09 February 2010

The Legend of the Dragon Seed

I was doing a little research on the above building, number 83-22 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights. It used to be an old Italian restaurant called Luigi's. Sometime back in 2002, I passed by the place. I liked its looks. Old leather booths, curtains on the windows, formal but homey. I vowed to pay a visit soon. But the next time I walked by, it had closed. Presently, it's a Mexican restaurant called Las Margaritas, that boasts that it serves the "best margaritas" in town, which I very much doubt.

I tried to find out something about Luigi's, but didn't come up with much, other than some people are still sad it's gone, one waiter named Vinny supposedly became maitre d' at Four Seasons, that the Thursday special Osso Buco was good and that they had to leave because the landlord raised the rent.

But while looking for Luigi's, I stumbled upon evidence of another bygone Jackson Heights restaurant, a much more legendary one which the fantastic name of Dragon Seed.

It was a frozen-in-time Chinese/Tiki joint situated at 86th and 37th Avenue. (37th Avenue once rocked with character, I'm thinking.) It's formal name was actually Dragon Seed Restaurant, Luau Hut. It was a nirvana of Asian kitsch. There were beaded curtains and a wishing well. You could order Mai Tais and Zombies, which were served in Tiki Mugs with fruit garnishes and little umbrellas, and they had a pu pu platter. Who knew the mid-century Tiki craze reached this far in Queens.

It was owned by Charles Bow, and sometimes called Charlie's Dragon Seed. The New York Times described it in 1974 as "a not-so-Chinese restaurant with an all-American bar." For some reason the New York Region of the Sports Car Club of America had its monthly meetings there. Which sound either really square, or really cool.

And dig this: Louis Armstrong and his wife Lucille used to eat there sometimes. When they did, the neighborhood kids would find out quick, gather up, barge through the door and demand autographs, and Armstrong would happily oblige.

It closed sometime in the 1980s, I think. The address, 86-02, is now a Columbian joint called Listo...El Pollo. However, two Tiki figures still guard the corner entrance. (See below.)

Other great places I discovered that used to dot 37th Avenue: Bud's Bar, a classic dive; Winston's Bagel's, The Continental. I'm telling you, Jackson Heights back in the day. Man.


allen vella said...

My father used to take us to the Dragon Seed in the early to mid 60's (Funny, we just passed by after paying respects to the Cav, and I was telling my German wife about Dragon Seed and JH in general)..thay had a rockin Stereo set up, and Dad was an enthusiast..this is in the early days of stereo sound (if you could imagine!) I remember great Tropical Fish tanks also..and the bamboo hut-like booths. we lived in Astoria at the time..JH was a trip, very classy apartment buildings and nice shopping along the avenue. I lived on 77 and 37th ave from 83-93..caught the end of some of the old places..Luigis, Winston Bagels was the only Real bagel store for miles..it has changed,for sure.

Krista said...

The funny thing about Listo El Pollo (which has been described to me as the Colombian Hooters) is that they still have the tiki decor inside.

Also, tiki definitely made it to Queens. King Yum in Fresh Meadows is still going strong.

Unknown said...

There were two Dragon Seeds. The other was near Junctiion Blvd. Same great food, fish tanks and bar. I sipped many a Mai Tai there ! The race car set met there because Charlie was a driver !!!

Anonymous said...

I remember The Dragon Seed, because on it's sign it said Pupu Platter, and I thought, how gross.....hehehe. Luigi's was the place to go in Jackson Heights. My family went there for all kinds of occasions! Miss it..

Anonymous said...

My parents used to take me to the Dragon Seed in the 50's and they became friends with Charlie Bow. I remember they used to offer lobster in shrimp suauce with white or dark sauce...and a bit of trivia. Charlie Bow had 6 fingers on each hand!

Cliff said...

My parents were regulars at the Dragon Seed during the 1960s, when the maitre d' was named George.

kimsu said...

I had an uncle named Jimmy Bow who owned a restaurant Named Dragon Seed on Queens Blvd across from the court house in the late 60's early 70's...don't know too much more..I still have a tea pot from the restaurant with their name.