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.

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May 20, 2020: A Fordham alum left a link to a 1981 Ram article about Nick DeMaio and the El D. Thanks!

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May 21: Another alum found a 1978 Ram article with a photo of Nick DeMaio. Thanks!

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May 22: Here are photographs of the Eldorado and Nick DeMaio, from The Ram, April 20, 1978. The photographer’s name is Joe Spinosa.

[Click either image for a larger view.]

And one more from The Ram, September 24, 1981. The photographer’s name is Dean Donahue.

[Click for a larger view.]

These scans of newspaper pages replace less distinct images from the online Ram. Many thanks to Jeannie Hoag, Reference & Assessment Librarian, and Vivian Shen, Archives Librarian, both of Fordham University.

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January 29, 2022: And here, courtesy of Neil M. (FC ’85), is a photograph of the El D BAR sign, which he and fellow students salvaged after the building was razed and brought to a campus residence. More on that in the comments.

[Click for a larger view.]

Thanks, Neil.

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January 31: Two more photographs, with the El D making cameo appearances, to the right of the Third Avenue El, or what then remained of the El. Look for the building with the slanting roof and the two-tone wall: 1, 2. And two more — 1, 2. Look for the wall. Thanks again, Neil.

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And one more.

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February 1: And now, at long last, the Eldorado is ready for its close-up:

[4762 Third Avenue, Bronx, New York, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

I tried tracking down a tax photograph by checking the 1940 telephone directory, which had no listing for the Eldorado. Without a street address, the bar cannot be found via Street View of 1940s New York, as its address no longer exists (what was 4762 is now part of the massive Fordham Plaza). But if you have a street address to type in, you’ll find the Eldorado in Street View or in the Municipal Archives (albeit as 4764).

Credit for finding the 4762 address (in a 1974 telephone directory) and the tax photograph goes to Steven Payne, librarian and archivist at The Bronx County Historical Society, who responded to Neil’s inquiries in a tremendously helpful way. Many thanks to Neil and Steven.

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February 7: But wait — there’s more Here’s the Eldorado in film footage of the Bronx portion of the Third Avenue El. There’s some Fordham scenery beginning at 1:50. Pick up again at 10:20 and you’ll see the two-tone wall of the El D at 10:36.

More Bronx tales
Elvis pretzels : The Bronx and Fordham in Naked City

comments: 16

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.

anne fc82 said...

oh, the El D. I wasn't a pub girl, so collegial places like the lantern had no attraction for me.

but the El D, with vast expanse, the glaring neon light, the movie posters (including barbarella) that decorated the place. and of course, the occasional baby jesuits at the bar. loved it. it was like stepping into a hopper painting.

mark de maio was in my class - was he possibly also related to the El D owner?

Michael Leddy said...

Anne, thanks for sharing your El D recollections here. Facebook users have linked to this post several times; maybe Mark DeMaio, if he’s out there, will see it.

Tom Keating said...

My friends and I frequented the LD/El D in the early 70's. Most of the time it was strangely empty, but there were some times when it was rockin'. I recall posters of people like Van Morrison, The Doors, and yes, Barbarella, as mentioned in an earlier post. NIck was an icon. None of us went to Fordham though three of us were catholic high school refugees who graduated Spellman in 1971 (where I believe one of our classmates was Mark Leddy, though I suppose there's no connection to the blog author?) We all left for Oregon in September 1974, so visits became less frequent. Fond if somewhat hazy memories. Thanks for your original post.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for sharing your memories, Tom.

No, no relation to Mark Leddy here.

Elmo. Fc'82 said...

It looks like no one posted a link to the 1981 ram article - here it is -https://digital.library.fordham.edu/digital/collection/RAM/id/15275/rec/1

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the link, fellow alum. I’m wondering why I never found that article. Maybe The Ram archive has better search now? Maybe the article hadn’t yet been digitized? So many great details of a lost world in there, and it still blows my mind to think that Nick DeMaio was tending bar during Prohibtion.

Tim said...

There was also an article about Nick (with a picture) in the 4/20/1978 Ram, https://digital.library.fordham.edu/digital/collection/RAM/id/15275/rec/1.
He was quite a character. The El D was big hangout for the Mimes in the late 70's and early 80's. The whole cast and crew would usually celebrate opening night there. Fun times.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, Tim. That’s the link to the 1981 article. The ’78 article you found is here: https://digital.library.fordham.edu/digital/collection/RAM/id/14126. And that is indeed the man I saw tending bar. I’ll add the link to the post.

Anonymous said...

Don't ask how I found myself here. Curiosity about a place long ago. I remember the El D. I visited there in 81 or so before going to college at Fordham. It's blury now about going there freshman year in 82. Just impression like I have of Clarke's and the Lantern which were big for me. I believe older students really liked the place in Martyrs Court. What I can say is that the original sign back found it's way back to Martyrs Court-third floor-storage closet or just out in the open after the wrecking ball came. It was there for sometime until someone came to take it or claim it. That would have been in either 83 or 84. It's like looking a a mirage now. Was that time real in the Bronx. So long ago. Enjoy all.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the recollections, Anon. There are a handful of other posts with Fordham environs here. I always like revisiting the Bronx, in person (not for some time now) or in photos or in Google Maps.

Anonymous said...

[img] https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51850440531_9143514213_o_d.jpg[/img]
Yes, that IS the sheet metal BAR sign from the outside front of the Eldorado (hopefully I got the photo HTML code right for display). Referred to as the "El D" by Fordham students graced to have been born into the right generation and to have pilgrimaged to the "House that Nick DeMaio built." It was the first Fordham bar most of us went to as freshmen, back when the drinking age was still 18. A bottle of Bud cost only 85 cents as I remember. We were juniors in 1983 living in Martyrs Court Suite C8, that glorious Fordham era when eight students could live on campus apartment-style, share both a bathroom and large living room together and become friends for life. And it was that fall that the El D was demolished on a sunny day, the last building to unceremoniously be taken down on that barren Bronx block. Today the hideous Fordham Plaza building towers on the site. The day the El D went down was the day we got the BAR sign. I don't quite remember how we circumvented the construction site fence to get to it, or how we ended up being the first ones to go after it, but it was practically sitting on top of the fresh debris pile of that storied saloon. We carried it into campus like pallbearers. Because Fordham charged a big fee to clean up cluttered suites at semester end we squeezed the sign into an open utility closet in the outside hallway. Maybe it would survive hidden that way through the summer to be displayed in honor again by future students moving into Martyrs. But Fordham most certainly disposed of this historic treasure well before classes resumed in September. I wish we had worked harder at saving it somehow. It would have looked really great in Dagger John's.
-Neil M, FC ’85

Michael Leddy said...

Holy smokes! Thanks for sharing the link here. I’ll add it to this (often visited) post to make it more findable — it’s too good to only be in the comments.