Our thanks to Barry Levine for his help with this post.
The regulars at Dinty’s Tavern referred to Hudson Avenue as the “street of regret,” after the song first made popular by The Sammy Kaye Orchestra. A version of the song on Dinty’s jukebox—perhaps Dinah Washington’s from her 1962 album Drinking Again—seemed to describe their lives. Most lived near the bar in furnished rooms or small apartments. And everyone had a hard-luck story—a misspent youth, a broken marriage, an alcohol or gambling addiction. But no one bowled alone.
The tavern was named after the popular George McManus comic strip, “Bringing up Father,” which inspired James (“Dinty”) Moore to open his famous Irish eatery on West 46th Street in New York. The New York City restaurant specialized not only in Irish stew and corned beef and cabbage (the McManus character Jiggs’s favorite dish) but also gefilte fish in the 1930s—and booze during Prohibition.
Charles Fine, a Russian-Jewish restaurateur, established an Albany version of Dinty Moore’s in 1932, during the Great Depression and just before the repeal of the Prohibition. The restaurant was located on the corner of Hudson and High and specialized in corned beef and cabbage, particularly on St. Patrick’s Day. But Fine, who described his occupation as “showman” in 1925 and got his start as a Mid-City Park concessionaire, seemed to have his eye on something bigger. A few years later, he opened Dinty’s Terrace Garden—an upscale nightclub with live music by national acts on Route 9 in Latham.
In 1937, William J. Phillips, a Capital Region native, purchased the business. He bought the Hudson Avenue building three years later, along with an adjacent High Street property that would become the back room. With his wife Eleanor, Bill ran Dinty’s for over a decade before selling to Morris Levine.
Morris was a jack-of-all-trades, the son of a Russian-Jewish peddler from Glens Falls. At one point, Morris was reputed to have been part of Dutch Schultz’s gang. In 1943 at the age of 34, he arrived in Albany and took a job as a General Electric machinist. After the war, Morris started a photography business, Home Kraft Studio, with his wife, Rose. The Levines were what was known in the business as “kidnappers.” They traveled around the Capital Region, going door-to-door and offering to photograph babies for free as part of supposed contest. A few days later, they would show up again with proofs, trying to sell the proud parents hand-colored prints.
Before buying Dinty’s, the Levines lived in an apartment above the tavern. Morris—the regulars called him “Moe”—learned the business by working part-time behind the bar. Under the Levines’ management, Dinty Moore’s officially became Dinty’s Tavern. They still served food—soups, sandwiches, and snacks, such as pickled eggs and steamed clams. But the focus of the business was selling booze and promoting sociability within the Hudson Avenue neighborhood. They started a Dinty’s Tavern Mixed Bowling League made up of regulars, who played at the State Recreation Lanes (57 State Street) and participated in city-wide competitions. The Bar’s tabletop shuffleboard set was a source of friendly rivalries. But with alcohol in the mix, such rivalries could turn ugly. In December 1952, what the Knickerbocker News described as a “shuffleboard scuffle” sent a 40-year-old steelworker and former boxer to the hospital with 2 broken ribs. His adversary, a 30-year-old apprentice Niagara-Mohawk lineman, ended up in the county jail. Predictably, there appears to have been money on the game.
Dinty’s regulars found a home away from their drab apartments, and the business prospered. Despite Morris’s gambling habit, Rose managed, after a few years, to save enough money to purchase a two-family house on Elsmere Avenue in Delmar. Her dream of a better life was a suburban stand-alone house with a proper yard—enough room for a vegetable garden, grapevine, and cherry tree. Although the Levines moved to the suburbs, they did not leave Hudson Avenue behind. Barry finished out his final two years of school at Philip Schuyler High. Morris and Rose continued to work in the kitchen and behind the bar. They even brought a bit of Hudson Avenue with them to Delmar, convincing their good friends and tenants, William and Grace Gangai, to move into the second floor flat. When the Gangais moved to Florida in 1957, Barry moved in with his young wife and growing family.
Dinty’s Tavern and most its customers were displaced by the South Mall. In 1963, the business moved from 159 Hudson to 54 Lexington Avenue in Arbor Hill. At first, everything seemed pretty much the same. Morris and Rose were still behind the bar, and most of the regulars continued to drink and socialize at Dinty’s. Like the old, the new bar boasted a jukebox and a shuffleboard set. Even the bowling league endured the move. But something had changed. Slowly, the regulars drifted away. Rose died ten years after the move, and Morris sold the bar to a former customer. Yet even in retirement, he kept busy, delivering meals-on-wheels, playing with his five grandchildren, and patronizing the off-track-betting outlet on Delaware Avenue.
* The song “On the Street of Regret” was written by John Klenner and Pete Wendling and recorded by several other musicians in addition to Dinah Washington and Sammy Kaye.