Sammy’s Bowery Follies
In 1934, Sammy Fuchs opened a saloon at 267 Bowery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Surrounded by flophouses and missions, Sammy’s Bowery Follies catered mainly to the homeless, the penniless, and the generally down and out.
That changed somewhat in the early ‘40s after a surprising customer passed through: a monocle-wearing gentleman who turned out to be a British lord tired of the fussy formality of the uptown clubs.
Sensing a new market, Sammy acquired a cabaret license, built a stage, hired some aging vaudevillians, and began advertising his bar as the “Stork Club of the Bowery,” a nod to the famed nightclub uptown.
The plan worked. Fancy folks, tourists and celebrities began seeking out Sammy’s, looking for a chance to loosen their ties and slum it a little bit in the Gay Nineties-themed dive. It was not uncommon to find a socialite in an opera gown wedged between a sailor on shore leave and a passed-out drunk.
Sammy recognized the importance of atmosphere, and served free food and drinks to some of his more colorful regulars (characters with names such as Prune Juice Jenny, Box Car Gussie and Tugboat Ethel, the “Queen of the Bowery”) to preserve the ambience.
The notable photographer Weegee made Sammy’s one of his regular shooting grounds and even held his book launch parties there.
By the end of World War II, Sammy’s was serving some 100,000 customers a year, as literal busloads of tourists were dropped off outside, eager to drink and sing along with hobos, dwarves and assorted misfits.
Sammy Fuchs died in 1969. A year later, the bar finally closed. The closing ceremony was attended by over 700 loyal patrons.
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 just arrived from Los Angeles, where he had been working for a Browns & Williams Tobacco Co’, walking the streets dressed as a penguin.