The Stork Club, New York, 1946 Paul Rand Book Cover
The Stork Club was a famous and fabled nightclub in New York City from 1929 to 1965, which was owned and operated by Sherman Billingsley (1896–1966), an ex-bootlegger from Oklahoma. The club was the symbol of café society. Movie stars, the wealthy, showgirls, politicians and aristocrats, all mixed here. El Morocco had the sophistication, Toots Shor's had the sporting crowd, but the Stork Club mixed power, money and glamour. Unlike its competitors, the Stork stayed open on Sunday nights and also during the summer months.
The club was not only full of celebrities, it was also full of intrigue. There was an episode when Billingsley's Oklahoma partners sold their shares to a man named Thomas Healy who eventually revealed that he was a "front" for three New York mobsters. Billingsley was kidnapped and held for ransom by "Mad Dog Coll" who was a rival of his mob partners. Before the ransom money could be collected, Billingsley's gangster partners put a bounty on Coll's head. He was lured to a telephone booth where he was shot to death. The secret gangster partners reluctantly allowed Billingsley to buy them out for $30,000 after the incident. Apparently the authorities were able to overlook the escapade.
Billingsley's mistress, Ethel Merman, introduced him to the entertainment and gossip columnist Walter Winchell who called the Stork Club "New York's New Yorkiest place". What Winchell saw and heard there at his private Table 50 was the basis of his newspaper columns and radio broadcasts. Lucius Beebe, the author of the Stork Club Bar Book, was noted as the "orchidaceous oracle of cafe society", a gourmand, bon vivant and author, who chronicled the activities of the boldfaced celebrities at the Stork Club in his syndicated column, "This Is New York". Billingsley had around the clock coverage of the Stork Club that certainly enhanced and helped cement the clubs position and reputation. The cover of the Stork Club Bar Book, was created by Paul Rand, a giant of 20th Century graphic design.
The club closed in 1965 and was replaced in 1967 by Paley Park, a "vest pocket" park that has been called one of the finest urban spaces in the US. The park was financed by the William S. Paley foundation (Paley was the founder of CBS) in honor of Paley's father. When the site was excavated, a still was found.
Excerpt from the 1948 guide to eating called Knife and Fork In New York, a precursor to the Zagat dining guide. Written by Lawton Mackall, who was described as a noted man-about-town, journalist and veteran gourmet.
"Stork Club: Sherman Billingsley’s “glammer school,” strict in its standards any infraction of good manners in punishable by quiet but prompt expulsion and permanent blacklisting. Even the atmosphere you breathe is specially cleaned and filtered. Lighting is just right and service incredibly wonderful. Food? Anything you desire. Drinks? Any brand you name. If your party is sizeable and squired by someone of the successful business-executive type, the waiter will look surprised if no champagne is ordered.
Layout consists of; islanded bar confronting you as you enter; cocktail lounge, off which are the glassed-in main dining room ( dining and dancing) and the Club Room ( small, quiet, seating only about 100) and upstairs a small Loners’ Room for singleton eating and the Blessed Event Room for private-party occasions.
The Stork Club opens at 11 am for the benefit of late breakfasters. Packed at lunchtime with the Cub Room operating on a men-only basis. Cocktail time, crowd has a choice of the bar, the lounge or the main room where there’s music for cocktail dancing – followed by music to eat to. If you’re elegantly thrifty in a leisurely sort of way, you’ll take the flat-priced five-course BT (before taxes)( Dinner. Should you prefer to be fed faster, there’s a BC Dinner at stepped-up tempo for theater curtain beaters. Dance tempo ( and cabaret tax) resume at 9 with never a skipped beat till closing, and with a continuous two-way traffic of Stork glamorites arriving and departing. Attire is optional but when tables are scarce, strangers may find it to their advantage to present themselves at entrance chain ( solid gold) in their best evening togs. A young college man escorting a dazzling goddess is sure to get in, because Mr Billingsley is proud of having his tables embellished by the fairest. Sunday opens at 1pm."
Courtesy Private Collection.
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