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Guide to the Harvey Rosen and El Borracho Collection
1940-1990(bulk 1945-1962)
 PR 308

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Megan Dolan

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 13, 2014
Description is in English

Biographical/Historical note

This collection includes an eclectic aray of material relating primarily to Harvey Rosen and his supper club, 'Harvey Rosen's El Borracho'.

Harvey Rosen was born in Brooklyn in 1911. Before taking over the El Borracho supper club he had a career in politics, serving as Deputy Fire Commissioner under Mayor Willaim O'Dwyer. He apparently also held various offices in the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

The club, El Borracho (which translates to ‘The Drunkard’ in Italian), was originally founded by Nicky Quattriociocchi and others in 1944. The 1940s in New York City marked the end of the ‘speakeasy’ and the emergence of the ‘supper club’. Although speakeasies had similar components, supper clubs were far more elaborate. They were generally grand Art Deco establishments offering the finest in everything, including outstanding service, entertainment, and cuisine. Typically, the supper club served as both a restaurant and a night club and was considered to be a ‘destination’ where patrons would spend an entire evening, from cocktail hour to dinner to nightclub-style entertainment.

El Borracho operated during a period in New York when stylish, up-market supper clubs were in popular demand. It was situated at 51 East 55th Street, a location with a vibrant supper club scene including similar establishments such as El Morocco. Business at El Borracho originally thrived, but the club "had deteriorated considerably" by the time Rosen took over its ownership in 1956, according to an article in Monseiur magazine (held in the collection). Harvey decided to retain the original atmosphere of the establishment but also contributed some touches of his own, putting significant time and effort into management and customer service. Harvey acted as ‘host’ of the premises and remained on-site from opening (4.30pm) until closing time (4am), socializing with the patrons and ensuring that his guests felt at home. Business thrived over the year 1956 and Harvey, fondly referred to as ‘Harvey the Fire Chief’, received much praise for accomplishing such a rejuvenation of the premises in such a short space of time. This is reflected in the records.

El Borracho was conceived at the outset to be a polished, up-market venue aimed at socialites and celebrities. It was a glamorous establishment consisting of a number of stylish quirks, such as mynah birds over the bar and a menu that included a ‘Siamese’ fish with a head at both ends, jokingly priced at $4,127.82. Other quirky elements of El Borracho were the ‘Romance Room’ where various mantras regarding love and the words “I love you”, (translated into twenty-three different languages), were hanging on the wall. There was also a ‘Kiss Room’ containing thousands of signed lipstick-kissed index cards by various women that were hung all around the room. Female patrons were encouraged to add to this collection. El Borracho thrived throughout the late 1950s, closing in 1962.

After the club closed, Rosen worked as the Director of Client Services at MD Sass, an investment management firm. He passed away on June 11, 2003, survived by his wife, daughter, grand-children, and great grand-children.

This collection provides an interesting glimpse of the era of the supper club in New York City and an insight into Harvey Rosen’s life at this time. It also provides an interesting social insight into the perception of women in the 1950s.