The Stork Club, by Jan Whitaker

   

Welcome to Flashback Friday!  The title above had you guessing a bit, didn’t it?  Maybe I’m running amok and reviewing some chick-lit book about new mommies?

First dolphins, then storks…what’s next, faeries and unicorns?

Bwahaha…

Well, thanks to restaurant historian Jan Whitaker – who is graciously allowing me to re-post her fabulous material – you will be reassured that I have not gone ’round the bend (yet).  The Stork Club, in fact, was a popular New York nightclub of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, when it finally fell into decline.

Here’s the first part of the story, with a link to the rest.  Enjoy!

Find of the Day: the Stork Club

by Jan Whitaker

image via Jan Whitaker

It seems harder all the time to find interesting things at flea markets and vintage paper shows, but I got lucky at Brimfield last week and turned up an unfamiliar Stork Club postcard. What is special is that it dates from before the nightclub/restaurant’s 1934 move to its well known address just off Fifth Avenue on East 53rd Street in NYC.

The postcard shows some of the “Stork’s” entertainers just before the era when its patrons became bigger attractions than its performers. When debutante Brenda Frazier, featured on the cover of Life magazine in 1938, started coming, attention shifted to who was seated at the tables. The early dinner crowd was followed by a late-night set of glamorous publicity seekers, many of them movie stars. Proprietor Sherman Billingsley installed a telephone at the entrance so that the orchestra could strike up an appropriate tune as celebrities were escorted to their tables. [William Boyd, aka Hopalong Cassidy, pictured]

image via Jan Whitaker

To feed the celebrity mill, newspaper columnist Walter Winchell, always at table no. 50, informed all America of the evening’s highlights the next day. Billingsley had his own radio and TV shows for many years [a 1946 photo shows him interviewing some of the club’s stars]. During its prime in the 1930s and 1940s the Stork Club was the country’s best known nightclub. It’s closest rival was El Morocco. There could never be any doubt about the location of photos taken at the Stork Club thanks to the club’s black and white ashtrays and oversized matchbooks which always appeared prominently.

To read the rest of this fascinating story (including the shady background of the proprietor, and more photographs), click here.

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Isn’t her stuff cool?  Here are two other posts she has shared on this site:

19th century waitresses in bloomers

Evelyn Nesbit’s Tea Room

Jan, thank you so much for your generosity!  Show Jan some blog love over at her site, Restaurant-ing Through History, and check out her non-fiction books about the history of tea-rooms and early American department stores, at janwhitaker.net.  They are treasure troves for history buffs.

Until next time,

Kathy

1 person likes this post.

16 thoughts on “The Stork Club, by Jan Whitaker”

  1. Karen McFarlandKaren McFarland

    Kathy, thank you for introducing us to Jan. What can I say? My parents were from neighboring buroughs of New York City and it was their hang-out. So I knew of Stork’s but a bit more about Sardy’s, which was a “where to be seen” kinda place after the shows. There definitely was a vibe during that time period that doesn’t exist today. A bygone era. But I do enjoy reading about it, so thank you so much for posting this.

    Have a great weekend Kathy! 🙂

  2. PatricaPatrica

    What a fun post and a cool concept for the writing world. Interesting stuff.

    Don’t know who she is, but the blonde in the picture is stunningly beautiful.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  3. Renee A. Schuls-JacobsonRenee A. Schuls-Jacobson

    My grandfather had an ashtray from the Stork Club in the office of his store. He said he swiped it when he and my grandmother visited for dinner in the City once. We had no idea of its value, but I recently saw one of the ashtrays on eBay, and let’s just say — tossing that item was a big mistake.

    Big. Mistake.

  4. BillBill

    Great post, great link and and what a niche for a writer of history. Some of the cool facts which jumped out at me (Okay, I became interested enough to do a wiki dive):
    I did not know that Ed Sullivan (at another nightclub) was a competitor of Walter Winchell. I only remember Sullivan from Sunday night TV.
    The proprietor’s union-busting lawyer was the McCarthy councilor Roy Cohn (poor guy — I don’t think anybody likes him — heck, he died of AIDS, give him a break. Jan Whitaker uses the adjective ‘infamous.’ True, of course)
    And (if the Wiki article is correct) what did Humphrey Bogart do to get banned from The Stork Club? Hmmmm, could be a story there (nonfiction or fiction).

  5. Jenny HansenJenny Hansen

    Definitely a bygone era! Wow, just look at those photos…

    Thanks for sharing with us, Kathy. I love your history and mystery posts. 🙂

  6. August McLaughlinAugust McLaughlin

    Another historical installment totally foreign to me. And imagine… They made that postcard with no Photo Shop! 😉

    Thanks for the intriguing post, Kathy and Jan. I’m eager to check out more of Ms. Whitaker’s work.

  7. Julie GloverJulie Glover

    Fabulous info! Loved it. However, as I started reading, I was thinking, “Really? Who doesn’t know the Stork Club was a famous nightclub?” I suppose my love of old movies comes through with that one. 🙂

  8. nancyelizabethlauzonnancyelizabethlauzon

    Very cool post, and love the pic. I like anything about old buildings and places in NYC =)

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