Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mae West: West Ninth

Announcing a new eatery on West Ninth Street, Page Six referred to MAE WEST.
• • Former Ninth Street resident and gossip guru Richard Johnson wrote this as his appetizer.
• • Johnson mentioned that: "WEST Ninth Street will soon have a new restaurant. Larry Poston, of the Waverly Inn and Pastis, has teamed up with Johnny Swet, of Balthazar and Freeman's, to take over the space that was once Marylou's, and the Penguin before that. They plan to go back to the building's original 1870 name, Hotel Griffou, an inn run by French-born Marie Griffou who served Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe [!!!], and the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. When Mae West was forced to appear at the nearby Jefferson Market Courthouse to answer obscenity charges, her first stop after the trial was the bar at the Hotel Griffou. The reincarnation will open in late June [New York Post — — 8 May 2009]."
• • If there was a bar at the Hotel Griffou in 1927, when Mae West was first arrested, it certainly was kept hush-hush — — during the Prohibition Era. Certainly by 1909, the "Griffou" was gone; the name had been changed to Hotel Europa by the new owner.
• • Madame Marie Griffou • •
• • The late Madame Griffou was a powerhouse who first established her special brand of Spanish and French hospitality on the corner of West Eighth Street and MacDougal Street, when this short comely stretch was still known as St. Clement's Place. Since the space was too small for Marie Griffou, she soon sublet it to an Italian widow, Madama Gonfarone, whose establishment took off once she teamed up with Ancleto Sermolino.
• • In the 1860s, Marie Griffou sailed to the USA with a Cuban Negro named Xavier Hernandez (and other people born into slavery whom she had purchased). These slaves became the backbone of Hotel Griffou, when Madame opened for business in 1874. Hotel Griffou stretched out between 19 — 23 West Ninth Street. At the basement level, its old-fashioned Rathskeller attracted men of letters and Oscar Wilde was a patron there in 1882 during his American tour. William Dean Howells dined there and it was respectable enough for the daughters of U.S. Presidents as well.
• • How many believe that Marie Griffou served Edgar Allan Poe [19 January 1809 — 7 October 1849]
— when the poet died several years before the Frenchwoman sailed to America?
• • How many believe that Marie Griffou served Mark Twain [1835 1910]? Naaaah!
• • The author of the book "Forgotten New York" apologized for his own error on page 157. In reference to Hotel Griffou, he noted, "It is doubtful Mark Twain could have been a regular at the hotel; in the 1880s he was living in Hartford, traveling in Europe, and spending his summers at Nook Farm in Elmira."
• • West 9th resident Thomas A. Janvier, fascinated by the odd Latin Americans who stayed there, featured the stopping place a few times. In one of his works, the restaurant was called "The White Pup." More notably, it was renamed "Casa Napoleon." Recrossing Washington Square and moving up Fifth Avenue, we find at 19 and 21 West Ninth Street the little Franco-Spanish South-American Hotel, which was the original of the Casa Napoleon, the modest and inviting hostelry where lived so many of Mr. Thomas Janvier's men and women . . . .
• • Thomas Janvier, who frequently bent an elbow here, dwelt at length (in his fiction) on the establishment's "attractive look," and the balcony that ran along the line of the second-story windows, in which flowers were growing in great green wooden tubs. The Louis Napoleon of Mr. Janvier's stories is Louis Napoleon Griffou. The Dunbars, Breams, Witherbys, and the rest have taken their departure, but in their place there has sprung up another coterie of newspaper men, flippantly and facetiously known as "the Griffou push."
• • Especially amused by the "Griffou Push" was William Dean Howells. The Casa Napoleon appeared briefly in his "The World of Chance." During the early 1900s, fans of his recognized Hotel Griffou thinly disguised as a little restaurant Howells sent his character Ray to during the young writer's first weeks in New York. And it was here also that the Marches of "A Hazard of New Fortunes" came to dine during the long weeks spent in futile flat-hunting. (The Howells very briefly lived at The Portsmouth on West 9th Street.)
• • There are many more fascinating stories linked to 21 West 9th that can be documented. Maybe some real-life narratives will be served up shortly as the restaurateurs try to unveil the newcomer.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • Page Six • •
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