Remembering Bobby Van's Glory Days

Bobby Van's
The Manhattan outpost of Bobby Van's. Photo: Jennifer MacFarlane

Bobby Van, the founder of the popular eponymous restaurant chain, died earlier this week, "Page Six" reports.

While his name lives on at the Bobby Van's in Bridgehampton, as well as at four steakhouse outlets in Manhattan and two in Washington, DC, Van, who had unhealthy appetite for booze and cocaine, was forced out of the business many years ago. "He was reduced to driving a cab. He was on dialysis," said a source who spent many a pleasant evening at the original East End restaurant.

Van was 64. "Page Six" noted that Truman Capote often went to Van's Bridgehampton restaurant to drink his favorite drink, an "orange thingee" (four parts vodka, one part orange juice), and that James Brady, George Plimpton, and John Knowles were regulars as well. But that's not the half of it.

From Here to Eternity author James Jones, Harper's editor Willie Morris, Kurt Vonnegut, Roy Lichtenstein, and William de Kooning also frequented the bar, helping to create the literary atmosphere on the East End that eventually turned into a wealthy vacation hot spot. In 2003 the Times looked back on the creative scene and spoke with Van's wife, Marina, about those glory days.

Ms. Van said her former husband zealously guarded the piano bench from interlopers, rising only for visiting jazz musicians and ringers like the actor Dustin Hoffman, Ms. Van said.

The music policy was strictly jazz or swing, provided Mr. Van was there to enforce it.

''I was always trying to get Bobby to put Dylan on the jukebox, or Simon and Garfunkel,'' Ms. Van said. ''Then we were living in an apartment over the restaurant. One night after I went upstairs I heard Bob Dylan singing from below.''

Thinking Mr. Van had finally relented and purchased a pop single for the jukebox, Ms. Van went downstairs to listen and found it was Mr. Dylan singing and accompanying himself on the piano.

''It was a new song, 'Catfish Hunter,''' she said. ''Bobby wasn't downstairs, which is how Dylan was allowed to sing.''

Whenever we read stories like this, it makes us wonder whether there are such scenes going on now that people will one day look back on and think, Wow, all those amazing artists hanging out in one bar, being friends! I wish I had been there! Then we look at places like Angels & Kings, the Waverly Inn, and the Box, and we hate our generation.


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