Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Former Maxwell's Plum

The newly opened Falk Surgical Supplies.
Falk Surgical on 64th and 1st.
The flamboyant interior of Maxwell's Plum in its heyday.
TGI Friday's circa 1970.
Baker Street today.
A close-up of the new sign.
Recently a store called Falk Surgical Supplies opened up on the southwest corner of 64th and 1st in a building that was sitting empty for what seemed like a couple of years.  From 1966-88, that building was Maxwell's Plum, a flashily decorated bar and restaurant which followed T.G.I. Friday's one block south, opened the previous year, as the first-ever singles bars, where young, single twenty-somethings can meet and mingle.  Before these places opened up, bars were strickly old-man hangouts.  Places like P.J. Clarke's and McSorley's were not for schmoozing.  Opening up a place for young people to socialize was a new concept in the '60s, which is hard to believe because now there's a singles bar on practically every block in the city.

Mervin LeRoy, the owner of Maxwell's, also opened up the world-famous Tavern on the Green in Central Park, which closed just recently, and TGI Friday's founder Alan Stillman later opened Smith & Wolenski's Steakhouse on 49th and 3rd.  Stillman didn't know anyone named Smith or Wolenski, instead he got the names out of a phonebook.  LeRoy faired well in the city for decades, boasting such regulars as Cary Grant, Barbara Streisand and Warren Beatty, but didn't have much luck in other cities.  A second Maxwell's Plum opened in San Francisco in 1981 at a cost of $7 million but soon closed.  His Potomac Restaurant in Washington, DC, the largest in the city's history, opened at a cost of $9 million but closed shortly thereafter.  As much as LeRoy tried, he was never able to duplicate the popularity and glamour that his bar/restaurant on 64th and 1st enjoyed throughout the '60s and '70s.  The restaurant's ultimate demise came in the '80s, when its food-to-value ratio deteriorated.  An average dinner, once around $10 had shot up to around $40-$50.  As newer fashionable singles' spots were shooting up all over the city, snatching up many of LeRoy's customers, the restaurant struggled to regain its food image.  In the process the menu veered all over, from continental, French, Californian, and American, to a confusing blend of all of these.   The iconic bar/restaurant, once a niche in and of itself, was long past its prime in July 1988 and abruptly closed.

TGI Friday's, on the other hand, moved out to bigger, better quarters in 1989, and now has locations all over the world (although it is known as a family-themed restaurant now rather than a singles bar).  The original Friday's on the corner of 63rd and 1st is now another pub/restaurant called Baker Street, which still boasts itself as the place where Tom Cruise trained to become a bartender in the 1988 movie Cocktail.  Baker Street has maintained much of the basic layout of the original Friday's and some of the Tiffany windows are still on display.  The Maxwell's Plum building, however, is now completely unrecognizable as Falk Surgical Supplies.  Left behind are the ghosts of a block on the Upper East Side that introduced the singles' scene to New York City.  Since the days of 63rd to 64th Streets on 1st Avenue in the 1960s, the entire city has taken a novel idea and run with it.