It’s a soggy January evening in 1936. You are just getting out of work and it’s 6:30pm. Stuck in a meeting with twelve other members of the sales team, the talk of goals and deadlines turned an afternoon into an evening. No chance you’re going to make it back to Connecticut in time for dinner.
After a quick apologetic call home you take out the last of your Lucky’s and think about another train ride home on an empty stomach.
Reaching for a match in your pocket, the city bus you were supposed to get on just misses sending a small typhoon over your favorite suit. The bus drives off and you’re not on it. All you are left with is a soggy cigarette in one hand and a small matchbook in the other.
Tossing the filter-less coffin nail into the gutter, you hold up the matchbook and wonder where you got it. “Oh yeah. Phil said something about this place.” Funny guy, Phil, always with an off-color joke and a jab in your ribs.
Dropping the matches from your view in the glow of the street lamp, there it is. Right across the street is Leon and Eddies night club, 33 W 52nd Street. How many times have you walked out of the office and never even noticed the place? Looking at your watch it suddenly seems reasonable that you can take the 9:10 train home instead of the 6:55. She’ll understand…
Leon and Eddie’s was one of many speakeasy-turned-nightclubs that were popular on W 52nd in New York City, a section that was know as swing street. One author even described it as “the street that never sleeps.”
Unlike other more sophisticated places, Leon and Eddie catered to the common man and this made it a popular place. On any given night one could see shows at 8, 10, 12 and 3am and as long as they could pay the cover charge of $3.50 (1946) they could expect an interesting mix of entertainment.
Amateur and professional performers, strippers, dancing girls and co-owner Eddie Davis leading most of it with his own stand up routine which consisted of bawdy songs and adult humor. Celebrity night on Sundays it was common to see well-known performers who had finished shows in other clubs come to Leon and Eddie’s and perform.
The club lasted through World War II when it was at its peak as much of the patrons were military personnel. By 1947 Leon and Eddie had dissolved their partnership and the the club closed in 1953. A restaurant was opened up by former manager and bouncer Toots Shor on the same location which lasted until 1971. The site eventually became a discotheque in the 1970’s and was torn down for a glass tower in 1982.
-and all that because I found a matchbook in a desk drawer in Danbury, Connecticut.
Thanks to Jeremiah Moss for much of the facts on Leon and Eddies and the menu, from his blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.