I am thinking that “The Sun” reporter’s article below on the closing of Mike Lyon’s 24 hour restaurant has got more details in it than others including the NYT regarding the close of the one-time center of Tammany Hall lunch time and dinner time meals and political strategy sessions – those official and unofficial sessions being for the most part in the last decades of the nineteenth century.
The Sun reporter may or may not have been better connected to Tammany politics than others.
A few factors I am aware of probably put Lyon’s off the main track of good basic eats on the Bowery by January 1907.
Mainly, the entertainment center shifted up north to its present and seemingly final place around 42nd Street and Times Square. No more open real estate to following a shifting population in the once open spaces of the island. The Opera House, the “Academy of Music” kept up entertainment and vaudeville after the new
Metropolitan Opera House opened in 1883 at 39th and Broadway – becoming the only main opera house in town – with the high brows going further uptown and staying up there for their champagne midnight suppers but not at Lyons’.
A lot of theaters started to migrate over the last two decades of the nineteenth century from around the east end of fourteenth street up Broadway and ending around the Longacre Square area, renamed later, and then the new New York Times building that was built as the centerpiece of this new “Times” Square wrapping itself around this anchor building on the southern end of that confluence of Seventh Avenue and Broadway at 42nd Street, that is btw not a square at all but more like the shape of a hour glass.
The news reporters hung around Lyons' of the old days to rub elbows with the Tammany men down from Tammany Hall on fourteenth in a building next to the old Academy of Music. The Tammany men were more likely to be in the vicinity of the old Police HQ at 300 Mulberry Street, about four blocks from Lyon’s.
Where better to hang out for politicians than at Police HQ in a very corrupt town. That all came to an end with the Lexow State Committee probe of NYC police corruption 1894-1895 and with reformer types like Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt at the same time who made good press on his appearance of making headway fighting the corruption of Tammany within the police force.
That and a new Police Headquarters to open in 1909 would push the cop lunch traffic another five blocks further south. In its day at Lyon’s, plain clothes cops and reporters along with tourists to the Bowery filled Lyon’s eatery twenty four hours a day.
With being an all-night restaurant is was not that inconvenient to grab a cab down from after the theater or opera on 14th street and pop a few corks of champagne at midnight or 2 A.M. etc.
The front door was never locked for something like thirty years until they started to close at midnight, in its last year or two in business. The subway further west near Broadway could carry what was left of the newspaper business and its reporters centered around City Hall downtown, next to the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge - carry them uptown and faster than in streetcars and toward the new center of communication and NYC energy at Times Square.
There was also the telephone as a new means of communication – no need to sit and talk person to person or over a fried veal chop to get details on deals at city hall.
At five A.M. the poor and housewives/mothers with baskets would line up at the front door in the Lyons’ “breadline” to get food scraps and day old bread not used by the restaurant.
There was an enormous amount of charity to the neighborhood by Lyons in a world with little or no government social safety nets. It took from the local economy and it gave back some.
Economically sound too with little refuge to cart off guaranteeing that the food would always be fresh and wholesome unlike many other restaurants along the Bowery known for its cheap and dangerous leftover food delivered to the poor in this increasingly skid row like economic area.
Ironic I think that Confederate Private Michael Lyon’s of the Sixth Louisiana Regiment of Infantry company K would be handing out bread for the rest of his working life after being a baker of bread for the troops of the Confederacy – along the long road from New Orleans to Appomattox.
The Raines Law was an attempt to stop drinking of alcohol in public on Sundays in the late nineties. Sunday was the only free day of the week, the only day off for most working men. The stories of abuse and family breakup over drink was an early trial balloon by Republicans, for something like later Prohibition, to strike at the backbone of Democrats and their natural organization centered around saloons.
Only hotels could serve drinks and not from a bar but to a table in a hotel in New York City and only after a meal had been ordered – and yes a sandwich could now be considered a meal.
The loophole was that all you needed above your saloon was ten furnished rooms to qualify for a hotel license to protect the Sunday consumption of booze in your saloon business, now a hotel restaurant – the old bar area now crammed with tables.
Lyon’s already had a hotel license when the law went into effect.
Raines Law Hotels came into overnight existence and notoriety and they also came in two categories. The saloon actually rented out rooms or they just had ten rooms, not rented, as a sham to get a license.
The offset of protecting family values on the Bowery and other parts of New York City was that with so many new “hotel rooms” available, the Bowery became more heavily populated with prostitution, rent by the hour love nests for lunch hour and afternoon adulterous and single couples, and the poor who turned these SROs – Single Room Occupancies – into notorious flop houses. The poor and the lawless, feeding and growing off the fruits of good intentions of government trying to impose blue laws on the population etc. (sarcasm)
After Mike Lyon finally retired, he sold the business to his oldest son who took out a mortgage that same year no doubt to finance a reopening of Lyon’s which came in late 1908 and the doors of anything connected to the Lyon’s family restaurant business at 259-261 Bowery finally finally closed in 1910 with an auction of fixtures and equipment to pay creditors.
Confederate Veteran – Private Michael Lyons
Sixth Louisiana Regiment of Infantry Company K
Buried in Green-Wood Cemetery Brooklyn
The Sun - January 6, 1907 - page 6 (above)