A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 31, 2012
“Anyone who can’t get drunk by midnight ain’t tryin‘“ (Toots Shor)

Toots Shor (1903-1977) ran a restaurant/saloon that was popular with New York City sports and entertainment figures. In February 1945, the city started a midnight curfew for serving drinks. Shor supported the war effort and said (the exact wording varies slightly in the many accounts):

“Anyone who can’t get drunk by midnight ain’t tryin’.”

The saying is remembered whenever restaurant curfews are started. Although Shor takes credit for the saying, similar words have been cited in print in 1943 and earlier in 1945.


Wikipedia: Toots Shor
Bernard “Toots” Shor (May 6, 1903 – January 23, 1977) was, during the 1940s and 1950s, the proprietor of a legendary restaurant, Toots Shor’s Restaurant, in Manhattan. He was known as a saloonkeeper, friend, and confidante to some of New York’s biggest celebrities during that era.

Shor was born in Philadelphia to Orthodox Jewish parents — his father of Austrian descent from Germany and his mother from Russia. He and his two older sisters were raised in a home above the family candy store in South Philadelphia. When Shor was 15 years old, his mother was killed by an automobile while she sat on the stoop outside their home. His father committed suicide five years later. Shor attended the Drexel Institute of Technology and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania before working as a traveling shirt and underwear salesman.

Shor went to New York City in 1930 and found employment as a bouncer at the Five O’Clock Club, which served as his introduction to celebrities. He later worked at several other nightspots: The Napoleon Club, Lahiff’s Tavern, the Ball & Chain, the Madison Royale, and Leon & Eddie’s. He became a great man about town in Manhattan after opening his own restaurant at 51 West 51st Street. While the food at Toots Shor’s Restaurant was known to be “nuttin’ fancy” — standard American, sports-bar fare such as shrimp cocktail, steak, baked potato — the establishment became well known for who frequented there and the manner in which Shor interacted with them.

17 March 1943, Titusville (PA) Herald, pg. 4, col. 1:
Two members of the Assembly have introduced bills providing that all licensed liquor places shall close at midnight for the duration. Maybe on the (Col. 2—ed.) theory that a man unable to get drunk by midnight should give it up as a bad job.

24 February 1945, Lock Haven (PA) Express, pg. 6, col. 3:
Concerning the curfew on the beer joints, this should be the happiest thing that has occurred for some time. Our boys over there dying when lazy louts don’t know enough to go home by midnight. After all, a guy who can’t get drunk by midnight isn’t half trying. If this man Byrnes ever gets a thing like this accomplished, he will have seven crowns in Heaven.
(The author of this local column is not stated—ed.)

Google News Archive
28 February 1945, Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, FL), pg. 11, col. 7:
Gotham Night Owls Lost
As Curfew Closes Clubs

By Jack O’Brian, Associated Press Drama Editor—New York, Feb. 28.
(...)
Toots Shor, whose restaurant is a rendezvous for stars of the sportsworld, stage, screen and radio, had no sympathy for the thirsty Broadway waifs.

“Anyone who can’t get drunk by midnight ain’t tryin’,” said the veteran barkeep.

1 March 1945, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “Philosophy of a Dive Keeper” by George Dixon, pg. 10, col. 7:
I am not any too certain that Mr. Shor is taking a sound moral attitude. Anyway, he adds:

“If a guy can’t get drunk by midnight he ain’t trying!”

Google Books
Newsweek
Volume 25
1945
Pg. 40:
Toots Shor cracked: “If a man can’t get drunk by midnight, he ain’t tryin’.”

Google Books
Pikes Peek or Bust
By Earl Wilson
Illustrations by John Groth
New York, NY: Editions for the Armed Services
1946
Pg. 11:
Toots Shor told Leonard Lyons, “Anybody that can’t get drunk by midnight ain’t tryin’.”

Google News Archive
16 December 1953, Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette, “Expurgated Toots” by John Crosby, Daily Magazine, pg. 3, col. 6:
There was no mention of his (Toots Shor—ed.) celebrated dictum: “Any man who can’t get drunk by midnight ain’t trying.”

Google News Archive
20 January 1958, Palm Beach (FL) Daily News, Walter Winchell column, pg. 4, col. 6:
During the war years, when a midnight curfew was put on joynts, some of Toots’ fellow guzzlers complained about the lack of time for satisfying their thirst. At that moment Toots uttered his deathless comment: “Anyone who can’t get drunk by midnight, ain’t trying.”

Google News Archive
25 January 1977, Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune, pg. 10A, col. 2:
Saloonkeeper Toots Shor Dies;
Celebrities Loves His Insults

By DAVE ANDERSON
N.Y. Times News Service
(...)
When a midnight curfew was imposed on nightclubs, bars and restaurants during World War II, he reacted with patriotism, and with realism.

“Any bum who can’t get drunk by midnight,” he proclaimed, “ain’t tryin’.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityRestaurants/Bars/Bakeries/Food Stores • (0) Comments • Tuesday, January 31, 2012 • Permalink