By Maryann Lopinto

Natalie Douglas, the Late Laurie Beechman, Jeff Harnar, Karen Mason, Tom & Michael D’Angora, Debbie Gravitte

With the ongoing pandemic, millions and millions and millions are unemployed.  Businesses are closing and restaurants are going out of business as Covid dining rules keep changing.  Some were able to survive with outdoor dining, but when the winter weather approached, this no longer worked.   For a while indoor dining was allowed at 25 percent capacity. But as Covid cases rose, this was eliminated.

One legendary restaurant, WESTBANK CAFÉ on West 42nd and 9th Avenue, owned by Steve Olsen for 45 years, became a victim. When indoor dining was eliminated, Olsen was able to offer outdoor dining and delivery and was barely surviving. There was even some live entertainment. When limited indoor dining was again removed, Olsen realized he had to abandon ship as he owed a lot of money and there was no way he could survive. 

West Bank Cafe was not just a restaurant, downstairs was an elaborate Cabaret room where many notable performers would do their shows. It was also a haven for upcoming Broadway shows to perform and do readings.  Opening night parties, celebrations and weddings were part of the usual scene.  

I saw Linda Eder perform there when she started out after winning Star Search. When Joan Rivers returned to performing in the clubs, she had a run at West Bank Café shortly before she passed away. This was a place for theatre goers to eat pre-show and for Broadway performers to go after their performance.  It was an institution.  Every year, on my Birthday, KT Sullivan would take me there for lunch.

ngora heard the plight the West Bank Café was facing ( many of their shows ran at theaters across the street), they would not hear of it and started a GoFundMe to raise money to help pay bills and rent to keep this establishment from closing.  They set the goal at $250,000. Then they decided to have a Virtual Telethon on Christmas Day starting at noon and, within two weeks, had well over 350 performers, writers, producers on board who either sang Christmas songs or spoke of their experiences there.  The Telethon ran almost ten hours.  Within five hours, they had reached their goal of $250,000 and donations are still coming in. As of this writing $333,555 has been collected, and will keep the place running until it can open again.   

Indeed, we had a MIRACLE ON 42nd STREET!   

Photos: Maryann Lopinto