Tuesday, April 8, 2008
When I first started at the NBA, there was a place in NYC where everyone knew your name. No matter the time, the season, the day, you knew your could find a friend or two or three at Runyons.
My longtime cohort, Brian, moved to NYC from Chicago in 1982 and spent the first few weeks of his NYC christening at the old Loews Summit hotel on Lexington Ave. in the 50s. It was walking distance from Runyons.
Joe ran the joint, along with his business partner, Jimmy. I enjoyed talking NYC high school hoops with Richie, the barkeeper. Joe always had that twinkle in his eye, usually telling a story about sports. Usually, the Yankees.
I can remember many a night, hanging with Joe, Bernadette, Gene O, and a few NBA folks. I remember running to the pay phone in the back to change flight reservations when Ralph Sampson hit that last second fling from the high post inbounds play when Houston upset the Lakers in 1986. I had the new flights set before CBS made the cut to Michael Cooper, on his back, living the agony of defeat.
I have this great feeling about a new joint that's opened its doors about a block from Boston Garden. Johnnie's on the Side has promise. It can be the 2008 version of Joe Healey's dream. Joe, himself, will just love it. Despite being a Yankees fan, Joe would be welcome every night of the week and all day Sunday, as he would share his soul with Johnnie Caron.
Mike Lupica, a BC guy, will love Johnnie's all the more. It is a place that he can go, knowing he will bump into a scribe or two, a media type or two, some good music and some great food, including a good, sizzling steak.
Read about the Runyons that Lupics loved, and think about it the next time you have a cold drink at Johnnie's on the Side in Boston.
Recalling 'Runyons: A New York Saloon'
Saturday, April 5th 2008, 11:15 PM
SAN ANTONIO - He wanted to open on St. Patrick's Day that first year, because his name was Joe Healey and his partner's name was Jimmy Costello, and he thought it was a natural for all times. But the outgoing owner of the downstairs space at 305 E. 50th wanted to get one more of St. Patrick's Day business for himself, and didn't think Healey was anywhere near getting his liquor license, anyway.
What the guy didn't know was that Joe Healey's Aunt Blanche was a commissioner on the Beverage Control Board, and there were enough people on that board who knew Healey's old man from when he was a congressman in the Bronx, and so things suddenly moved along like they were on rollerskates, as they sometimes do in the big city.
So that is how it came to be that Runyon's, which would only become the best sports saloon in the city since Toots Shor's, opened on Opening Day of 1977. And Healey, a Yankee fan who really did once go AWOL from Fort Dix to keep alive his streak of Yankee home openers, will always believe that once he got the joint opened it was destiny that his team would end up back on top that year.
"Let everybody else think it was Reggie who did it," he always said. "I know it was me."
Healey is tending bar in North Palm Beach these days and running a golf tournament down there to benefit the Boys and Girls Club in Tim Mara's name. The original Runyon's was long gone from when that crane came crashing out of the sky in such a terrible way a couple of weeks ago and killed innocent people, and also destroyed an old four-story townhouse at 305 E. 50th St., which was once an address every sports guy in town knew.
Pete Hamill has always said that there is a novel to be found on every corner of the city. The one about Runyon's, officially known as "Runyons: A New York Saloon," was at least a short story by the man it was named after.
Because there was a time when you could walk through the door on any night and find representatives from all three television networks and writers from every paper in town, could find coaches and umpires and bookies and novelists and models; could find Tim McCarver after a Mets game or the late Jimmy Karvallis when he was the play-by-play guy for the Knicks. This was the place for sports talk, the best in town, before they ever put sports talk on the radio.
Somehow, probably a trick of memory, there was always a baseball game on the televisions in the place, all year long.
There was this time, in the late 70s and 80s, where all the out-of-town newspaper men and women knew that once the game was over, they were on their way to Runyon's, where Healey even had a table that he called Table 50, in honor of the same Table 50 where Runyon sat at Sherman Billingsley's old Stork Club. This is a place and a time out of another New York, where the athletes and the media didn't think it was against the law to sit at a table with each other.
Once the awful stories were out of the newspapers about those who had lost their lives because of that crane, there began to be all these e-mails sent around by the Runyon's veterans who are still around, some of whom will toast the place this Final Four weekend in San Antonio, in one last meeting of what they always called the Irish Bouncepassers Society.
My old friend Kevin O'Malley, who ran college sports for CBS in those years, told of the time that Happy Fine and Richie O'Rourke decided they were going to Wimbledon and went out to the airport and flew to London, only to arrive and realize they were a week early.
Everybody remembers the night that an out-of-towner came in the first night of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. There was a Yankee game on one set and a Met game on the other and the guy said, "Would you mind putting the Opening Ceremonies on?" Richie Mannion, behind the bar that night, said to the guy, "We don't do parades here. Unless they've got a line on them."
George Allen, the football coach, came in for dinner one night and only ordered an apple. Little John Henderson, as much the star of the place as Healey, said, "One of our specialities," then ran out the back door and around to the market across 50th and came back with an apple for George Allen.
Jimmy the Greek showed up there after he got fired from CBS. Jack Dolph, the old commissioner of the ABA, would sometimes take a nap at his favorite table in the back room after having been slightly over-served, wake up about an hour later, say, "Catch me up," and go from there. The night of Bucky Dent's home run, we were all in the back room by 10 o'clock, back from Fenway, to watch the Cowboys and Redskins play a 9-5 game on Monday Night Football. Dave DeBusschere, a regular, would hold court about the old Knicks, and nobody would interrupt, believe me.
Now the place is officially gone forever, a landmark of mischief and memories and fun at 305 E. 50th. The last word, fittingly enough, comes from Joe Healey.
"Close out my check," he said.
See: Johnnie's on the Side