Reuben’s. The Sandwich. Billy Rose.

January 28th, 2011 § 3 comments

Reuben’s Restaurant and Delicatessen on E. 58th Street (just off 5th) was the classiest deli in New York and HG’s favorite for lunch.  A landmark for many decades it was sold in the 1960’s.  Lindy’s was West Side. Reuben’s was East Side.  Big difference in cachet and clientele.  Reuben’s had some raffish legends, however.  Arnold Rothstein and Abe “The Little Champ” Attell plotted the fixing of the Chicago White Sox World Series in a private room at the restaurant.   HG has posted about Lindy’s previously.  Reuben’s was better.  Lindy’s may have had the cheesecake but Reuben’s had The Reuben Sandwich.  A very big grilled sandwich of lean corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkaraut and Russian (Thousand Islands) dressing.  Served with pickles and superior French fries.  All Reuben’s sandwiches were great but The Reuben reigned supreme.  The origins of The Reuben are obscure.  Of course, Reuben’s laid claim to its discovery but there are legitimate claimants in Omaha, Chicago and other cities.  Who cares who invented it?  Reuben’s perfected it.  The Reuben’s crowd was a blend of Lindy’s and The Russian Tea Room.  In addition to show biz, Reuben’s attracted Madison Avenue Mad Men, art and antiques dealers, financiers, real estate moguls.  Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jimmy Durante were customers (all had sandwiches named after them).

But, the guy who typified Reuben’s for HG was Billy Rose.  Does the name ring any bells?  He was a little stick of dynamite.  First wife was Fanny Brice (“Funny Girl” was her film bio) and Eleanor Holm, the gorgeous Olympic swimmer, was his second.  Billy was a lyricist whose name is on scores of songs (“Paper Moon” among them).  It was believed that he only contributed a line to songs but the writers were glad to give him credit because he got the songs published and cut such tough deals with the publishers.   He was a showman supreme (the “Aquacade” at the 1939 New York World’s Fair; the Diamond Horseshoe Night Club where Billy gave Gene Kelly his start).   He was a Broadway producer (“Carmen Jones” with an all African-American cast was a huge hit and later a movie with Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge).  Billy was a theater owner (the Ziegfeld and the Billy Rose), an art collector and a very shrewd investor.  He was a Broadway columnist (“Pitching Horeshoes”).  Much of the column was ghosted by an HG acquaintance, the novelist Bernard Wolfe.  When Billy died in 1966 (at age 67) he left an estate of $42,000,000 (probably $250,000,000 in today’s money).  He also created the beautiful Billy Rose Sculpture Garden in Jerusalem.

Billy was always in Reuben’s at lunch.  HG nodded to Billy (they had been introduced by one of HG’s real estate mogul clients) and got an abrupt wave in return.  The little guy simply vibrated with energy.  He was loved and loathed.  He was also an incurable romantic.   He told Bernie Wolfe (who told HG): Never hold back on love. Never play it safe.  Give it all you got.  So what, if you look like a fool?  Love is the only thing that matters.  Who would have suspected the tough, brassy little guy harbored such tender emotions?

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