My first full-time job was as an office worker for CBS in Manhattan, in Black Rock. After these beginning years of my love affair with New York City, in one of the best neighborhoods, our division moved over to 555 W. 57th St. Oh no. No one wanted to go over there, but we had to. Eventually we got used to the new neighborhood, although there was never much to do during lunchtime. The only excitement was when the local bank would get robbed every couple of weeks. 57th & 11th was a cold and windy place to be in the winter, and a long walk from the subway in any type of weather.
Does anybody remember Secretary’s Day?
One saving grace was when it was Secretary’s Day and the bosses took us out to the Landmark Tavern on 46th and 11th. FYI on Secretary’s Day, all the girls got flowers or a rose from their boss(s) (at CBS you could have 5 bosses!), got taken out to lunch, some of us got gifts, all the girls wore their cute dresses, everyone smiled all day, and chirped, “Happy secretary’s day!” all morning long. We even typed happy. So we were thrilled to get out of the office, go to the Landmark, laugh, have a few drinks and eat a meal we wouldn’t ordinarily pay for on our own. The menu was full of good Irish bar food – love that Shepherd’s pie – and strong drinks. We were always so happy when we went there. It was like your birthday when you’re 5! Recently I went back to have lunch with a friend. Of course, it had to be one of the coldest days of the year – and damn, what a long walk it was from the subway.
I arrived first, so I ordered a Chardonnay and chatted with the bartender a bit. The long bar, btw, is a beautiful piece, carved out of a single mahogany tree. I learned that the Tavern was opened in 1868 by Pat Henry Carley as an Irish waterfront saloon downstairs, while he and his family lived upstairs. Dockworkers and merchant seamen congregated in the bar, as the Hudson River was right outside. In those days there was no 12th Ave; it was later built on landfill. During Prohibition, the Landmark turned into a speakeasy. In the 1960’s through 1980’s an Irish gang, the Westies, made it their hangout. The gang was responsible for “between 60 and 100” deaths in that time period. That’s a large margin and I can’t help but wonder why those numbers couldn’t be narrowed down a bit. Maybe I don’t want to know. Anyway, it doesn’t sound like the Landmark was a very inviting place to be back then.
The recent Saturday I had lunch there, the restaurant was about half filled with patrons. I had fish and chips for $16. The fish was tender, outside crisp. It was very good. The wine was good. The conversation with an old friend was great and it was just one of those good winter days.
I didn’t see any ghosts while I was at the Landmark Tavern and the bartender I spoke with had never seen one either. However, there are three hauntings that go on here.
One of the ghosts is George Raft, the old time actor, because – why not. He’s probably best known for being in Scarface (the original). Real life friend of Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, he was a biggie in 30’s gangster movies, along with James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. He had more fame and box office mojo than Humphrey Bogart at the time. He was born in Hell’s Kitchen (when it was called Hell’s Kitchen, not Clinton, like now.) A long time ago when I had more patience, I really enjoyed one of his movies “They Drive by Night” with Humphrey Bogart. Whenever Raft would come back to New York from Hollywood, he’d hang out at the Landmark. His ghost now hangs out at the bar.
Another ghost that has been seen is a Confederate Civil War soldier. He was knifed in a bar fight, staggered upstairs, somehow ended up in the cast iron bathtub (which is still there) and died. I’ve heard he knocks over books in a party room on the second floor.
The third ghost is a little Irish immigrant girl who died in her bed and now wanders the third floor. She came to New York during the potato famine and died of either cholera or typhoid when the building was a flophouse. She has been seen upstairs.
So that gives you five reasons to visit the Landmark: good food, strong drinks and three ghosts. And wouldn’t you love to see George Raft and tell him about Pacino’s Scarface?