THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Joe Allen opened his eponymous restaurant on West 46th Street in New York in 1965. At that time, the location was dubious to say the least. It was a mad mix of theatre, gay culture and the notorious Hell’s Kitchen, a neighbourhood known for drugs and prostitution. New York bohemia in its heyday. It quickly became known as “The” place for the Broadway crowd to hang out and soon thereafter, a hot spot for stargazing. It also became famous for adorning its walls with posters of Broadway flops. For some, this became a rite of passage. For others, pride in the fact that they never had a poster at Joe’s.
The classic American bistro concept found happy homes in Paris and London, both of which still exist under new ownership. As well, Mr. Allen opened the successful restaurant Orso and Bar Centrale in the New York theatre district.
Joe was known for knowing everybody on Broadway. He dated Chita Rivera and Elaine Stritch and rubbed elbows with stars and celebs for over 5 decades. He was also a very quiet man. Perhaps that is why he survived for so long.
Joe Allen personifies a bygone era. Now, with the theatre and hospitality industry on its knees, let’s hope it isn’t gone forever.
I love the theatre and when moved to London I learned thru a friend I could see plays and musicals at a far lower price if I went in the afternoon. As I lived on Lower Belgrave Street and it was easy walking to the theatre district I often went by myself or with my actress friend Maxine. One day alone in London I came across Joe Allen’s.
Having eaten in Joe Allen’s in New York I stopped there and had their fish cakes. They were as good as in Allen’s restaurant in New York City. After a while, whenever I entered a waiter called out, “Fish cakes?” and I replied, “Always.”
One day, alone, I was eating the fish cakes when a man sat down on the chair across from me and asked, ”Didn’t you eat fish cakes in my restaurant in New York and I replied, “Always.” After that the fish cakes would arrive, sometimes with an extra one that I wrapped up and took home to enjoy that evening.
I had no idea who he was at first until I finally asked and the waiter replied, “Joe Allen.” We never had a long conversation but it’s one of those memories I still recall, as I do looking for the end of the rainbow with my grandfather. Life is a patchwork of memories made up of simple pleasure that mean nothing to anyone but you, as I‘ve learned with each passing year.
And I never eat fishcakes anywhere, be it Singapore or Australia or anywhere else in the world, without thinking of Joe Allen. Sadly, I don’t have his recipe and if someone does, please send to me via The American!