A Look At Churchill’s and Four Other Restaurants From Old New York
Churchill’s Restaurant southwest corner 49th Street and Broadway, circa 1915.
Police Sergeant Jim Churchill did not have the background of a typical restauranteur. He put in 20 years on the job policing the streets of New York and was named acting Captain of a precinct in the Bowery for a few months starting in November of 1901. He wound up being dismissed from the force in 1902 for neglect of duty.
It seems that Churchill was not aggressive enough in closing saloons operating illegally on Sunday and shutting down houses of ill-repute under his jurisdiction. From reading the newspaper accounts of his trial, Churchill may have been set up by others in the police department who wanted his ouster.
Churchill, with the help of friends and backers went into business for himself. In May 1903 Churchill ironically opened a saloon at 1420 Broadway between 39th and 40th Streets. The small bar and restaurant prospered and in 1906 he moved north to new digs on Broadway at 46th street to a space which could accommodate up to 350 patrons.
But even that was not enough room for the captain’s friends and clientele. In 1909 Churchill built for himself a spacious, luxurious entertainment and feasting palace at 49th Street that could seat 1,400 diners. Designed by architect Harold M. Baer, the three story terra cotta brick building with stucco ornamentation attracted huge crowds. Even with so much more space, guests frequently would have to wait in line for a table as capacity crowds filled the restaurant.
Employing over 300 people and with an annual advertising budget of $50,000 for a $250,000 business, Churchill’s became world famous and remained a favorite restaurant and cabaret spot for the Broadway crowd throughout the teens.
Churchill’s stayed in business until prohibition cut into profits and forced Jim Churchill to close his doors and lease the space to a Chinese restaurant. The building was demolished in 1937 and the location eventually housed heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey’s Broadway Bar and Grill from 1938 until its closing in 1974.
Churchill went abroad for a number of years after closing his restaurant and upon returning to the states, he commented about the changes that many New York City restaurants had undergone during the 1920’s. To the New York Times he remarked, “Hostesses? There were no such things in my days. No one ever thought of such a thing. It was not permitted that any woman come into a restaurant-cabaret unaccompanied. Instead of hostesses I employed 30 boys, one of them the late Rudolph Valentino, to dance with women who came unescorted for luncheon.”
When Churchill died in 1930 at the age of 67, he left most of his sizable estate, a half million dollars, to his wife.
The Cafe Boulevard 156 Second Ave southeast corner of 10th Street, circa 1909. Continue reading