News & Politics

Prune Juice Jenny: ‘They All Worked Here’


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October 1, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 40

Prune Juice Jenny: ‘They All Worked Here’
By Lucian K. Truscott IV

The short lady in rhinestones and chiffon took a long sip on her beer and flopped her head forward against her arm. It was 2.45 a.m. and her purple/platinum hair was a bit tousled. Some of it was hanging in her eyes and almost hid the tears. “There’s an ending to everything, I guess; you’ll miss it, won’t you?” she asked no one in particular. The lady across from her looked up. “Yeah, I sure will, honey; I sure will.” There were 15 minutes left before Sammy’s Bowery Follies would close its doors on the last Saturday night of its 36 years at 267 Bowery.

Outside, on the street, the scene had not changed much from the way it must have been when Sammy’s opened in 1934. You still had to walk across a couple of sleeping drunks to get near the place, and it was still nicer to take a cab than to walk down from the nearest subway stop. Inside, things were different. Sammy Fuchs, the man who had become famous as the owner of the Follies and as the “Mayor of the Bowery,” had died last year. Jeanne Jordan, the daytime barmaid, stood at the bar and talked to anyone who would listen. She had been at Sammy’s for 17 years. “The cops take me to work and bring me home every day,” she said. She was proud of her job and of the place where she had worked. “Yeah, I guess things has changed around here. You writin’ something? Well, you can say that this is the end of an era.”

…Prune Juice Jenny stared down the bar with the long, unseeing look she’s had for years. She was next to Coney Island Mae, who was next to Box Car Gussie. Farther down the bar were Mary “Sugar Bun” Haggerdy, Madame May “the Queen of the Bowery,” Bath Tub Annie Schafer, Juke Box Katie, Port Wine Nellie, Tug Boat Ethel, and Skid Row Molly. All of them were present for the last night. None of them said much, but then, they’ve never said much. they’re part of the mural over the bar, and in their own way, part of the history of the place. Prune Juice Jenny drank prune juice and whiskey. Juke Box Katie kept all the juke boxes going on the Bower. Box Car Gussie traveled all over the world and was notable for smoking cigars. Nobody would talk about Madame May. “Only one of ’em’s alive now, and she’s awful sick,” said Jeanne Jordan a little sadly. She didn’t want to talk about it any more, got up, and walked down the bar. Jeanne Jordan didn’t look up at the mural again.

In the old days — the ’40s and the ’50s — Sammy’s was packed every night. Lately, however, business had not been so good. The Cooper Square Development Plan, under which the city had bought up the entire block on which Sammy’s was located, had come as somewhat of a reprieve, though none of the regulars or employees intimated it. Hell, weekends were still good, when the Greyhound tour buses would come down from Times Square loaded with people with one drink already paid for. But reliance on tour buses was a far cry from the days — and people — chronicled in newsprint and pictures on the walls fro floor to ceiling. Jane Powell’s picture next to Carmine De Sapio’s. JFK right around corner from Rosalind Russell. All of them posed in the midst of crowds that would make any movement envious.

Weeknights lately have become sparse. Last Thursday, 15 people stood at the bar, a few others scattered themselves at tables. The show went on as usual. “Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear again,” sang Goldie Shaw, enjoying some of the last moments of her 17 years on the Follies stage. She sang in the grand style, arms gesturing and sweeping, wide slouch hat flopping as she strode the stage from one side to the other in her sequined slinky gown.

At the bar, an argument was taking place. One of the Bowery drunks had wandered in, trying to sell a cheap watch at any price. “They oughta kick him out,” a customer said. “He’s only tryin’ to make a buck. Don’t run him down,” replied another. Everyone at the bar had turned to watch. “Hey, maybe you’ll need a buck someday, so leave him alone,” a man yelled from down the bar. “Yeah,” said Jeanne Jordan quietly. “Mind your own business and leave the guy alone. We only gotta couple of days left here anyway.” With that proclamation, everyone at the bar turned back to his drink, thinking of Saturday.

“They won’t be here till the night we close — you just wait and see the crowds,” Sid the waiter was predicting. “Going out of my head…over you,” Goldie Shaw sang in her strutting, exaggerated style. “Gimme another drink, honey,” a subdued Jeanne Jordan said. “I’ve got to get myself up for McSorley’s.”

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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