Theatergoers, tourists, neighborhood regulars, and Broadway celebrities: You’ll find an eclectic mix at the Joe Allen restaurant in New York’s Theatre District. The cozy, brick-walled bistro, located just blocks away from the majority of Broadway’s theatres, has been in business for 50 years and it’s still a popular hit.
The story of Joe Allen, the restaurant, begins, like most tales of Manhattan, with a real estate deal: Joe Allen, at the time a partner in a restaurant venture on the Upper East Side, purchased two adjacent brownstones on West 46th Street in the block between 8th and 9th Avenues in 1965 with the intention of opening his own restaurant. Allen got his start in the business in the early 1950s, bartending at P.J. Clarke’s on Third Avenue, a well-known hamburger joint that was the celebrity hangout of that decade.
To say Allen is not chatty is an understatement, but sitting at his favorite table at the far end of the western side of the restaurant, he talks about the history of the restaurant that bears his name, in his own laconic way. “I just saw an opportunity,” he says. But back in the middle of the last century, this part of Manhattan was not a desirable neighborhood. “It was dangerous and there were a lot of drugs around, but that also made it cheaper,” he explains. Indicating the section of the restaurant we are sitting in, he adds: “I bought this building from Donald Trump’s father; he had a considerably lower profile but a lot more real estate.”
“It was the smartest thing I ever did, but it was hard,” Allen continues. “The banks wouldn’t touch anything west of 8th Avenue. So my accountant at the time got a bunch of his other clients together and they put up the money to give me a mortgage. The really bad times were in the very beginning, in the first two or three years, because shows usually closed at the end of the season; there was much less theater [in the summer] and tourism wasn’t what it is today.”
And back then, of course, the big stars hadn’t started coming to Joe Allen yet; you were likely to spot them at Sardi’s, which was not only located on the correct side of 8th Avenue, but had a nearly 40-year head start on the new eatery. Instead, Joe Allen was discovered and embraced by the theater gypsies, the chorus girls and boys of Broadway. “We were an environment that was more welcoming than Sardi’s for them,” says Allen. “Sardi’s was not an expensive restaurant but it was more expensive than we were. And for the kids whose employment was so precarious, money mattered.” (That era was memorialized in the 1970 musical Applause, starring Lauren Bacall: Bonnie Franklin, playing a chorus dancer who waits tables at the Joe Allen restaurant, jumps up on the tables to perform the title number with her fellow chorus dancers/waiters.)
Although Allen would be loath to admit it, you can see why society columnist Liz Smith, years later, would describe the gruff and taciturn Allen thusly: “To me, he’s the nearest thing to Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. He’s this tough little New Yorker with a marshmallow heart.” He certainly was a godsend to the hungry young performers drawn to the restaurant. “They were people needing a home. I gave them charge accounts, which they couldn’t get anywhere else on God’s earth,” he reports. “And there was remarkably little loss, so that worked out well.”
Many of those struggling performers who found a friendly place to eat at the start of their careers would go on to become marquee names both on Broadway and in Hollywood. And they stayed loyal to the canteen from their past. For example, the year the restaurant opened, Tony Roberts and Penny Fuller were playing the leads in Barefoot in the Park (having replaced Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley), and the following year, in 1966, Gene Hackman and Sandy Dennis got their breaks costarring in the Broadway comedy Any Wednesday, which in turn led to blossoming careers in the movies. Al Pacino, who is still regularly spotted at Joe Allen, made his Broadway debut in 1969.
Aside from having known Allen in their younger days, the stars also come to the restaurant because it offers a relaxed, clublike environment. “Once they come in, they kind of blend into the room,” says Sean Kent, who joins in on the conversation. Kent, who was manager at Joe Allen for several years, now manages Orso, the upscale Italian restaurant that gets a similar mix of boldface names and ordinary folk, which Allen opened in the building next door in 1983. “The very high-profile people require very low maintenance,” he adds. Allen concurs, “They don’t go stupid with where they sit. There’s an old saying: Those who care don’t count; those who count don’t care.”
And for the most part, the stars are allowed their privacy. Even Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, when they were performing together in Private Lives on Broadway, could have a meal at Joe Allen without creating a ruckus. “If you have somebody who is a giant star like Julia Roberts or Tom Hanks, it’s almost impossible that somebody won’t say something to them,” says Kent. “But it’s never about cornering them — it’s very affable.”
But wherever theatrical personalities gather, you can expect anecdotes galore. And everybody has a story to recount. The star of many a tale is Bacall, who was a regular patron and a formidable presence. “She used to scare all the waiters,” recalls Allen. “I said to her, ‘Jesus, what’s the matter with you? You’re Lauren Bacall. You should keep your mouth shut and everything will be fine!’” In one oft-repeated story, Bacall ordered a single baked potato, and when it arrived at the table, she pronounced, “That is a bad baked potato.” Without missing a beat, the sassy waiter wagged his finger at the offending tuber and responded, “Bad potato, bad potato!”
Other stories get repeated so often, they take on a mythical quality. Who knows if this one about Sylvia Miles (or was it Bette Midler?) is even true, but it’s certainly fun to repeat: The actress was ogling the waiter, who was black. “How would you like your coffee?” he asked her. “Like my men,” she purred suggestively. He batted back, “I’m sorry. We don’t serve gay coffee.” Or, perhaps you were there on the night of the rainstorm when a soaking wet Jude Law rushed in after a performance of Indiscretions. Everyone watched agape as the young star stood shirtless by the bar toweling down. No one left the restaurant.
As befits a long-surviving theatrical institution, Joe Allen has its own distinctive tradition. If Sardi’s is known for its framed caricatures, Joe Allen has the Wall of Flops: a gallery of posters, concentrated along the eastern wall of the restaurant, which memorializes Broadway shows that bit the dust. The tradition began with Kelly, a 1965 musical set in the 1880s about a man who claimed he jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and survived. The show notoriously posted its closing notice on its opening night. A few months later, shortly after the restaurant opened, the cast of the unfortunate show came over to have their opening/closing night party. As a joke they suggested that their poster be hung on the wall — after all, where else could it hang?
The very next season, the musical Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring no less than Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain, closed before it even opened; producer David Merrick pulled the plug during its disastrous previews. “Merrick said, ‘This is my Bay of Pigs,’” notes Allen with a chuckle. The restaurant owner then decided that he would celebrate infamous flops, setting as the criteria productions that cost more than half a million and ran for less than a week. The figures changed over the years, but the principle remains the same. The management did, however, draw the line at Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, because, although it lost huge sums of money, it ran for nearly three years.
“People’s attitude about the flop wall is really the best thing,” says Kent, relating how Harold Prince once asked specifically to be seated under the poster for Merrily We Roll Along, the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical, which Prince directed and produced in 1981; the show lasted just 16 performances. “He said he wanted to sit there because it was the norm that 95 percent of the work people do in the theater doesn’t end up a hit. It’s kind of inspirational,” Kent adds, “because if you look around at the posters, there is often somebody incredibly influential, gifted, or talented involved; shows, like Merrily and Rags, had long lives after, but they came to Broadway and got demolished.”
Theater lore and familiar surroundings alone don’t keep a restaurant in business this long. Patrons come back to Joe Allen, for lunch and pre- or post-theater dinner, because of the consistent quality, if not necessarily the variety, of the food. “There has never been an effort to be on the cutting edge of cuisine,” says Allen. “There are so many restaurants that follow the trend rather than having their own vision.” This restaurant has certainly evolved since its early days of red-checked tablecloths and the menu on a blackboard, when the fare was hamburgers, Caesar salad, and apple pie. “You want everything to be good, and we don’t keep anything that we think people have moved past. But sometimes people want traditional things — like the black bean soup.”
Many swear by the Joe Allen calf’s liver dish, prepared in traditional style with a thick brown sauce (although there are those who are equally passionate about the Venetian-style version served next door at Orso). And sometimes people will get fanatical about a dish — as Rosie O’Donnell, a tireless promoter for Broadway and Joe Allen, did over the Cajun chicken sandwich. Outraged when she discovered that the chef had substituted her personal favorite with a teriyaki version, she aired her grievance on her talk show, asking her viewers to call in and petition Allen to put the item back on the menu. “It was half-joking, but people were calling in and we did a lot of business,” Kent recalls. “And then Joe went on the show with Cajun chicken sandwiches for the whole audience, and it was declared that it would never be taken off.”
We’ve been chatting for some time when Allen says characteristically, “Everybody thinks my life is more interesting than it is. I’m not a particularly social person, and it looks glamorous from the outside — it’s a job. I’ve been here for so long, it is very hard to get any kind of historical perspective on it. And I don’t remember anything! That’s a casualty of age.” But the octogenarian restaurateur does stay engaged with the business he started half a century ago. On any given night, you might find him sitting in the restaurant, unobtrusively observing the bustle around him. After all, he says, “I’m too old to need adventure and I’ve got to go somewhere!”
Information We Collect
Information we collect directly from you: Your provision of your personal information to Us is completely voluntary; it is not a statutory or contractual requirement. Personally Identifiable Information (“PII”) is information that is uniquely identifiable to you, such as your name, address, email address, phone number, credit card number and other personal information that is not otherwise publicly available. Certain features of Our website may require that you provide Us with your personal information, including:
Mobile Alert Sign-Up (SMS)
Contact Us (email)
Public forums (e.g. message boards)
E-commerce (ticket purchases)
Your use of any of the features above;
New content on Our website;
News that We think may interest you about Us;
Responses to your questions/comments to us; and
Information relating to a ticket purchase.
We may use your demographic information for in house statistics, advertising and marketing target information. Our processing of your personal information is necessary for the performance and fulfillment of the contract between us and to provide you with Our services. We will also process, transfer, disclose and preserve personal information when We have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary, to resolve disputes, enforce our agreements and otherwise required by law. You can always opt-out of receiving future promotional communications from Us; see the Choice/Opt-out section below.Information We Collect Automatically: Even if you don’t use any of the features above, when you visit Our website, We may collect certain information about you.
From your Browser. For example, Our servers keep an activity log that tracks all visitors to the website. The information in the activity log does not identify you individually. The information collected may include among other data: your IP address, your registered domain or home server, time of access, date of access, web page(s) visited, number of clicks, software crash reports, type of browser used, session identification number, search terms, search results, access times and referring website’s address. We use your IP address to help diagnose problems with Our server and to administer Our website. Your IP address is also used to gather broad demographic information, such as country of origin and geographic location. We use such data in the aggregate to run internal analyses to improve upon your experience on Our website.
Tracking Tags (also known as “web beacons,” “action tags” or “single-pixel gifs”). Our website may also use tracking tags. Tracking tags are invisible graphics embedded in the pages of Our website that are programmed to collect non-personal information about your use of Our website. Like cookies, tracking tags provide overall usage patterns for Our website that We use for analysis and to provide personalized services and advertising content.
We comply with the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising set forth by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA). You can opt-out of targeted advertising from certain providers at www.aboutads.info/consumers.
How We Use Your Personal Information
The personal information We collect allows Us to keep you posted on updates to Broadway Direct. It also helps Us to improve Our services, content, and advertising. If you don’t want to be on Our email list, you can opt out anytime by clicking the “unsubscribe” button or sending an unsubscribe email to [email protected]. From time to time, We may use your personal information to send transactional emails, such as communications about purchases and changes to Our terms, conditions, and policies. Because this information is important to your interaction with Broadway Direct, you may not opt out of receiving these communications. We may also use personal information for internal purposes such as auditing, data analysis, and research to improve Broadway Direct’s services, and customer communications. If you enter into a sweepstakes, contest, or similar promotion We may use the information you provide to administer those programs.
Information Collected By/Shared With Third Parties
Third Parties Doing Work for Us. Third parties have no rights to use any data We have collected on your behalf. However, We may employ other companies or individuals to perform functions on Our behalf, such as sending postal mail, email, and text messages, conducting sweepstakes/contests, prize fulfillment and promotional activities, analyzing data, providing marketing assistance, processing credit card payments and providing customer service. These outside suppliers, agents and vendors have access to your personal information only as needed to perform their functions.
Third Parties with Links from Our Website. From our website, you may be able to click on links to third party sites to buy tickets and merchandise and for other purposes. These third party sites may collect information, including personal information. We are not responsible for, nor do we have access to the information they collect. The collection of this information is governed by the privacy policies on the applicable third party sites.
Social Networking Services. Our website may integrate with social networking services. We do not control such services and are not liable for the manner in which they operate. While we may provide you with the ability to use such services in connection with our website, we are doing so merely as an accommodation and, like you, are relying upon those third party services to operate properly and fairly.
When necessary. We may also release personal information when we believe, in good faith, that such release is reasonably necessary to protect the rights, property or safety of Ourselves, Our clients, Our users, or others. We may disclose personal information about you to law enforcement, other government officials, or other third parties, as We, in our sole discretion, believe necessary or appropriate, in connection with an investigation of fraud, intellectual property infringement, or other activity that is illegal or may expose Us to legal liability.
Transactions With Third Party E-commerce Partners, Vendors and Advertisers
Delivery of Advertising and Other Content
In addition to ads and content that We may serve you directly, We use third-party advertising companies and marketing services companies to serve ads and other content when you visit Broadway Direct and elsewhere on the internet and in other media. Both We and these companies may use information about your visits to Broadway Direct and elsewhere to serve ads and other content to you. In the course of doing so, a unique third-party cookie may be placed or recognized on your browser by such companies. In addition, We and these companies may use Web beacons to help manage Our online advertising and content. These Web beacons enable Us and the third-party companies to recognize a browser’s cookie when a browser visits this Site and to learn which banner ads bring users to our website and to serve you ads that you may find of interest elsewhere on the internet and in other media. Both Broadway Direct and these companies may use information obtained from your visits to Broadway Direct or other websites, and information received from you offline in order to provide advertisements about goods and services and other content of interest to you across the internet and in other media. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used in this manner by Our third party advertising companies, please visit http://www.networkadvertising.org/optout_nonppii.asp and/or www.aboutads.info/choices. European users may opt out of receiving targeted advertising by visiting http://www.youronlinechoices.eu/. In addition, we may provide PII and Anonymous Information to marketing services companies. This may include information we received from you offline or online. These companies may combine information we provide (including PII and Anonymous Information) with personal and anonymous information they may have about you, using cookies they place or that We place on their behalf, as described in the section regarding “Cookies and Tracking Tags”. We require these companies to delete the PII we provide them. These companies may use the resulting non-personal information and such cookies for their own marketing purposes, and they may provide the same to their customers for their customer’s marketing purposes. Some of Our emails may contain tags that allow Us and Our advertisers and other partners to determine the types of content that may be of interest to you. Those tags may contain PII and may be shared with others to the same extent indicated in the section regarding “Cookies and Tracking Tags”. Those tags may not be deleted but you can opt out of receiving the emails.
Use of This Site by Children
The Site is not directed to individuals under the age of thirteen (13), and We request that such individuals do not provide personal information through the Site. If a parent or guardian becomes aware that his or her child has provided Us with PII without the parent or guardian’s consent by, for example, misrepresenting his or her age, that parent or guardian should contact us at [email protected]. If Broadway Direct determines that it has collected personal information of children under the age of 13, Broadway Direct will immediately delete such information and any accounts believed to be held by children under 13. In addition, we may not collect or process information from a citizen of an EU member state under the age of sixteen (16) without such person’s parental consent. If you are a citizen of an EU member state under the age of 16, please tell your parents that you are using the Site and have your parents email Us at [email protected] so that We may delete any information We may have collected about you.
California Civil Code § 1798.83 permits California residents to request information about whether we have disclosed personal information to any third parties for the third parties’ direct marketing purposes. California residents have the right to request in writing: (a) a list of the categories of Personal Information, such as name, email address and mailing address and the type of services provided to the customer that a business has disclosed to third parties (including affiliates that are separate legal entities) during the immediately preceding calendar year for the third parties’ direct marketing purposes and (b) the names and addresses of all such third parties. To make a request, please contact Us at the following email address: [email protected].
Rights of EU Data Subjects
If you are a resident of the European Union, under the GDPR, European Union residents, as data subjects, have the following rights:
Right to access – This right allows individuals to obtain confirmation as to whether or not personal information concerning him or her is being processed and provide access to such personal information. It also allows individuals to request details of the processing of his or her personal information, including, without limitation, categories of recipients to whom the personal information have been or will be disclosed and purposes of processing.
Right to rectify – This right allows individuals to rectify any inaccurate personal information about him or her.
Right to restrict processing – This right allows individuals to block or suppress processing of personal data under certain circumstances.
Right to be forgotten – This right is also known as the “right to erasure”. It is an individual’s right to have personal data erased or to prevent processing in specific circumstances.
Right of data portability – This right allows individuals to move, copy or transfer personal data from one place to another in a secure manner without interrupting the integrity and usability of the information.
Right to object to processing – This right allows individuals to object to certain types of processing, including direct marketing, profiling and providing for purposes of scientific or historical research and statistics.
An EU resident has the right to access his or her personal data that We hold and to ask that their personal data be corrected or erased and to port their data. An EU resident may also have the right to object to, or request that We restrict certain processing or to withdraw consent previously provided. If you would like to exercise your rights under the GDPR, please contact us at [email protected]. If you are an EU resident and have a concern about our processing of your personal data that we are not able to resolve, you have the right to lodge a complaint with the Data Protection Authority where you reside. For contact details of your relevant local Data Protection Authority, please see http://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/article29/item-detail.cfm?item_id=612080
Security of Your Personal Information
Broadway Direct employs reasonable security measures consistent with standard industry practice, for personal information collected through this Site, including physical, electronic and operational measures to maintain security and prevent unauthorized access. While Broadway Direct takes all appropriate steps to safeguard personal information under Our control, unfortunately, no data transmission over the Internet or method of storing data can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. As such, We cannot guarantee that personal information supplied by users will not be accessed on Our servers, or intercepted while being transmitted to Us over the Internet. We assume no liability for any damages you may suffer as a result of interception, alteration or misuse of information during such transfers.
We will retain your information for as long as your account or inquiry is active and for a reasonable time thereafter in accordance with Our standard procedures or as necessary to comply with Our legal obligations, to resolve disputes, and to enforce Our agreements. Even if We delete some or all of your Personal Information, We may continue to retain and use aggregate or anonymous data previously collected and/or anonymize or aggregate your Personal Information. Please note that We will not be liable for disclosures of your data due to errors or unauthorized acts of third parties.
This Site provides users the opportunity to opt-out of receiving communications from Us, at any time, by email at [email protected], or by clicking the unsubscribe link in any email communication. The Site gives users the following options for removing their information from our database, to not receive future communications or to no longer receive our service, at any time.
Users can send mail to the following postal address: Broadway Direct 1501 Broadway 14th floor New York, NY 10036
Users can call the following telephone number: (800) 223-6715.
Users can opt-out of receiving future newsletter emails from Us by selecting the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of our email. However, We are not responsible for removing your information from the lists of any third party who has previously been provided with your information or is collecting your information through their cookies. You have the right to withdraw your consent for Our processing for your personal information by contacting us at [email protected].
This website gives users the following options for changing and modifying information previously provided, at any time.
Users can send mail to the following postal address: Broadway Direct 1501 Broadway 14th floor New York, NY 10036
Users can call the following telephone number: (800) 223-6715
In the event that We are, or any component of our operations is, merged with, or is acquired by, another entity, then any such successor or acquiring entity may become the successor to Our obligations with respect to the personal information that you have provided to Us, which would be necessary for the entity to effectively continue our business. By using this website, you consent to any transfer and use of such personal information by an entity assuming control of Our operations as a result of a merger, purchase of assets, or liquidation in bankruptcy or insolvency.