Sardi’s is a 1927-founded restaurant serving mixed cuisine, the birthplace of the Tony Award, a pre- and post-theatre hang-out, and a location for opening night parties. Several caricatures of show-business celebrities adorn its walls.
Vincent Sardi, Sr. (1885-1969) was born as Melchiore Pio Vincenzo Sardi. He and his wife Eugenia (“Jenny”) Pallera opened their first eatery, The Little Restaurant, at 146 West 44th Street in 1921. When that building was slated for demolition in 1926, they accepted an offer from the theatre magnates, the Shubert brothers, to relocate to a new building the brothers were erecting down the block. The new restaurant, Sardi’s, opened March 5, 1927.
When business slowed after the move, Vincent Sardi was looking for a gimmick to attract customers. Recalling the film star caricatures that decorated the walls of Joe Zelli’s, a Parisian restaurant and jazz club, Sardi decided to recreate that effect in his establishment. He hired a Russian refugee named Alex Gard (1900–1948) to do drawings of Broadway celebrities. Sardi and Gard drew up a contract that stated that Gard would make the caricatures in exchange for one meal per day at the restaurant. The first official caricature by Gard was of Ted Healy, the vaudevillian of Three Stooges fame. When Sardi’s son, Vincent Sardi, Jr. (1915–2007), took over restaurant operations in 1947, he offered to change the terms of Gard’s agreement. Gard refused and continued to draw the caricatures in exchange for meals until his death. Alex Gard, who created more than 700 caricatures for the restaurant, died in 1948.
After Gard, John Mackey took over drawing for the restaurant but was soon replaced by Don Bevan. Bevan did the drawings until 1974 when he retired, and was replaced by Brooklyn-born Richard Baratz, a banknote and certificate engraver by profession. Living in Pennsylvania, Baratz continues to the present day as the Sardi’s caricaturist. Currently, there are more than 1,300 celebrity caricatures on display.
Sardi’s was the birthplace of the Tony Award. After the death of Antoinette Perry in 1946, her partner, theatrical producer and director, Brock Pemberton, was eating lunch at Sardi’s when he came up with the idea of a theatre award to be given in Perry’s honour. Perry was a famous actress, director and co-founder of the American Theatre Wing, a New York City-based organization “dedicated to supporting excellence and education in theatre”, as its mission statement declares.
For many years Sardi’s was the location of the announcement of the Tony Award nominations. Vincent Sardi, Sr. received a special Tony Award in 1947, the first year of the awards, for “providing a transient home and comfort station for theatre folk at Sardi’s for 20 years.” In 2004, Vincent Sardi, Jr. received a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre. Sardi’s is the venue for the presentation of the Outer Critics Circle Awards, as well as many other Broadway events, press conferences and celebrations.