Al Hirschfeld and the Wonderful Old Bars (Speakeasies, Really) of New York City

Written by admin on November 14, 2017
Al Hirschfeld speakeasies 1932

Al Hirschfeld, The Speakeasies of 1932

Al Hirschfeld is undoubtedly one of my all-time favorite artists. I acquainted myself with his work when I was just a kid; I saw it on “Broadway Cast” album covers that my dad was sent by record companies when he was GM of a local radio station. They sent him everything, from lousy pop stuff to the best, and comedy albums aplenty, but that’s another story.

We’re talking Hirschfeld here. Al Hirschfeld, master caricaturist, fine cartoon artiste, The Line King himself. He was one of the all-time greats.

His career spanned nine decades, from the 1920s to the early 2000s, and he drew the players in all the arts. Caricatured them, really. The Marx Brothers, Earnest Hemingway, Mae West, Duke Ellington, Katherine Hepburn, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Marlon Brando, Elvis, Sidney Poitier, Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, Mary Martin, Julie Andrews, George and Gracie, JohnPaulGeorge&Ringo, JerryElaineGeorge&Kramer, Jack Benny, Benny Goodman, the Andrew Sisters, Aerosmith. The list goes on. Al Hirschfeld worked professionally longer than most people even LIVE.

Anyway, this book attracts me because I’ve written about a lot New York bars of today, many of which will be long gone in 70 years, if not 70 days (the way lease-related things are going in New York). Why am I so attracted? Nostalgia for a time I never experienced? Topical minutia? Good old New York history? Yes, yes, and yes, and also: AL freaking HIRSCHFELD. I love that guy.

al hirschfeld caricatures

Collage of Al Hirschfeld caricatures I put together from a retrospective at the New-York Historical Society

And here’s a little about the book from

When Manhattan joints were hung out to dry, the Booze-oizie sniveled, then pirouetted on their stools to find reasonably palatable Speakeasy facsimiles. These Prohibition hangouts each had their own flavor, decorum, decor and formula for ducking the law. Each found its own alcoholic substratum: its own inimitable characters behind, at and under the bar. Fear not all has not been lost to the repeal of the 18th Amendment, Starbucks corporate latte, and the wrecking ball. One intoxicating artifact remains, a book of lustrous vintage Al Hirschfeld’s The Speakeasies of 1932, wherein Hirschfeld nails these dipsomaniacal outposts with his pen and brush in the manner of a dour Irish bartender sizing up a troublesome souse.


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