Friday, July 31, 2009

Nick DeMaio and the Eldorado

A Bronx tale, of Fordham University and environs:

[T]he one nostalgic oasis of civility in the neighborhood was the old Eldorado Bar on Third Avenue, right under the Third Avenue El. The El was scheduled for demolition by 1972. The bar, which had been a tavern since 1890, had a high, plank ceiling supported by a row of wooden posts, with the big rotating fans that later became fashionable in Manhattan watering holes. It had a pool table with a ripped felt cover, and it served Italian hero sandwiches and hamburgers thrown together in a dingy kitchen in the back. The proprietor was Nick DeMaio, five-foot-six and stocky, in his late seventies, wearing a tie and sometimes an apron. He muttered unintelligible wisdom in a gruff voice with a cigar butt stuck in the side of his mouth.

Nick had bought the place in 1922. Faking it as a flower shop in front, the place had been a speakeasy during Prohibition, but more than anything, with its long, solid mahogany bar and the mirror behind it, it resembled a saloon in the cowboy movies.

Raymond A. Schroth, Fordham: A History and Memoir (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2002), 326.
I’m happy to know something about the Eldorado, or the El D, as it was called, a bar I visited but once, with two friends, in the summer of 1981. The place was vast, like an empty stage, with a dull, smooth wood floor. The only people were my friends and I, some tough customers at the pool table, and the proprietor, a little old man wearing a white shirt, a black tie, a brown cigar, and a barkeeper’s apron. The guy was a throwback, as my daughter Rachel would say. He must have been Nick DeMaio.

The Social Security Death Index lists one Nicholas DeMaio whose dates (1898–1993) and last residence (in the Bronx, just a short ride from the bar) make for the likely proprietor of the El D. I’m amazed to think that I was likely ordering beers from a man who had been serving them during Prohibition.

More Bronx tales
Elvis pretzels
Naked Bronx

comments: 4

Anonymous said...

His grandson used to tend bar there sometimes in the early 80's. We called him "Doc" - I can't remember his real name. Nick was a truly unforgettable character. I loved the El Dorado, and it's wonderful to learn more about its history.

Michael Leddy said...

I’m glad that you found this post, Anon.

Mich said...

Nick DeMaio is my great uncle. His sister is my grandmother. How I stumbled upon this link is a long story but I actually have the original Ram newspaper article about Nick written in the 80's. I also went to Fordham and Nick was well known to many of the students. In fact, I was a minor celebrity because of the connection. There are many family stories about the speakeasy days, including how they delivered their wares using the false bottom of my dad’s baby coach ( very large in those days).

[I've added Mich's comment here, as it was appended to an unrelated post.]

Michael Leddy said...

Mich, I’m glad that you found your way to this post. If you could share a copy of the Ram article, I’d be really grateful. My e-mail address is in the blog sidebar, under the photograph.