Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Years, The Stork Club and Chicken à la Walter Winchell

Stork Club at New Years in the 1950s by artist Albert Dorne (1906-65)

No matter how much I love ancient history and food, there’s something about New Years that makes me think New York City and the golden age of the nightclub.

How about a little eye candy for my New Year's present to you before a bit of background on the Stork Club?

Ah, The Stork Club. Its rooms overflowed with celebrities. I really don’t think there’s any modern correlative in New York.

In the 70’s there was Studio 54 but since then, it’s been a long run of ‘flavor of the month’ clubs that have the shelf life of raspberries on a hot day. The Stork Club was hot from the mid-30’s through the mid-1950’s –– a 20 year run.

Ernest Hemingway, Spencer Tracy and George Jessel

Ava Gardner

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

Judy Garland and Vincent Minnelli

JFKennedy and Jackie Kennedy

Elizabeth Taylor and her parents

Frank Sinatra and his wife and children

Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dimaggio

The Stork Club began in 1929 when a man named Sherman Billingsley got together with a couple of swells and started the place on 58th Street. It really got going when it moved to its final resting place at 3 East 53rd street in 1934. Within 2 years it was taking in a million a year.

Stork Club Ladies Room 

In 1946, Billingsley bought the building and spent $200G on renovations putting in the Cub Room and $25G a year keeping the place up to snuff (including the installation of the women’s room with the famous fan wallpaper and striped seats).

The men’s room was unusual, or should I say men’s rooms, plural. Billingsley didn’t like the idea of an unpleasantly oderiferous men’s room so only urinals were in the downstairs men’s room. You had to go up a few flights to sit on a toilet in the #2 room.

The Blessed Event Room was terribly popular as was the Cub Room -- also referred to as “The Snub Room”.

The Cub Room with Orson Welles in left front

Billingsley ruled the place like a potentate. There were laws that had to be obeyed ‘or else’ (the kitchen was full of warning signs – and with the exception of the beloved Jack Spooner, employees were told if a person was known by the employee, they had no business in the club) but he was also generous -- bestowing 100G in gifts every year to his favored patrons.

I read in a great article in Life Magazine  that he had a waiter whose only job was to light Ethel Merman’s cigarette, and he also had a man who followed him discretely throughout the evening and interpreted his hand signals:

“Bring a round of drinks to these folks.”
“Get them out and don’t let them come in again.”

“Call me to the phone, I want to get away from this table.”

“No check for this table, I’ve got it.”

The Stork Club was one heck of a place that was pretty much divided between those who were seen and those that did the seeing –– either fans or professional gossips.

The biggest of the professional gossips was a fellow named Walter Winchell (1897-1972) – his rival Ed Sullivan had court at El Morocco.

Winchell was the king of gossip columnists of New York. His radio show was the top top rated show in America. “Another New York nightclub owner named Tex Guinan (Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan) introduced Billingsley to her friend, the entertainment and gossip columnist Walter Winchell in 1930. In Winchell's column in the New York Daily Mirror, he once called the Stork Club "New York's New Yorkiest place on W. 58th” He was there nearly every night at table 50.

Winchell’s radio shows and columns helped to make the Stork Club what it was. He reported on who was doing what in the club and kept the buzz on high.

Being the voice of the Stork Club had its perks. His favorite Stork Club dishes were named after him and put on the menu.

The first was Winchell’s chicken Hamburger (recipe in the article above). The second was Chicken a la Walter Winchell. It’s an insider joke because it is made with turkey not chicken. I found the recipe on a fun site by the grandson of the famous Jack Spooner who was the gate-keeper captain of the Stork Club. He knew everyone and was much loved.

The recipe is comfort food at it’s finest and a superlative way to get rid of the last of the holiday turkey and ham. The sauce couldn’t be better and its little beard of broccoli brightens the dish perfectly (it's a good addition to my Creative Cooking Crew Challenge too -- what to do with leftovers!)

I also include the famous Stork Club Punch that packs quite a wallop.

Don’t despair, on January 1st, put your ice bag on you head, relax for a few hours and prepare this for your New Year’s Day treat.


Chicken à la Walter Winchell (there is no chicken in it) Serves 4

8 thick slices of roast turkey (or deli slices) – chicken works just as well, of course
4 thick slices ham (or deli slices)
6 -12 spears of cooked broccoli, sliced
1 ½ T butter
1 ½ T flour
1 ½ c light cream + ½ c milk (OR 1 c cream and 1 cup milk)
2 egg yolks
1 Tb hollandaise sauce (add a squeeze of lemon juice to 1 T of softened butter if you don’t have hollandaise hanging around)
1 ½ T prepared mustard
½ t salt
pepper to taste
2 T heavy cream


Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in flour. Heat and gradually add cream and milk. Stir over low heat till mixture thickens and simmer 5 minutes.

Stir some of the mixture into two beaten egg yolks.

Return egg mixture to saucepan and heat a few minutes longer.

Stir in 1 T of Hollandaise sauce (or lemon and butter), 1 ½ tbs. of prepared mustard, salt, pepper and heavy cream

Warm the meat and broccoli in a covered dish in a low oven. Remove and heat the broiler.

Alternate slices of roast turkey and baked ham on a broiler pan Top with broccoli. Spoon sauce over meat and broil till heated through and bubbly – just a few minutes.

From 1944 NYTs:


1 1/3 cups orange juice
1 1/3 cups pineapple juice
1 1/3 cups lemon or lime juice
1/2 bottle Jamaica rum
1/2 bottle Bacardi rum
1/3 bottle domestic maraschino liqueur
1/3 cherry brandy
Sliced orange and lemons or limes.
Slice fresh pineapple, if available
Canned cherries

Mix ingredients, except slices fruit and cherries, in a large bowl, then pour into a punch bowl containing a big piece of ice. Add the sliced fruit in amounts to taste—there can be as much or as little as you like. Serve with bread and butter sandwiches or simple cookies. This makes a quantity sufficient for twenty.

The Creative Cooking Crew Roundup will be at the end of the month.  Links up then!

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ArchitectDesign™ said...

It does sound pretty yummy! Glamour is sadly missing from our society we have the Kardashians and people going out in public /traveling in their pajamas. Oh for the days of the Stork.....
Happy New Year!

lindaraxa said...

That recipe reminds me of turkey divan which was very popular in the 50's & 60's. Loved the part about the hand signals, hadn't seen that before!

Happy New Year!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

GOOD MORNING Deana! I am finally here, after spending a morning booking a flight to California for June and talking a fine walk in the snow. What fun it was to scroll down, see famous iconic faces, read about how this famous place got started, and end up with yet another great recipe. Deana, thank you for coming to visit, for always making a recipe into a poetic adventure. Wishing you a happy new year of health and dreams fulfilled! Anita

Barbara said...

Such fabulous photos Deana! Love reading about those days...that kind of glamour is pretty much lost. Such a fun post for the new year!
Wishing you the best for 2015!

Painting the hamptons said...

I can't think of any place in NYC now that has the equivalent reputation of the Stork Club. Great stuff. Happy New Year!

Frank said...

I'm curious to try Damon Runyon's dish as described in that clipping you've posted...

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and visit that era for a while. Just a while—with all its problems, I'm happy to be living in our own times—but long enough to see places like the Stork Club, 125th St, Broadway, hear the greats like Billy Holiday sing and even head out to the outer boroughs to see how life was lived back in the day.

PS: I never realized that Ed Sullivan got his start as a newspaper columnist! That's what I love your posts, Deana, there's always at least one fascinating "I never knew that" tibdit.

Rhodesia said...

I just love those first pictures with not a straight wall in sight. Our house is wonky but not that visible from the outside :-) Great recipes as well. Hope you have a wonderful 2015 Diane

LaDivaCucina said...

This was a great blog post because I actually love the idea of clubs at this time in history, so glamorous and refined, I really enjoyed it. It's a feat that Billingsley was able to fill up all of those spaces in the club for so long, that's amazing. And I remember stories about Walter Winchell and the Stork Club, too. The dish with the veal chop sounds very much like a play on paprikash. Love your dish too, very comforting and more-ish.

Pamela S. said...

Truth: That 2nd signal,”Get them out & don’t let them come in again”, was used by Billingsley for African-American celebrities such as Lena Horne and Josephine Baker.

Pamela S. said...

Truth: That 2nd signal,”Get them out & don’t let them come in again”, was used by Billingsley for African-American celebrities such as Lena Horne and Josephine Baker.