Saturday, December 1, 2012

Farewell, The Stage Deli

The Stage deli menu

"A customer asked Max why he didn't have a parking lot in connection with the Stage Delicatessen. Max snorted: "Jerk! If I had a parking lot, I wouldn't need a restaurant!" A waiter was heard asking a table customer: "Which one of you ordered a clean glass?"
-Myron Cohen
The Stage Deli, "Where celebrities go to look at people",  New York's legendary Runyonesque Times Square delicatessen/show biz hangout attracting  stage & movie stars, musicians, politicians, sports stars and especially comedians, officially closed it's doors on Thursday, Nov 29th, 2012, the end of an era. It was first opened on Broadway & 48th St in 1937 by diminutive, gravel-voiced, crude Russian immigrant Max Asnas who Fred Allen would dub the "Corned-Beef Confucius" thanks to his "Asnas-isms", off the cuff "rye", psychological quips, for example: "Money is something you make in case you don't die".

The Stage deli was a NY institution, or at least it was till 1967 when Max Asnas finally sold it and retired. He died six months later. The Stage continued on with various owners but it was never quite the same without Max, nor was the quality of the food. Farewell to the Stage.

thanks to Kliph Nesteroff

                          Some images from the Stage's glory years:

the opening day of the Stage Deli in 1937, Max Asnas forth from left
"Known for Everything Good"
Stage deli ad, caricature of Max Asnas by Al Hirschfeld

Fascinating article by Kliph Nesterhoff on mid-twentieth century NYC comedian restaurants/hangouts, including the Stage Deli...

 Stage workers, 1952

Murray Robinson's 1951 article from Colliers on Max Asnas and the Stage, "Corned-Beef Confucius":

Stage ashtray (back when smoking was still allowed)

Max Asnas posed with a Stage worker, 1955. Earl Wilson dubbed Max:
 "the beloved baron of bagels, blintzes and borscht"

gag photo from 1957:  Max and Stage regular,
comedian "Fat" Jack Leonard 
Judy Garland attends a Broadway show cast party at the Stage, 1957...

another 1957 show cast party, Max looks on in the background

Exterior of the Stage in 1959

a proud Max Asnas with two of his Stage staffers, 1961
A portion of the Stage menu by Al Hirschfeld, originally printed in Colliers magazine.

larger view of the menu, this one signed by two boxing legends

the Stage's breakfast menu

a Stage postcard

samples from the menu, 1973

a Stage placemat 
Another Hirschfeld Stage panoramic,  from the March 1954 issue of Colliers, this time depicting the crowd at Lindy's (this drawing has often been confused with the Stage)
Image borrowed from this fabulous blog:
In 1961, Max Asnas had a wireless mic attached as he held court for three days at the noisy Stage and recorded this "Live Gag Session" comedy album for Kimberley Records. Jack E. Leonard, Myron Cohen, Joey Bishop and Morey Amsterdam, among others also appear, recalling favorite Asnas anecdotes over seltzer, borscht and pastrami sandwiches.

album back cover with liner notes by Earl Wilson

Max with Joey Bishop and Rudy Vallee, circa early sixties

with Joey Bishop

with Jimmy Durante

Max peering through the front window towards the end

updated menu, circa 1970

a later (seventies) Stage menu by artist Dong Kingman

Jackie Mason and Joan Rivers attending a 1980's party at the Stage


  1. Great place with an amazing history. It will be missed.

  2. In 1965 when I was ten years old my family visited NYC and the Stage Deli. I recognized Hans Conreid sitting in a booth with another man, and I got the courage to go ask him for his autograph. When I handed Mr. Conreid my (Hirshfeld) menu to sign, both gentlemen burst out laughing - the other man was of course Max Asnas. They explained to me that I would be stealing his menu! I was so embarassed but they were both so sweet and gracious, they assured me it was okay, signed my menu and sent me back to my table. I kept that menu for YEARS but it was sadly lost. One of those things from childhood I will never forget.

  3. I worked in the mid 60's in the original GM building on 57th/8th and enjoyed lunch at the Stage once or twice a week. As good as the deli was, the "show" was even better. Jackie Leonard held court there along with other regulars like Peggy Cass and Milt Kamen. Jackie's favorite pass time was insulting the starry eyed tourists who often asked for his autograph. I often found myself with tears in my eyes for laughing so hard. What made it so hilarious is the more he insulted them, the more THEY laughed. Jackie Leonard made Don Rickles look like a piker... one of the funniest comedians ever. He even looked funny with his portly physique, heavily rimmed glasses and his ever present pork pie hat.

    Once I established myself as a semi-regular regular, Max Asnas would stop by my table to schmooze a bit with me. He was a true gentleman.

    Once Max was gone, I visited a few times, but it was not the same without him.

  4. Hi, big fan (and have been for a long time). Next time you use a scan from my blog I would appreciate the referral. I cam across is just now, four years later. I had to check, but I know I sweat over that gutter for a long time.
    I have a whole set of Hirschfeld Collier's caricatures coming up, by the way.

  5. Sorry about the slip-up, which image are you referring to? I'll certainly credit your blog as the source.

  6. It's the long image of Lindy's, which was an illustration for an article in Collier's. It has always surprised me that the work Hirschfeld dit for Collier's has rarely been used in the collections and reprint books. Among the 'new' stuff I a going to show is an early Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz picture that I could find nowhere else on the web.