reportage on Sammy’s and a photo of a singer of sentimental songs’ swan song. (Perhaps coincidentally ICP’s new exhibition space is located near the site of the former Sammy’s.) If you like Weegee’s work, please return next week; if you don’t like Weegee’s work, please return next week anyway… for another very loud but good post on Weegee Wednesday…