Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lone Star Cafe, 61 Fifth and 13th Street, New York, NY

This is a portion of the Viele map, a full mark-up of the city’s streams, springs, and marshland made in 1874 and still used by engineers today. Note the Minetta Brook and marshland at Fifth and 13th (at #32), right where the Lone Star was located. The map, which takes its name from Col. Egbert L. Viele, the civil engineer who published it, appeared more than 130 years ago, in 1874. But it remains the bible for many of the city's structural engineers, as current as the foundations being poured across the island of Manhattan today.
Although virtually forgotten today, Colonel Viele, the mapmaker, was a well-regarded civil engineer and Zelig-like character who pops up often in 19th-century New York history. Born in 1825, he lost out to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the competition to choose who would design Central Park. Later, however, he served as the park's chief engineer and developed the first plans for what would become the subway system.
Viele (pronounced variously by engineers as VEE-el, VEE-lay and VEEL-ee) had served in the Civil War, and it was said that the suffering he saw, caused by poor sanitation, motivated him to help sewer engineers by mapping the city's streams.(11)

"This building went back to the early Dutch days and was part of the Brevoort estate. Minetta Brook once went streaming past." Minetta Brook, “once a placid stream dividing Manhattan Island from the North [Hudson] to the East River,” as described in a 1901 New York Times article, used to be flush with trout and surrounded by dense forest.
The first members of the Brevoort family in America came from Holland prior to 1655 and soon
thereafter settled in Bushwick, then a separate village that did not become part of Brooklyn until 1855.
After twenty years there, they returned to New York where the family prospered.
Henry Brevoort Sr. (1747-1841) was a successful farmer whose lands lay just outside of the early city
limits of New York. His estate consisted of 86 acres between 9th street and 18th Street, bounded by
Fifth Avenue on the west and the Bowery on the east, thus part of today's West Village. The opening
of Broadway up to 23rd Street forced New York City street commissioners to create a dog-leg bend at
10th Street, as Brevoort was determined to prevent the disruption of his estate. Brevoort and son
Henry, Jr. prevented the opening of 11th Street between Broadway and the Bowery in the 1830's and
'40's to prevent the destruction of the old family farm house. Henry kept a pet bear chained in his front yard and sold vegetables and rare birds at the corner of Tenth Street and what is now Fifth Street!
His son, Henry Brevoort Jr. (born in 1782; died in Rye, New York, 11 April 1848), was descended from the old Holland Dutch stock, and inherited a large landed estate on Manhattan Island, which became extremely valuable as the city increased in population. He was a gentleman of literary taste and the lifelong friend of Washington Irving, with whom he traveled in Europe and corresponded for half a century.(12) He also accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition to the Pacific Northwest.
His son, James Carson Brevoort (New York City 10 July 1818 - Brooklyn, New York 7 December 1887) was a United States collector of rare books and coins. From his father, Henry Brevoort, he inherited about 6,000 volumes, mostly Americana, which were collected in Europe during the turbulent years from 1810 until 1832. To this library, Brevoort made large additions, until in 1875 it comprised about 10,000 volumes, many of them very rare and costly. He also collected medals and manuscripts. About 1875 he began to bestow many of his treasures upon various institutions. His collections also embraced entomology and ichthyology (books and specimens).
It looks like the family had real estate troubles in 1878, according to this article:
Wonder what happened between the 1880's and 1938? Me too!

The Schrafft's chain bought and demolished the previous building. One of the top floors was the home and studio of artist Ben Solowey. Solowey was a representational painter who exhibited alongside Picasso, Matisse, de Kooning, and Hopper in places such as the Met, Whitney, Chicago Institute of Art. he also did charcoal portraits from life of performers on Broadway, opera, film, and dance on assignment primarily for the New York Times and Herald Tribune. You can learn more about Ben Solowey (1900 - 1978) at His wife, Rae, has said that they had to move because their building was torn down to make way for a Schraffts. Here it is being torn down in 1938.
1938 demolition

According to the verso of the photo, this building went back to the early Dutch days and was part of the Brevoort estate. Minetta Brook once went streaming past. When Schrafft's took over, the March 18, 1938 Times headline said "Restaurant Chain Will Enter Washington Square Area for the First Time."(9)

The corner building at 61 Fifth Street started out in 1938 as a Schrafft's luncheonette, with comfy deco details by Bloch & Hesse.(9)

You entered through a revolving door to a long cocktail bar on your left and a glass case of cookies and pastries on your right, heaped with floral arrangements, gift baskets, and boxes of chocolates.

Ahead, the dining tables draped with white linens surrounded a grand staircase that swooped upward, framed with glistening art-moderne banisters, and burst through a semi-circular opening in the ceiling where second-story diners perched.

Critic Lewis Mumford hated the place. In 1938 he scrutinized this Schrafft's "screwy" curved front, calling it "the new cliche and it will soon belong in the done-to-death department." He goes on to say that the building is "a pretty sorry mishmash" with "ill-assorted windows" and a "crazy little balcony." He liked the interior better, but not enough to say anything good about it.

By 1969, this Schrafft's was a scene for salad-eating staff members from Women's Wear Daily, New School faculty, and "the loftmen of 14th Street," according to a wonderful description of the place in New York Magazine. At twilight, the dinner hour is filled with "L.O.L.'s"--that didn't mean laughter in 1969, but "Little Old Ladies"--"in wrappy turbans and veiled pouf hats, sherbety pastel and watercolor print dresses. They sit in a row, carving little individual loaves of raisin bread and hoisting Manhattans."
Up the stairs, with the Women's Wear Daily salad munchers, the walls were painted with floral murals and scenes from the 1890s--ladies walking little dogs, men in top hats. I imagine, at this Schrafft's, no matter what you ordered or how little you spent, you felt elegant.
According to a 1972 advertisement, you could be a businessman eating steak and drinking gigantic martinis, or a secretary worrying about money and nibbling on a cheap burger special. But, by and large, Schrafft's was a place that women liked. William Grimes writes in Appetite City, "it was the official dining spot for New York women of a certain class." This woman was depicted in New Yorker cartoons as "a plump uptown matron wearing a tiny outlandish hat."
By the late 1960s, Schrafft's was trying to dump its L.O.L. image. They hired Andy Warhol to make one groovy commercial about an ice-cream sundae and in another featured "a trio of shapely girls attired in miniskirts" with the tagline "Have you seen the little old ladies in Schrafft's lately?"(9)

In the 70's, the Riese organization, which bought out Schrafft's, turned it into a Brew Burger...a very strange chain where you could have a burger served on a pewter plate, a glass of beer, and rum raisin ice cream. Those were your choices.(8)

Posters sold in the gift shop
Then came The Lone Star Cafe, an ersatz honkytonk live music venue most famous for having a giant replica of an iguana, created by artist Bob "Big Daddy" Wade, on its roof from 1976-1989. That iguana, incidently, later turned up at Pier 25 on the Hudson River (across from N. Moore Street in TriBeCa). In the 1990s, the giant lizard seemingly went into hiding. Now, evidently, it has become the property of the Fort Worth Zoo down in Texas.

Merl Saunders with the iguana

The cafe was co-founded by Mort Cooperman and Bill McGivney, two ad executives at Wells Rich Greene Advertising. [3]Bill McGivney left shortly afterwards and was replaced by Bill Dick. Both Bill Dick and Mort Cooperman appeared in Kinky Friedman's book A Case of the Lone Star. The general manager beginning in 1976 was Tony Breuer. A few years later Buddy Fox was the next general manager.

The Lone Star Cafe was a cafe and club in New York City at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 13th Street, from 1976 to 1989.[1]

The Texas-themed cafe opened in February 1976 and became the premier country music venue in New York and booked big names and especially acts from Texas, like Asleep at the Wheel and Roy Orbison.[2] Willie Nelson, Kinky Friedman, Roy Orbison, Delbert McClinton, Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm and Jerry Jeff Walker, were among Texas musicians who frequented the Lone Star Cafe.[3] Joe Ely and Billy Joe Shaver also appeared at the cafe.
The words from Billy Joe Shaver's 1973 'Old Five and Dimers Like Me' were hung on a banner in the front of the cafe: "Too Much Ain't Enough."[4]
Other national acts played the cafe, including The Blues Brothers and James Brown, who recorded a live album there in 1985.[5]
The Blues Brothers began in the early 70's in Toronto, growing out of the friendship of John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd and their love for music. The two first performed in their Blues Brothers personas at the Lone Star Cafe in 1977 with Willie Nelson, and Roomful Of Blues as the back-up bands.(7) 

Rolling Stone, Merle Ginsberg, August 23, 198
Back in '84 I saw Jerry Lee Lewis there. Amazing show, until in the middle of his show and in the middle of "Great Balls of Fire", he abruptly stopped, sprinted into to the men's room and threw up. The show was over.

In 1988, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Albert Collins and Hubert Sumlin jammed with Dr. John at the Lone Star.(6)

Lewiston Morning Tribune, April 27, 1989, page 23
The Lone Star closed its doors, morphed through a change or two before becoming a bar in the early 90's called Mr. Fuji's Tropicana. For a brief moment Mr. Fuji's Tropicana was the hottest club in town in the early Nineties. Vin Diesel had worked the front door at Mr. Fuji's as a bouncer.
But, Mr. Fuji's eventually closed too, and the space became occupied by a Korean deli who have no idea how to properly scramble eggs. This was by no means a generic Korean Deli. You walked past the salad bar, up a flight of stairs to a closed door which contained another flight of stairs. Up those you were led to one of the best evenings of your life: a little hidden Korean Karaoke bar. they had outdoor seating which made you feel like you were in a friends backyard from Queens that was somehow transplanted into Manhattan.

It's a 24 hour convenience store, called 61 Convenience. Cafe 61 burned approximately two days after it was shut down for health code violations.

After the fire, 2006.

The lot after demolition in March 2009, on the SE corner of 13th Street and Fifth Avenue.
The design for the new 10-story, 4-unit condo at 61 Fifth by Alta Indelman Architects.
Ravaged by fire and later sold and demolished, the classic corner building at Fifth Avenue and 13th Street is now just a hole in the ground. But a new stack of deluxe condos at 61 Fifth Avenue will soon grow. The LEED-certified plan from architect Alta Indelman sits just outside the Greenwich Village Historic District, and the limestone and brick should make nice with its neighbors. And how 'bout those windows? Yowza. The building will rise 10 stories and contain street-level retail, three duplexes and a triplex penthouse. The fencing at 61 Fifth Avenue has become a showcase for street artists, but it's the property's history that makes it tasty.

Jerry performed here on
4/6/87  The California Boys
"Without question, Jerry came in after the GD show. He sat up in the balcony with a couple of ladies and listened to (what might've been part of) one set. Then during the break somebody produced a guitar, not an acoustic but a Strat (I think there was an amp already on the stage), and he came up and played (part or all of) a set with us. A bluegrass picker from the Bay Area who was going to NYU at the time, Tom Bekeny, also sat in (for all or part of that night), playing mandolin. The thing I don't know is when Sean played his electric cello. It might well have been at the beginning; yes, it seems quite possible he left before Jerry got there. (Unless we played 2 nights there and he played the other
night, but I don't think so.)"(13)

1.)^Popik, Barry, "Too much ain’t enough”
2.)^Rockwell, John,  'The club scene in the 1980s in New York City'
3.)^'Lone Star Café (61 Fifth Avenue)' New York Rocker
4.)^Wade, Bob "Daddy-O", Daddy-O: Iguana Heads & Texas Tales], St. Martin's Press, 1995
5.)^James Brown & The JB's - Lone Star Cafe 15th Avenue New York City 1985', Rock Rare  Collection
6.)^Trott, William, UPI, Sunday Times-Sentinel, 1988-03-04, pg5
7.)^Vincent, Val, Beaver County Times, Half of Blues Brothers, 1988-02-11, pg32
8.)^Davies, Pete, Central Village Stunner: 61 Fifth Avenue Revealed, 2009-07-29,
9.)^Urban Archeology: In Search of Schrafft’s, 2006-07-20,
10.)^Moss, Jeemiah, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, 2010-12-20,
11.)^Kurutz, Steven, When There Was Water, Water Everywhere, 2006-06-11,
12.)^Brevoort, Henry". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900.
13.)^Rothman, Sandy



  1. While I can't tell you everything that went on in this building pre 1938, I do know that one of the top floors was the home and studio of artist Ben Solowey. Solowey was a representational painter who exhibited alongside Picasso, Matisse, de Kooning, and Hopper in places such as the Met, Whitney, Chicago Institute of Art. he also did charcoal portraits from life of performers on Broadway, opera, film, and dance on assignment primarily for the New York Times and Herald Tribune. You can learn more about Ben Solowey (1900 - 1978) at His wife, Rae, told me that they had to move because their building was torn down to make way for a Schraffts but I had no idea is was also the home of ht Lone Star. The Solowey archive has photos of the interior of the studio in the building.

  2. Hey, this is an awesome blog! I'm working on a project about the history of this property and neighborhood, and this was extremely helpful. Actually, for this project, I need some hard copy photos of the Lone Star Cafe, but I guess the place was around too recently for any photos to be in the public records, so I haven't been able to find anything. Do you have any hard copy photos or know where I'd be able to find some? Thanks!

  3. Thanks for your wonderful Blog.. It is greatly appreciated.. Now I can show *what I was trying to explain*

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  5. I was the original general manager of the Lone Star Cafe stating in 1976. I left a few years later and Buddy Fox took over as manager. I returned eventually as day bartender which I liked more than managing. The photo you have tagged as "Cornell Dupree 1992 + Friends. Small Stage" is definitely NOT the stage at the Lone Star Cafe on 5th and 13th. The ceiling is too low and there are no mirrors on the back wall or a staircase to the left. This photo was probably taken at the second Lone Star cafe which Mort and Bill Dick opened in the 90s on 52nd Street after they lost the lease at the downtown location.

    1. PS. Two days ago there was a reunion concert of Lone Star Cafe employees, musicians who played there and customers at B. B. Kingg's on 42nd street. It was a raucous, rocking' good time.

  6. Hi Tony,
    I've made the changes. Thanks. Is there a chance you have an interior photo?