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.


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


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


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

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comments: 14

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 -

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,
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: 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.