Vincent Sardi Jr., owner of Sardi’s restaurant, the legendary Broadway watering hole where for decades the New York theater celebrated its opening nights, died Thursday at age 91.
Sardi, who had been hospitalized in Berlin, Vt., died of complications related to a urinary tract infection, said Max Klimavicius, managing partner of Sardi’s.
“This is a loss to the restaurant and the Broadway community,” said Klimavicius, who knew Sardi for more than three decades. “He was a true gentlemen, a one of a kind.”
Sardi’s, located in the heart of midtown Manhattan’s theater district, was a magnet for celebrities, particularly in the years before and after World War II. Many of them, especially when they were appearing on Broadway, had their caricatures on its walls.
Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman of the Shubert Organization, Broadway’s biggest landlord, said Sardi’s was once a place where deals and careers were cemented.
“His restaurant was the focal point for meetings in the business,” Schoenfeld said. “They all ate and hung out there. It was the theatrical hangout.”
Schoenfeld said Sardi was a larger-than-life figure, a beloved man from a bygone era who worked the room and everybody in it like a consummate host.
“I never heard anybody say a bad word about him,” he said.
Sardi’s father started the restaurant in 1921, and the son took over around 1945 after serving in the Marines. Sardi, who was born in New York, eventually sold the restaurant in 1985 but ended up taking control of it again about five years later. Sardi retired in 1997. His grandson, Sean Ricketts, now manages the landmark eatery, which is adorned with caricatures of celebrities including Martin Short, John Leguizamo, Lucille Ball, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Douglas and Billy Zane.
Klimavicius said the restaurant’s enduring success proved the quick-witted Sardi was more than a personality. He said Sardi was a good businessman who also loved to eat.
“To be able to have the staying power for these years, it’s a testimony to the kind of operator he was,” Klimavicius said. “He was always a good eater, and he loved to try different dishes.”
Klimavicius said Sardi visited the restaurant about a year and a half ago and seemed pleased with its condition.
“We had made some changes to the restaurant,” Klimavicius said, “and he loved the fact the restaurant had been kept the way he would have kept it.”