Iwalked New York City’s P.J. Clarke’s – P.J. Clarke’s is a historic New York City saloon which has serviced after work patrons and many more since 1884. The current restaurant/bar is named for one of its former owners, an Irish immigrant named Patrick J. Clarke. Clarke was not the original owner though. He spent approximately ten years working here before he acquired the business from the prior owners and renamed the saloon.
The building is rather nondescript looking as a two-story brick box, but it is the history that draws many patrons here. It was here that Buddy Holly first proposed to Maria Elena Santiago in 1958 on the couple’s first date. Other famous regulars have included Jackie Kennedy Onassis who would bring her children here for lunch, and Frank Sinatra who had his own designated table (number 20) for his frequent visits.
P.J. Clarke’s building is a holdout from construction of the 47-story scraper which neighbors it at 919 Third Avenue. During the skyscraper’s construction in the late 1960’s the top two floors of P.J. Clarke’s had to be removed from its original four-story structure. Now inside the top floor (on the second level) is a separate semi-private dining area called the Sidecar. The Sidecar is a bit more formal than the ground floor bar which still features a historic flavor with its wood-paneled walls, tin ceiling and chalkboard menu. A relatively new addition to the ground level is its raw bar where you can now get fresh oysters. If oysters are not your thing, P.J. Clarke’s is best known for its bacon cheeseburger, suitably dubbed “The Cadillac.”
The historic saloon underwent some financial difficulties in early 2002 when it actually shut down for a period of time. Just when many feared that P.J. Clarke’s may go the way of other historic pubs such as Chumley’s, an investor group swooped in to save it just a year later. Amongst the names in the celebrity-ridden investment group were the likes of George Steinbrenner, Timothy Hutton and Bernie Madoff (prior to his 2008 arrest at least).
The locale here at 913 Third Avenue is the original P.J. Clarke’s location, although the saloon’s popularity has spawned a small franchise. Currently there are two additional locations here in New York (near Lincoln Center Plaza and the World Trade Center) and sites in Chicago, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., and Sao Paulo, Brazil. When asked about plans for further expansion in January 2010, its owners commented that no significant plans were underway although there is a potential Boston franchise on the horizon.
Lastly, those who frequent our tours know that we like to help our listeners recall instances of popular culture via sites visited on our walks. P.J. Clarke’s has both appeared and been referenced on multiple occasions as a popular watering hole in the television series Mad Men. Movie fans may recall a team of bartenders from P.J. Clarke’s in an intense competition versus the Coyote Ugly team in 2002. And hard core fans of the Dave Matthews Band may recognize an unreleased track from the 2005 album Stand Up, titled, “Stolen Away on 55th & 3rd.” This song is reportedly about a former love interest that Dave Matthews met in the bar.