- Historic Sites
Moriarty’s Wonderful Saloon
August 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 5
It required all the authority of one of the senior partners to dose up at the accustomed hour of two in the morning.∗ As the hour approached, the reluctant patrons began shouting in unison: “House wolf, house wolf,” which was in effect a demand to be bribed with a lree chink on the house before making a comparatively orderly departure. 1 never heard the phrase elsewhere, and students of Manhattan folklore believe it had reference to the label on Cordon’s gin, then the universal elixir of life, which includes a picture of a wolf’s head with menacing jaws agape and lolling red tongue.
∗ Closing time was sometimes extended on football nights, on certain other occasions of special alcoholic rejoicing, and, of course1, on St. Patrick’s Day—when, it was said, “the Irish marched up Fifth Avenue and fell down Third.”
“Have you no homes, gintlemin?” was Dan’s despairing cry as closing hour approached, and, like antistrophe in a Greek chorus, the roaring shout came back, “House wolf, house wolf.” It was a ritual.
If Martin Curran was the acknowledged dean of the University of Dublin contingent at Dan’s, a ranking faculty member would have been Joe O’Grady, also a doorman by profession but one more socially exalted, since he worked for Bendel the dressmaker.
Mr. O’Grady in the full uniform of his calling had a definite nautical appearance; indeed, he was once introduced by the yachtsman Sherman Hoyt to the crew of the British America’s Cup challenger as Admiral O’Grady, U.S.N. Legend has it that Joe played the part so well that he was taken in tow and ended in an apartment at the La Forge Cottages at Newport for Race Week.
Joe, as became a Moriarty regular, was resourceful. In those days of vanishing horses on the streets of New York, a small pile of horse manure was believed by many to bring good luck, much as fortune followed touching a hunchback, and Joe made it a practice, whenever the street outside Bendel’s was so favored, to bribe the Department of Sanitation whitewing not to remove it. Almost invariably it brought O’Grady luck in the form of rain, which, of course, netted him liberal tips for securing taxis and assured his appearance at Dan’s with his splendid marine overcoat loaded to the Plimsoll with silver currency.
It would have been difficult to name the dean of “gintlemin” at Moriarty’s. Highly regarded both for his pleasing ways and his professional eminence was Paul Palmer, today senior editor of Reader’s Digest but in those years Sunday editor of the New York World and a journalist of important dimensions. It was Palmer who introduced such literary eminences as William Bolitho and J. C. Squire to Dan’s at a time when both were editorial contributors to the World . Palmer often arrived with Sullivan, also a World staffer, and Sullivan’s boon companion and collaborator, Corey Ford.
Although not in the category of a Moriarty regular, Scott Fitzgerald put in an occasional appearance with Noel Busch, another Princeton man, though of a later vintage. Fitzgerald did not hold his liquor with the distinguished aplomb that Mort and Dan considered necessary to the ton of their premises, and he was several times asked to take himself elsewhere.
On one of these occasions, Palmer, Sullivan, and Jack Thomas, as a gesture of organized if ineffectual protest, insisted on leaving with the disbarred author of This Side of Paradise and took themselves and their dudgeon, which was momentarily high, to a more tolerant speakeasy somebody knew in Forty-second Street near the East River. Palmer recalls vividly that there was a large steel engraving behind the bar of George Washington, and Fitzgerald, in an unmannerly moment, made an unflattering remark about the Father of His Country. The bartender, quite unresponsive to the finer nuances of the literary life, reached for a bung-starter and swung it viciously at Fitzgerald’s head, only narrowly failing to put an end then and there to the career that was later torpedoed by Zelda.
Thomas, a promising novelist of the early Twenties, was one of the most memorable of the Moriarty regulars. He lived and, almost literally, died in the club. His first novel, Dry Martini , revolving largely about the men’s bar of the Paris Ritz, was an instant best seller and was made into a highly successful motion picture that catapulted Thomas into fame and fortune which were promptly translated into terms of wine and roses.
Fifty-eighth Street in the Twenties was a remarkable cross section of New York. It ran the gamut from expensive apartment houses at its East River terminus through slums and department stores until it passed Lexington Avenue, when it flowered into such luxury resorts as the Savoy Plaza, Madison, and Plaza hotels, Reuben’s delicatessen, and Sherman Billingsley’s first Stork Club. Then came a midtown Broadway Tenderloin and again a decline into slums and gashouses as it approached the Hudson River.
Thomas undertook to do an epic study of New York life with Fifty-eighth Street as its symbolic microcosm. He started out bravely and spent the better part of his first year covering the ground from First Avenue to No. 216. There he bogged down and never made further progress westward, his will and ambition completely dominated by the character of Moriarty’s wonderful saloon.