Just this summer, a Bickford's cafeteria reappeared after 35
years at one of the most heavily trafficked intersections in
New York, Eighth Avenue and 34th Street.
If you lived in New York anytime
from the 1930's through the 1960's, chances are you knew Bickford's.
They were up and down Broadway, on Fordham Road and the Grand
Concourse in the Bronx, Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street in
Brooklyn, Main Street and Jamaica Avenue in Queens.
"Breakfast at Bickford's
is an old New York custom," a 1964 guidebook said. "In
these centrally located, speedy-service, modestly-priced restaurants
a torrent of traffic is sustained for a generous span of hours
with patrons who live so many different lives on so many different
To say the least. The best minds
of Allen Ginsberg's generation "sank all night in submarine
light of Bickford's," he wrote in "Howl." The
Beat Generation muse, Herbert Huncke, practically inhabited the
Bickford's on West 42nd Street. Walker Evans photographed Bickford's
customers, and Andy Warhol rhapsodized about Bickford's waitresses.
Bickford's made its way into the work of writers as diverse as
Woody Allen and William Styron.
Cheesecake, apple pie and rice
pudding were some of the favorites, recalled Jeffrey S. Bickford.
His grandfather, Samuel, founded the company, and his father,
Harold, was president. The third-generation Bickford, who is
now a financial forecaster, worked in the branch on the Avenue
of the Americas and 44th Street when he was a teenager, cracking
eggs, washing dishes and waiting on tables.
"The food was good and the
prices were reasonable," said Mr. Bickford, whose Web site
(www.plazaview.com) contains photographs, contemporary articles
about the chain and a directory of the branches that existed
as of 1959.
Beginning in the 60's, Bickford's
fell victim to rising labor costs and rising crime, which kept
people home after dark. "The night business disappeared,"
Mr. Bickford said. "It just totally evaporated."
So did Bickford's. There were
48 Bickford's in New York in 1960, 42 in 1970 and 2 in 1980.
Then they vanished altogether.
Or so it seemed until five months
ago, when a failing metal facade was removed from the Adult Entertainment
Center at 488 Eighth Avenue, between 34th and 35th Streets, to
Bickford's, trim and tidy in
white terra cotta, its distinctive script logo in a stepped entablature
over a field of Art Deco chevrons; serving up fur-lined handcuffs
instead of lamb stew, to be sure, but unmistakably Bickford's
"It's a gift back to the
street of a beautiful facade," said William K. Dobbs, a
lawyer and amateur preservationist who has immersed himself in
Bickfordiana ever since discovering the old facade. He determined
that the branch at 488 Eighth Avenue, whose telephone number
was once CHIckering-3339, went out of business in the mid-60's.
It was replaced by a restaurant called Snacktime, which was supplanted
by the adult book store.