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. Now a Popeye's fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from October 01, 2019
Flying Wedge (formation of Jack’s restaurant waiters)

New York City restaurateur John “Jack” Dunstan (1853-1927)—also often spelled “Dunston”—opened “Jack’s” restaurant in 1891 at Sixth Avenue and 43rd Street in Manhattan, right opposite what would be the New York Hippodrome (1905-1939). Jack’s never closed and was a favorite restaurant for Broadway entertainers, sportsmen and newspaper employees. Jack’s ended business in 1925, during Prohibition.

Jack’s was frequently by many drinking collegians, and they often had to be thrown out of the place. The waiters formed a “flying wedge” to evict rowdy customers. A 1935 New York (NY) Post article stated that the original “flying wedge” consisted of Big Bill Moran, Biff, Jeff and Johnny the Greek. Jack Spooner was a famous waiter in the wedge, along with waiters Pat Geraty and George Gates.

John Dunstan had worked at Burns’s restaurant, also on Sixth Avenue. A 1906 newspaper article mentioned “the ‘flying wedge,’ which has made the Burns waiters famous.” It’s not known when Burns’s restaurant had its flying wedge, but Jack’s flying wedge, according to the 1935 Post article, existed from the 1891 opening year.

The “flying wedge” of waiters is of historical interest today (when waiters stay out of conflicts and simply call the police).


Wikipedia: Flying wedge
A flying wedge (also called flying V or wedge formation, or simply wedge) is a configuration created from a body moving forward in a triangular formation. This V-shaped arrangement began as a successful military strategy in ancient times when infantry units would move forward in wedge formations to smash through an enemy’s lines. This principle was later used by Medieval European armies, as well as modern armed forces, which have adapted the V-shaped wedge for armored assault.

In modern times the effectiveness of flying wedge means it is still employed by civilian police services for riot control. It has also been used in some sports, although the use of wedges is sometimes banned due to the danger it poses to defenders.

Newspapers.com
24 July 1906, Buffalo (NY) Enquirer, “Society Swells in Police Court,” pg. 3, col. 1:
New York, July 24.—Jack Jaffray, scion of the wealthy Jaffray family, which is represented in the “400” and has a summer estate at Irvington-on-the-Hudson, appeared in the Jefferson Market Police Court today to answer a charge of having tried to wreck Burns’ restaurant on 6th Avenue, last evening.

With him, as defendant, was a young man, who said his name was Henry W. Miller. Jaffray, with his younger brother, Billy, Miller, and two young women, dined at the restaurant. After the meal they began creating a disturbance and they went out the door by the “flying wedge,” which has made the Burns waiters famous.

Newspapers.com
7 March 1914, Brooklyn (NY) Citizen, “The Little Row in ‘Jack’s,’” pg. 6, col. 3:
But the proprietors and waiters tremble when the college youths enter the sacred portals. College youths are prone, as everyone knows, to feel their oats especially around 15 o’clock in the morning, after a few beakers of white rock. “Jack” found it necessary, in the interest of the peace and good order of his establishment—he is a stickler for the proprieties—to institute what is known on the asphalt of Broadway as the “Order of the Flying Wedge.”

It appears from the report submitted to the Mayor that one evening last week, when the clock in the tower of the Metropolitan Building told the wayfarer that it was past 3 a. m., “Jack” found it necessary to call the “flying wedge” into action, as a party of college boys had got beyond bounds. In the ensuing fracas, wholly on “Jack’s” part a labor of good citizenship, “mamma’s boys” got the worst of it. Instead of taking a deserved licking like men, they went home squealing like so many little pigs, and the next thing you know a complaint was lodged with the Mayor, and the proud boast of Squire Dunstan, that his place has never closed since the day it was opened, was put in camphor.

Newspapers.com
8 January 1922, Sunday News (New York, NY), “Mainly About People” by G. T. F., pg. 10, col. 3:
“Jack’s" House in the Limelight.
(...)
He (John “Jack” Dunston—ed.) first just was as a waiter in Burns’s restaurant on Sixth Avenue, then the great rendezvous of Tammany leaders. In the ‘80s he opened a saloon of his own in Sixth Avenue between Forty-third and Forty-fourth streets. This part of the premises, now including the greater part of the block and Dunstan-owned, became known as the “Battling Nelson Grill.”

For there were in the old days—as in the new—some mighty battles waged at Jack’s. To quell the over-enthusiastic fighting men who liked to match brawn with the management, Jack developed that celebrated “flying wedge” of waiters.

Newspapers.com
25 January 1922, Buffalo (NY) Enquirer, “New York Day by Day” By O. O. McIntyre, pg. 4, col. 5:
Occasionally a flying figure would sail through the swinging doors to the middle of the car tracks, look about with bewilderment and wonder where he was when the cyclone struck. The waiters at Jack’s were nearly all red-headed and when anything started they seemed to drop from the chandeliers to form their famous “flying wedge.”

5 May 1925, New York (NY) Times, pg. 1, col. 5:
JACK’S FAMOUS CAFE CLOSES ITS DOORS:
“I’m Nearly 72 and I’m Going to Take a Rest,” Says the Proprietor.
ALL THE OLD-TIMERS GONE
Quitting After 34 Years, Dunstan Asserts the Old Place Has Changed.

Newspapers.com
23 May 1925, The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram (Richmond, IN), pg. 6, col. 7:
No introductions were necessary at Jack’s and if you forgot your place, the famous “flying wedge” of waiters who seemed to drop from the chandeliers in an emergency would quickly show you where it was.

Usually it would be sitting up, hatless, pose in the middle of the Sixth avenue car tracks.

Newspapers.com
27 December 1927, Ogden (UT) Standard Examiner, pg. 3, col. 8:
RESTAURATEUR DIES.
NEW YORK, Dec. 27.—(By The Associated Press.)—Various notables of Broadway who struck the street propelled by a flying wedge of waiters are mourning John Dunston, for 32 years the proprietor of Jack’s restaurant. It used to be a distinction to start something in his eating and drinking place because of the inevitable sequel.

30 December 1927, New York (NY) Herald Tribune, pg. 15, col. 5:
Friends Mourn John Dunston at Cathedral Rites
Intimates Note Absence at Funeral of Broadwayites, Who Frequented Jack’s, Founded by Famous Host
‘Flying Wedge’ Attends
His Waiters, Who ‘Bounced’ Overboisterous Imbibers, Pay Their Final Tribute

(...)
Among those in the church were many former members of the famous “flying wedge”— the waiters who specialized in the almost painless removal of over-boisterous drinkers and college students. These men are white-haired now, and decorous, as they always have been. But in their day they threw champion football teams for forty-yard losses on the Sixth Avenue sidewalk and scrambled Broadway’s hard-boiled eggs with a gesture.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
22 January 1935, New York (NY) Post, “Jack’s Flying Wedge Was No Myth to John L. Sullivan,” pg. 15, col. 4:
The original Flying Wedge, which consisted of Big Bill Moran, Biff, Jeff and Johnny the Greek, never had to work on John L. Sullivan again.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityRestaurants/Bars/Coffeehouses/Food Stores • Tuesday, October 01, 2019 • Permalink