This past April, the nearly 90-year-old Palm Restaurant closed for renovations. Now we hear speculation that The Palm may never open again.
A tipster who wishes to remain anonymous shared the following in an email:
"There are very strong rumors that the original Palm Restaurant is not merely closed for renovations. I have heard from a very reliable source, who is in touch with people who work at other Palm restaurants in the city, that the building is not salvageable. What was supposed to be less than a one-year renovation may actually be a tear down. This would be another major loss for NYC."
I've shared rumors here before -- the takeover of El Quijote, the destruction of Caffe Dante, the murder of Manatus -- and I don't do it lightly. Unfortunately, while owners deny and neighbors say "no way," the rumors usually turn out to be true.
If this is the case for The Palm, it will be another tragedy on the scale of Chumley's collapse. Or worse--because the walls of The Palm are covered with original artworks, drawn and painted directly on the plaster, like precious frescoes.
As the Palm's website explains, "When Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi opened The Palm Restaurant in 1926, they had no money to decorate. Luckily, their location on Manhattan’s Second Avenue was in close proximity to the headquarters of King Features Syndicate and attracted a large clientele of cartoonists. In exchange for their meals, artists would often draw their own creations on the walls of The Palm."
Here, the cartoonists and their cartoons include Mort Walker with an original Beetle Bailey, C.D. Russell's Pete the Tramp muttering, "Let's get some wimmen," Bill Dwyer's Dumb Dora.
The cartoons' talk is from an earlier time. "This is a swell place," they say. "Doin' anything tonight, Toots?" And "Monkeys is th' kwaziest people!"
Most of the caricatures are not famous, but forgotten men once known for having "bedroom eyes" or loving the song "Autumn
The cacophonous result is a sepia-washed
portal into old New York. Men with big cigars and fedoras, Clark
Gable-style mustaches and bowties joke around with naked ladies,
superheroes, and John F. Kennedy. Through their skins you see the
original yellowed walls, stained by tobacco smoke.
I regret that I only recently discovered The Palm. I went inside last year, in the no-service lull between lunch and dinner, and took in the dark-wood splendor of the place, vowing to go back for a meal. I never did. Now I worry that I never will.
Fingers crossed that the rumor isn't true. Still, our tipster provides a lot of details. They heard from sources that "restoration has not begun, and that other interested parties are looking at the property. The work was supposed to be finished by the end of this year."
In April, a "waiter said the plans were to move the coat check to the front on the north side, tear down a wall separating the two dining rooms, which would mean removing some of the oldest caricatures," and more. "Many employees were moved to other locations or were dismissed."
This sounds very different from "It won’t be a radical renovation," as the Palm Restaurant Group's chief operating officer told Crain's. Shouldn't this be an interior landmark?
Cartoonist Milton Caniff, whose work adorns the walls, once recalled to an interviewer: "After Prohibition, the owner threatened to redecorate the place, but such a hue and cry was set up that he didn't dare. And he hasn't dared since."
When the Palm in LA relocated, its caricatures (of a more recent vintage than New York's) did not follow. Many of them were cut out of the walls and given to their subjects.
After the April announcement of the New York Palm's face-lift, regulars like Alfred E. Nass worried about the fate of their caricatures. Nass told the Times, "The last thing I’d want is for this to be a Penn Station, where they come in with jackhammers."
Requests for a statement from the Palm Restaurant Group have not been returned.