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 March 02, 2009
“Never eat at a place called Mom’s”

In the early-mid 1900s, many restaurants advertised “real home cooking” and were called “Mom’s.” Nelson Algren’s novel A Walk on the Wild Side (1956) stated three rules: “Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.”

Dave Peltz, a friend of Algren’s, stated that he gave Algren the rules in a letter. The expressions might be older than the 1956 novel, but no other documentation has been found.


Wikipedia: Nelson Algren
Nelson Algren (March 28, 1909 – May 9, 1981) was an American writer.

Wikipedia: A Walk on the Wild Side (novel)
A Walk on the Wild Side is a 1956 novel by Nelson Algren, most often quoted as the source for Algren’s “three rules of life”: “Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.” Algren noted, “The book asks why lost people sometimes develop into greater human beings than those who have never been lost in their whole lives.”

Google Books
The Yale Book of Quotations
Edited by Fred R. Shapiro
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
2006
Pg. 13:
Nelson Algren
U.S. writer, 1909-1918
“Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are greater than your own.”
A Walk on the Wild Side, pt. 3 (1956)

Google Books
The Quote Verifier:
Who Said What, Where, and When

By Ralph Keyes
New York, NY: Macmillan
2006
Pg. 153:
“NEVER play cards with a man named Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.” This popular piece of folk wisdom is attributed to Nelson Algren by Bartlett’s, Oxford, and many other collections of quotations. In his best-selling 1956 novel A Walk on the WIld Side, Algren put these rules in the mouth of a prison convict. During a subsequent interview, Algren said he’d got them from an old black woman. On other occasions the novelist said this advice was his own invention. Biographer Bettina Drew thought the “rules” didn’t sound like Algren, and might have originated with his friend (Pg. 154—ed.) Dave Peltz. Sure enough, Peltz recalled cooking up the rules and including them in a letter to Algren, attributed to a black whorehouse madam to give them added credibility with his wild-walking friend. According to Peltz, “Never play cards with a man named Doc” is an old gambler’s expression. “Never eat at a place called Mom’s” reflected the fact that there were so many restaurants called “Mom’s” in midcentury America, few of them any good. “Never go to bed with somebody whose troubles are worse than your own” was his own invention, based on the fact that Algren had a history of getting involved with people who were in worse straits than he. Peltz said the novelist never responded to his “rules,” but began using them in lectures even before they achieved quote-book status as a result of appearing in A Walk on the Wild Side.
Verdict: Credit Dave Peltz as author, Nelson Algren as publicist.

A Walk on the Wild Side
By Nelson Algren
New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy
1956
Pg. ?:
“But blow wise to this, buddy, blow wise to this:  Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own. Never let nobody talk you into shaking another man’s jolt. And never cop another man’s plea. I’ve tried ‘em all and I know. They don’t work.”

Google Books
Chicago
By WFMT (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
Published by WFMT, inc., 1975
Item notes: v.24 1975 Jul-Dec
Pg. 121
Never eat at a place called “Mom’s”.
Never play cards with a man called “Doc”.
Never take a drink while feeling sorry lor yourself.
Never eat In a place with sliding doors unless you’re crazy about raw fish.
Never sleep with anyone whose troubles are worse than your own.
Walk on the Wild Side

Time magazine
Monday, May. 25, 1981
DIED. Nelson Algren, 72, novelist and short-story writer who portrayed galleries of drifters, derelicts and drug addicts in The Man with the Golden Arm (1949) and A Walk on the Wild Side (1956); of a heart attack; in Sag Harbor, N.Y. A 1931 journalism graduate of the University of Illinois, he spent a few years wandering through the South and Midwest, meeting the losers and misfits who would later inhabit his fiction. A tireless traveler and avid gambler, Algren was a genial loner who spoke in the language of his working-class roots. He once warned, “Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never go to bed with a woman whose troubles are greater than your own.”

New York (NY) Times
DE GUSTIBUS; NEVER EAT AT ‘MOM’S,’ AND OTHER RULES OF THE ROAD
By BRYAN MILLER
Published: Saturday, July 16, 1983
(...)
The highway is replete with culinary land mines disguised as quaint local restaurants that carry such reassuring names such as Millie’s, Pop’s and Capt’n Dick’s.
(...)
The Survival Law: Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Ever.

Google Books
Words of Wisdom: More Good Advice
By William Safire and Leonard Safir
Contributor Leonard Safir
Edition: reprint
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
1990
Pg. 52:
Never play cards with a man named Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.
-- Nelson Algren

There is one exception to the rule: “Never eat at a restaurant called Mom’s.” If you’re in a small town, and the only other place is called Eats—then go to Mom’s.
-- Carl Waxman

Google Books
Southern Food:
At Home, on the Road, in History

By John Egerton
Photographs by Al Clayton
Edition: reprint, illustrated
Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press
1993
Pg. 62:
Mom’s, in Port Royal, South Carolina, puts the lie to the old admonition that you should never eat at a place called Mom’s.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Monday, March 02, 2009 • Permalink