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This landmark restaurant opened in 1921 and quickly became a legendary Broadway watering hole. Once the nightspot of choice for the stars of the Great White Way, Sardi's still attracts occasional live celebrity clients to accompany the numerous caricature portraits that line its walls. The restaurant covers four full floors, but those looking for stronger drinks and star sightings should head downstairs to the bar.
Enjoy a pre or post-theater meal and immerse yourself in the stories of the four celebrity caricature artists that have worked at Sardi's. How many caricatures can you recognize?
Born in 1900 in Kazan, Russia, Alex Gard immigrated to the U.S. in 1924 and began creating cartoons for The New Yorker magazine and the New York Herald-Tribune's Sunday drama section. Meanwhile, Vincent Sardi was trying to drum up business for his then-struggling restaurant. He wanted to make Sardi's a gathering place for celebrities and celebrity fans and decided that employing a caricature artist to capture their famous faces would bring in customers. His idea came from a French restaurant, Zelli's, that displayed walls of movie star caricatures. In 1927 he hired Alex Gard and paid him in meals (one per day), a deal that was formalized in his contract with the restaurant.
In addition to creating over 700 drawings for the restaurant, Gard continued to contribute cartoons to newspapers and magazines and also painted theatrical sets. He worked at Sardi's until his death in 1948. Some of the celebrities who sat for him included Tallulah Bankhead, Fannie Brice, Katherine Hepburn, Eddie Cantor and Al Capone.
Gard was succeeded by John Mackey who had the shortest tenure at Sardi's. Little information exists about his short time here, but we do know that some of his subjects included playwright Arthur Miller and actor Eddie Albert.
Don Bevan was born in Massachusetts in 1920. In 1942 he served as a soldier in England, where he put his artistic skills to use decorating the noses of B17 Bombers and drawing portraits of fellow soldiers. Bevan was a multi-talented artist who also enjoyed writing. He started his theater career as a playwright and co-wrote the hit "Stalag 17" with Edmund Trzcinski; the piece was inspired by their war experiences. It opened in May 1951 and ran for over a year with a total of 472 performances. The show won a Tony for Best Director, and William Holden won an Oscar for Best Actor in the movie adaptation directed by Billy Wilder.
Bevan was introduced to Sardi during the early 1950s by his playwright father-in-law, Jack Kirkland. Some of his early caricatures were disliked by his subjects, and one was stolen by Maureen Stapleton to remove it from public view. However, he turned out to be a big success drawing Ingrid Bergman, Leonard Bernstein, Carol Burnett, George Burns, and Raymond Burr. He retired in 1974.
Richard Baratz was born in Brooklyn and started drawing caricatures as a student at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Mr. Sardi held a competition to find his next caricaturist. When Mr. Baratz auditioned for the job, he reported being nervous having never met a celebrity before. He had to do Bette Midler's caricature and bombed. She hated it so much she wouldn't even sign it, which was a requirement for the image to be hung at the restaurant. But Mr. Sardi saw something in Baratz and hired him despite Ms. Midler's reaction. Baratz started drawing for the restaurant in 1974. Since then he made his renderings more realistic. His drawings are so flattering, in fact, that some have characterized his works as portraiture rather than caricature.
Baratz, who works for Sardis to this day, estimates that he does about 20 drawings a year. Some of them have included Richard Burton, Mathew Broderick, Tyne Daly, Robert De Niro, Christine Ebersole, Daniel Radcliffe, and Bob Fosse.
Cover photo credit: Alan Light via Flickr