Moriarty’s Wonderful Saloon


On the dread day Icky hired from the O’Toole rental agency a suitably upholstered Rolls Royce of funereal hue with a driver to match and borrowed a morning coat and silk top hat with a tall tweed. Confronted with extra editions reporting that the crowd in Broadway had already stopped traffic and was battling the mounted police, Icky decided that a quick one at Moriarty’s was indiLJ cated before joining the funeral pomps. Kind friends crowded around, anxious to assure the bereaved of their understanding and devotion, and Icky’s halfhearted attempts to adjust his top hat and make for the Rolls Royce outside were thwarted time and again by the admonition that just one more was what he needed to see him through.

Just at noon, as the undertaker’s henchmen were bearing Miss Eagels to a flower-swamped hearse, sympathizers took Icky home in the rented car and put him to bed. It was, everyone agreed, a practical solution to everything.

It used to be said of Rosa Lewis’ Cavendish Hotel in London that within its precincts the hangover was better understood and more healingly nursed than anywhere in England. If this was the case, Dan’s was an American clinic for outpatients of the Cavendish. The strictest imaginable protocol governed the afflicted as they assembled at the bar on Sunday morning. Noise was abated to the irreducible minimum; conversation was limited to the briefest possible amenities of greeting, and Dan or Mort, whoever had the duty, set down the heavy bar glasses and returned bottles to their racks without perceptible clinks.

When a newcomer arrived to join the ranks of the maimed and contused, all heads turned as one to identify him, subdued recognition was muttered, and then, as he eased himself onto a stool, the communal gaze was again concentrated front and center in a profound silence broken only by heavy breathing and an occasional moan of unendurable anguish.

It was an age when many gentlemen dressed formally for Sunday, and some of the communicants were on the way to St. Thomas’ or St. Bartholomew’s, where they would have to pass the plate. The tails of their morning coats trailing from the bar stools suggested a convention of undertakers, and their silk top hats, carefully brushed, gleamed from the hatrack like symbols of reproachful rectitude.

By noontime, as a general thing, the therapeutic virtues of brandy milk punches (the Bloody Mary had yet to be invented as a sovereign remedy for katzenjammer) had begun to manifest themselves, and by Sunday afternoon the usual cheery atmosphere of Moriarty’s would have been re-established, conversation returning to its normal pitch of modified hooray. But the opening hours closely resembled those of the emergency ward at Bellevue.

As became what was essentially a gentleman’s club, masculine attire was a matter of some concern at No. 216. On evenings when debutante parties of consequence, such as that of Barbara Hutton, were in progress at Sherry’s or the Ritz, Dan’s blossomed with opera hats and Chesterfields, evening tail coats and smoking jackets. Dan and Mort, magnificently contemptuous of fashion, indiscriminately lumped all evening attire as “soup and fish” or “dress suits,” but Jim Moriarty, who early evidenced the penchant for aristocratic amenities which was to be his undoing, took to turning up behind the bar in a dinner jacket on the pretext that he had an important rendezvous with an heiress at the Central Park Casino. In an age of flaming college youth, undergraduates from New Haven and Princeton, which were geographically handy, sometimes came to town with only the dinner clothes they wore and remained thus through Sunday, their wing collars gradually wilting, their shirt fronts becoming a record of gastronomic Waterloos.

Such lapses from propriety particularly outraged Mort, who had a low boiling point anyway.

Because Harvard was more distant and he had fewer occasions to encounter members of the Porcellian Club in full cry, Mort came to imagine Harvard as a sort of resort of the proprieties. Having learned that appearing at early-morning classes or lectures at Harvard in evening dress was a violation of college rules and subject to severe reprimand, he would glare menacingly at Noel Busch, still in his shawl-collar tuxedo in the full light of Sunday afternoon, and cry: “Have you no shame, Mr. Busch? There is a return train to Princeton in half an hour. Try and behave like a Harvard gentleman.”

There was seldom trouble at Moriarty’s, but if it materialized, any one of the three brothers was tough enough to take care of anything short of a St. Patrick’s Day riot. Paul Palmer remembers the time that Mort, who on special occasions made it a point of pride to drink glass for glass with his customers, got to sparring with Jack Carpenter and inadvertently broke that valued customer’s jaw. Jack spent several weeks in a hospital and several more in drugstores drinking CocaCola through a straw before he felt strong enough to put in a reappearance at No. 216. Anticipating a penitential reception from Mort, all he got was an earlymorning-type glare and the salutation, “Glad to see you, Jack. I hear you been sick!”