Thursday, January 3, 2013

Old New York: Gallagher's Steak House Will Get Its Third Life

By Mitch Broder

Dean Poll isn’t sure yet what he’ll do with the see-through meat locker, but he assures you that you’ll still know Gallagher’s Steak House when you see it.

“It will unquestionably be recognized as a restaurant that’s eighty-five years old,” he told me yesterday. “We will certainly maintain its heritage.”

Dean, who owns the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, has bought Gallagher’s from Marlene Brody, the widow of Jerry Brody, its previous rescuer. The two are holding a press conference at noon tomorrow at Gallagher’s, a theater-district destination since it was launched by a Ziegfeld girl.

The conference is a good idea, since a wave of reports in October declared Gallagher’s dead, based on circumstantial evidence. As of today, New York magazine’s online listing still said: “This venue is closed.” This venue is not closed. And now it won’t be closed.

Dean, in fact, told me that he may not touch the place much for a year. So you have some time to grab a last look at Gallagher’s untouched. Go now to see the wooden revolving door, the knotty-pine walls, the log lights, and the famous locker. You never know what’ll make it through.

“It’s not going to be a new restaurant, but it needs some work,” Dean said. “But I’m not going to make it into a brand-new, shiny, lawyer restaurant. You will know you’re in Gallagher’s, and you will know you’re in a place that has connections to theater, sports, and politics.”

That sounded good not only to me but also to Marlene Brody, whom I spoke to today. “That reassures me,” she said. “Not because I don’t want it to change, but because when people redo things completely and just keep the name, the place loses its soul.”

“He’s been wanting it a long time,” she said. “He tried to buy it off me after Jerry died. … He really understands the essence of it.” She did add, however: “The meat locker, he has to leave. It’s the only restaurant in the world that has that. People come to take pictures of that.”

Seeing stacked raw meat when you enter a restaurant is indeed an oddity — but not any more of an oddity than the history of the restaurant.

To start with, Gallagher had nothing to do with it. Edward Gallagher was half of the famous vaudeville act Gallagher and Shean. Gallagher’s was opened as a speakeasy in 1927 by his wife, Helen Gallagher, who by that time was with her next husband, Jack Solomon, a bookie.

After repeal, Helen and Jack turned Gallagher’s into a steakhouse. It had a lot going for it besides Helen and Jack’s friends. It was near not only dozens of Broadway shows but the old Madison Square Garden. It got theater and sports people along with other Ziegfeld girls and bookies.

Helen died in 1943; Jack died in 1963. He left the restaurant to Irene Hayes, his second wife (and his second Ziegfeld girl). But Irene was a florist and had no use for a steakhouse. She sold it to Jerry Brody, one of the city’s great restaurant impresarios.

At the center, Marlene and Jerry.
Brody had led the creation of, among other things, The Four Seasons, and would go on to rescue the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant. When he bought Gallagher’s, it was on the ropes. Three years later, Princess Grace was hiring it to cater her summer barbecue.

Brody died in 2001, and Marlene has run it since. But she’s 81, and her heart is in her horse farm upstate. To run a restaurant, she said, “you need money and you need youth. What I really want to do is to breed a champion racehorse.”

So Dean finally gets Gallagher’s, with its past patrons ranging from James Cagney to Frank Sinatra to Jacqueline Onassis to Mickey Mantle. He gets the walls full of pictures and portraits of celebrities, politicians, and racehorses. Not to mention the big painting of patrons including the Brodys.

As we spoke, he invoked P.J. Clarke’s, the century-old bar on Third Avenue that a decade ago was renovated but put back the way it was. That’s his model for Gallagher’s, he said: “I don’t consider it a restaurant in New York. I consider it part of the fabric of New York.”

Step back at Gallagher’s Steak House, 228 West 52nd Street, between Eighth Avenue and Broadway, in New York City.


  1. There was a strange encounter here between Evelyn Nesbit and Harry Thaw here. Evelyn Nesbit worked as a hostess here when Gallagher's was a speakeasy. In November 1927, Evelyn's former husband, Harry Thaw made an appearance at the club--twenty years after his acquittal for murder (of Nesbit's former lover, Stanford White) and long out of the asylum to which he was sentenced. The encounter surprised both of them. Thaw caused a scene in which he “violently pounded the table and swept...all the bottles and glasses to the floor.” Nesbit described it as “one of Harry’s mild tantrums.” She cites the size of the check (which, apparently, caused Thaw’s outburst), as “somewhere between $200 and $250.” I know you know this, but just in case: Nesbit had been a Follies chorus girl when Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Thaw married her in 1904. Before marrying Thaw, a 16-year old Nesbit consorted with “come up and see my etchings” Stanford White on his ‘red velvet swing’. After her marriage, Thaw grew jealous of Nesbit and shot (and killed) White at Madison Square Garden’s rooftop theater (which White had designed). In the murder trial, Thaw was acquitted by reason of insanity. Like the building at 228 West 52nd Street, Evelyn Nesbit survived. Later in life, she became a ceramics teacher in California, Evelyn Nesbit died 1967.

  2. A third life for this place is well on its well to its total of 9 lives, like a cat. That being said it clearly has done better than many other NY restaurants! Thanks for the piece.