Frequent commenter Carol Gardens, responding to a recent item I posted about the closure of the Bowery mainstay Marion's Continental, had this to say:
By the way, everyone seems to buy the whole origin story that Marion ran a restaurant at this location, but I've always thought of that as some kind of ingenious nostalgia performance piece. I have never found a scrap of evidence that such a restaurant existed nor is it mentioned in any book of the time. Nice story, though.
Carol's right. I always took the story of socialite Marion Nagy running a bistro/club at that address from 1950 to 1973 on faith, even though I had never heard of her or the place. Some photos on the walls inside the new Marion's seemed to back up the claim, but I had never read any old stories about Nagy's exploits. So I decided to do some small research, and I came up with....nothing.
The Department of Building records for the address, 354 Bowery, seem to indicate we might be in the grip of a yarn here. A 1954 Certificate of Occupancy list the first floor as being occupied by "storage and store," which doesn't sound like a restaurant to me. And a search through the New York Times archive found nothing on the place. It did, however, turn up some grisly details as 354 Bowery long, pre-Marion's life as a seedy lodging house.
Typhus fever seized 354 residents Herman Statzer and Herman Fischer in 1893. Both were sent to Bellvue. Fischer died. In 1899, lodger Charles W. Cook took his life by swallowing carbolic acid. He blamed his death on his brother Herbert of Long Island City, not saying what Herbert had done.
This is all perhaps surprising, because in an 1879 article, City housing officials, inspecting Bowery flophouses, rated 354 as "the grandest of all the Bowery lodging-houses." It has 17 rooms "for single gents," a reading room to which lodgers could "furnish their own literature," and a "young, full-blooded Irishman, with a broad brogue and a blarney tongue, for a clerk." And all for 25 cents a night. Yowzah!