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~ Forgotten NYC Restaurants ~ Sammy’s Bowery Follies

Sammy’s Bowery Follies

Bought this Vintage ‘Sammy’s Bowery Follies’ souvenir postcard. Looks like a fun place to get drunk!
‘Run Rabbit Run’ by Flanagan & Allen at 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.

Click here for another great article about Sammy’s Bowery Follies on “The Chiseler”


Categories
Book Shelf Sideshow Vaudevisuals Bookshelf Women

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Weird & Wonderful – The Dime Museum in America”

By Andrea Stulman Dennett

Dioramas and panoramas, freaks and magicians, waxworks and menageries, obscure relics, and stuffed animals–a dazzling assortment of curiosities attracted the gaze of the nineteenth-century spectator at the dime museum. This distinctly American phenomenon was unprecedented in both the diversity of its amusements and in its democratic appeal, with audiences traversing the boundaries of ethnicity, gender, and class. Andrea Stulman Dennett’s ‘Weird and Wonderful: The Dime Museum in America’ recaptures this ephemeral and scarcely documented institution of American culture from the margins of history.

Weird and Wonderful chronicles the evolution of the dime museum from its eighteenth-century inception as a “cabinet of curiosities” to its death at the hands of new amusement technologies in the early twentieth century. From big theaters that accommodated audiences of three thousand to meager converted storefronts exhibiting petrified wood and living anomalies, this study vividly reanimates the array of museums, exhibits, and performances that make up this entertainment institution. Tracing the scattered legacy of the dime museum from vaudeville theater to Ripley’s museum to the talk show spectacles of today, Dennett makes a significant contribution to the history of American popular entertainment.


REVIEWS

“The book should prove interesting to readers of American social history, and particularly enjoyable for museum and entertainment professionals.”

“This book was a great read and provided the information I was hoping to learn about nineteenth-century dime museums. All the information on the subject seems to be scattered about and often lacking. This book ties it together in a succinct yet informative text.”

“Weird and Wonderful is a well researched and very readable account of the (mostly) 19th-century phenomenon commonly known as dime museums. While they were themselves short-lived, the influence of dime museums extends far and wide throughout our culture – from Discovery Channel programming and blockbuster museum exhibits to freak show revivals and viral videos.”

To purchase this book go here!

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Categories
Coney Island History Magic Performing Arts

Al Flosso – An Antic Force in Magic!

By Montague Chadbourne

Al Flosso – (Oct. 10, 1895 – May 13, 1976)

AL FLOSSO’S NAME is known to readers of the two-volume graphic novel by Jason Lutes who created a character solely upon the basis of a photograph and this magician’s colorful name. Readers of an earlier era of fiction writing recognized aspects of Al Flosso’s true nature in the character, Professor Flotto in the pages of The Great Balsamo, the novel by show-biz author Maurice Zolotow. The true-life Al Flosso (1895- 1976) was as memorable a character as any created in fiction or prose.

A city native, he later spoke of crossing the Roeblings’ Bridge to get to downtown Manhattan and buy a ten cent pulp-paper booklet of magic to learn at home. Next, he ventured into New York City’s midtown tenderloin district where he purchased a ‘barber-pole’ production effect at Martinka’s Magic Emporium of which he would later – like Carter the Great and Harry Houdini before him become the proprietor.

In his early “kid” days he associated himself with the legendary Max Malini (1873 – 1942) who, like Flosso, was a diminutive man with a striking oversize stage persona and an inspired knack to captivate audiences through the sheer force of his personality.

Next came his yeoman stint at Coney Island where he performed his rendition of ‘The Miser’s Dream’ in an uncanny act of sideshow flare; this performance was an unforgettable admixture of high magic technique and sidesplitting comedic bravado.

Of this work on his part showbiz legend Milton Berle dubbed Flosso, “The Coney Island Fakir,” and this salutation became the sobriquet that stuck.

Professionally he also explored the worlds of traveling sideshow circuses and vaudeville circuits. including split weeks in New England towns. Back home in New York, he purchased and presided over Martinka’s Magic Emporium, welcoming visitors with his warm, self-effacing greeting, “So you’ve come to see the Little Man!”

Later on, he performed on television and Catskill resorts with cyclonic vigor. His friends in the worlds of theater and magic were legend, from Houdini to Dunninger to the youngest aspirants of his beloved art of magic. Like his father-in-law, Professor Louis Krieger, Flosso had busked for the sidewalk gamins of the Bowery and for the members of New York Society’s “Four Hundred”.

He was engaged to improve Ambassador Joseph Kennedy’s manual dexterity as part of physical rehabilitation when Mr. Kennedy was at the Rusk Institute in Manhattan.

Unlike the broken character in Mr. Luter’s fictional ‘Jar of Fools‘, the true Al Flosso was a sober, and ever-alert, participant in the human condition until his last days, captivating all comers with his signature styles of magic, mirth, and mystery. Until his death in 1976, Al Flosso regaled audiences with his antic force, a quality very akin to the ‘Rough Theater,” as described in Peter Brook in his seminal text, The Empty Space. This theatrical genre acts as a cultural antidote to those denatured commercial amusements flooding the mass society which Brook designated “The Deadly Theater.” Flosso, the antic force to behold, was, indeed, the quintessence of that liveliest authentic theater which is always integral to the lively arts.

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