New Yorker for 66 years
Jimmy’s is one of the cheapest places to drink in Times Square. What’s your happy hour?
There’s not one. It’s always happy. The drinks are so cheap already: $3, $4. Some drinks you can’t charge $3 for—like Johnny Walker Black. That’s $5.
What’s your favorite drink?
I don’t drink so much anymore. If I did, it would probably be Rémy Martin.
What’s the key to making a bar popular?
Hard work. And if you own a bar you should be in your own bar. People like to see owners. It makes a person feel at home.
What do you think people enjoy at your bar that they can’t get anywhere else?
The jukebox: music from the ’50s, ’60s. Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Stan Getz. Nat King Cole.
What do you like best about your job?
The people. Ninety-five percent of the people who come in are real, real good people.
Can you describe a favorite employee or customer you’ve had in the past?
They’re all my favorites. There was this one customer—Dave Foley. Went to Fordham, worked at a law firm. Never thought he was better than anyone else—really good guy. He was a customer here for 25 years.
You’ve worked with some greats, like Floyd Patterson. Any boxing legends come into the bar?
Sure. Mayweather, Holmes, Ali. The kid [Arturo] Gatti came in the other day, but I wasn’t in.
What’s your most prized possession in the bar?
The photo of Muhammad Ali in the front, wrapping up his hand. It’s stunning, the way it looks. He’s so calm. That of Jack Johnson [referring to a framed clipping of the boxer]. He was way before my time. He had to be a man with a lot of guts and heart—bucked the whole system, did everything he wasn’t supposed to. A black man shouldn’t have fought a white man. A black man shouldn’t have had a white woman. And he was a real sharp dresser.
What do you like to do to unwind when you’re not at the bar?
Walk around town, look at how things change. The new buildings they’re putting up—it’s amazing, what they did. Got all the sex houses off 42nd Street, the riffraff.
Some people think it looks too commercial.
Yeah, like a pinball machine. But you can have it one way or the other. I prefer the pinball machine.
Describe a perfect New York day.
Today’s a perfect day. Every day I wake up is a perfect New York day.
What would make New York better?
What could be better than New York? God’s blessed me; I’ve been around the world. But I’m always happy to come home.
Where do you live?
At 27th and Second, for about 30 years.
What’s your favorite neighborhood?
Where I grew up—Harlem on the East Side, 127th and Lexington Avenue. It wasn’t a tough neighborhood like people said. Everybody knew each other. We were all friends, played stickball. If two kids fought yesterday, today they were friends. When it was hot, you could go and sleep on the roof and no one would bother you. They had neighborhood cops, and they knew every kid. There was a PAL (Police Athletic League community center) that all the kids went to. You didn’t have to be a boxer to go to the center. They had bowling, Ping-Pong, checkers. We didn’t have money then, but we had people who cared about you. That’s what kids don’t have today. And that’s what makes a neighborhood.
What do you prefer: owning a bar or boxing?
Boxing’s my thing.
What’s the best part about it?
I like to help kids. I used to have a community center [at 127th and Second]. I spent my own money getting my gym off the ground—teaching kids how to box. Boxing teaches kids respect. They learn how to respect their elders. If they never become a great boxer, they become a great human being. You don’t have to look for knives, guns, and stuff. A kid has confidence in himself, knowing what he can do and what he can’t do. I had a [kids’] baseball team of my own too—called the New York Hornets. I miss all them things. But now you can’t afford it. I had a whole building, [but] the city took it down and made a project.
Let’s say you’re having dinner—who are the three other New Yorkers you would like to have dinner with?
I’d like to sit down to dinner with my seven kids and nine grandkids. And my wife. That’s a perfect dinner.