the mayor of broadway

A Very Important New Yorker died a few days ago.
Vincent Sardi Jr., who owned and managed Sardi's restaurant, his father's theater-district landmark, for more than half a century and became, by wide agreement, the unofficial mayor of Broadway, died yesterday at a hospital in Berlin, Vt. He was 91 and had lived in Warren, Vt., since retiring in 1997.

The cause was complications of a urinary tract infection, said Sean Ricketts, a grandson and manager at the restaurant.

Mr. Sardi ran one of the world's most famous restaurants, a Broadway institution as central to the life of the theater as actors, agents and critics. It was, the press agent Richard Maney once wrote, "the club, mess hall, lounge, post office, saloon and marketplace of the people of the theater."

Mr. Sardi understood theater people, loved them and was loved in return. He carried out-of-work actors, letting them run up a tab until their ship came in. (At one point, Sardi's maintained 600 such accounts.)

He attended every show and made sure his headwaiters did the same, so that they could recognize even bit players and make a fuss over them. At times, he exercised what he called "a fine Italian hand," seating a hungry actor near a producer with a suitable part to cast.

He commiserated with his patrons when a show failed, and rejoiced with them when the critics were kind. He distributed favors, theater tickets and food, rode on horseback with the local police, and acted as a spokesman, official and unofficial, for the theater district.
In my theatre days, I was part of the waiting-in-Sardi's-for-the-reviews ritual a few times, in the company of many Very Famous People. It was hugely fun and brought a great sense of belonging and community (despite that it was a community to which I never truly belonged!). Sardi's Restaurant is a tourist haunt now, but on Opening Night, it is still the centre of the universe.

Vincent Sardi Jr's obituary is a fascinating piece of New York City history.

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