For a while, I've had a thing for the Elpine drinks stand in Times Square. Long gone from its spot on 46th Street and 7th Avenue, it appears in the background of many old photos and had its big moment in the film Sweet Smell of Success.
There's really no information out there about Elpine. They served fruit drinks and hot dogs, among other items. They had two locations, but did not achieve the success of Papaya King and Gray's Papaya.
The story of the little stand remained a mystery. Then I got an email from a guy named Al Streit.
1943: John Vachon, via Shorpy
Mr. Streit writes:
"Elpine Drinks was a business owned by my wife's grandfather and his two brothers. Yes, Elpine: 'el pine' as in pineapple. The name has nothing to do with the Swiss Alps.
The Varons were a Spanish-speaking Sephardic family. Originally spelled with an accent mark over the 'o' (Varón), the pronunciation was anglicized to VAIR-un. Three brothers, Joe, Frank, and Morris came to NYC from Gallipoli before World War I.
One of the businesses they founded was Elpine Drinks. The signature drink was based on pineapple juice, and being Spanish, they decided to call the business 'el pine' as in 'the pineapple.' Yes, I am very much aware that the Spanish word for pineapple is 'la piña,' but that point was lost, I'm sure, on English-speaking Americans of the day. It was, I guess, an inside joke.
And given that pre-Castro Cuba was a popular vacation spot for east coast Americans back in the day, perhaps they hoped to conjure up images of relaxing under a palm tree while drinking the pineapple mix?"
circa 1960s, Aaron Signs, via Lost City
The Varon brothers also went into the liquor business and had a large liquor store near Wall Street.
Mr. Streit sent along a photo of his wife's grandfather, Frank Varon, co-founder of Elpine. Here he is advertising the Schenley line of alcoholic beverages.
Elpine lasted at least into the 1970s, according to photo records. Below is a rare color shot of the spot in 1971.
It is the latest dated photo I have found yet. After that, Elpine just vanishes.
1971, Michael Jacobi