New York's Oldest Bartender Hits 90
Tells of Celebrities He's Served
Tuesday 21st of February 2017
New York bartender Hoy Wong, 90, said he remembers when a martini cost a buck
and a shot of Scotch was 75 cents.
Marilyn Monroe came Wednesdays for lunch and ordered a Beefeater martini, very
dry. Danny Kaye pulled his jacket over his head to avoid being recognized. Judy
Garland sat in a corner drinking Johnnie Walker Red.
"Judy Garland, very sad," said Hoy Wong, who is about to be feted by his
employer of 27 years, the Algonquin Hotel, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
"She always had a cocktail glass in her hand."
Wong, or Mr. Hoy, as he is known, has been working as a bartender for 58 years.
Unless another candidate steps forward, his bosses seem safe in calling him the
city's oldest bartender.
"He never misses a day," said Bill Liles, the Algonquin's general manager. "If
the weather's bad he shows up early. It's just really an honor to work with
someone like Mr. Hoy."
Wong's birthday is Wednesday but the Algonquin is getting a jump on the
festivities by holding a party for some 350 of his friends and admirers on
Tuesday in the hotel's Oak Room.
"I didn't expect it," Wong said during an interview Monday at the hotel,
surrounded by Al Hirschfeld drawings of some of the same celebrities he used to
mix drinks for.
Wong is not old enough to have been at the Algonquin during its Jazz Age heyday
when Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross and the rest of the Round Table gang traded
quips over a liquid lunch.
But he is a link to New York's past, when a martini cost a dollar and a shot of
Scotch was 75 cents.
"With ten dollars I can take my girlfriend out, go to a movie," he said,
chuckling. "And have dinner. Still have change."
Wong is slight of build and looks much younger than 90. His eyes twinkled as he
reminisced about a life that took him from his birthplace of Hong Kong to San
Francisco in 1940 and New York in 1942.
He served in the U.S. Army Air Forces from 1943 to 1946 and was stationed in
India and China. Among his cherished mementoes is a menu from Thanksgiving Day
1945, when he was a mess sergeant in Canton. The bill of fare included roast
capon, candied yams and "Corn O'Brien."
Back in New York, Wong got a job tending bar in 1948 at a now-defunct Chinese
restaurant called Freeman Chum. It was there that he encountered Monroe, Garland
and other notables including Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin and Bob Hope.
"They were all nice people," he said.
There were more famous faces at the Algonquin, where Wong has worked since 1979.
Once, he recalled, a woman sitting at the bar next to Anthony Quinn got so
nervous she shook.
Wong himself hasn't had a drink since he had a heart attack in 1982; he doesn't
His daily routine would tax the energy of a man half his age. Up at 5:30 a.m.,
he goes for a walk around the block, then goes back to sleep until 12:30 p.m.
After lunch and another nap it's off to work at 3:15 p.m.
He spends his shift on his feet, sometimes manning the bar solo.
His proudest moment came in 1961 when he mixed a drink for the Duke of Windsor.
"He said he wanted a House of Lords martini in and out on toast."
The wait captain was prepared to send Wong into the kitchen for a piece of
toast, but Wong knew the duke wanted a martini with a lemon twist ignited with a
"After he drink, he liked it," he said. "And he had a second one."