Much to my surprise, and the surprise of many in the NY theatre community, it was announced today that Angus’ Cafe Bistro (formerly Angus McIndoe Restaurant) would close Sunday, January 3 after 14-plus years on 44th Street next to the St. James. In all honesty, I can’t remember the first time I went to Angus, but it feels as though it’s always been part of my theatergoing life. I’m guessing it must have been in late 2007, or maybe early 2008; the details are lost to me. But it quickly became a regular hangout where I spent time with good friends, and where I met so many new and fascinating (and sometimes famous) people.
To be honest, the menu didn’t interest me all that much. They made a decent burger and an even better White Russian, so I was satisfied. The location was insanely convenient, since we were almost always coming from or going to a show. We were allowed to take up residence at our table or the bar for as long as we wanted (most often you’d find us near the large windows on the ground floor).
We got to know the staff that came and went, and they were always happy to see us. Brunches, lunches, dinners, or drinks – most often with theater bloggers; it was a time to savor. There were days, often Sundays, where we would start brunch at some other restaurant, but we eventually made our way to Angus for the afternoon, and sometimes evening. There were also those rare days where we’d start at Angus, go to our respective shows, and then meet back for further hijinks.
And what hijinks they were. Kari Geltemeyer and I spotted Stephen Sondheim grabbing a quick drink after the opening night of Gypsy in 2008. (Why we didn’t think of asking him to join our own opening night party, where we drank and read reviews until they shut down, is beyond me). After the closing of this same production, the cast made its way to Angus to celebrate. I asked Marilyn Caskey (Electra) what it was like appearing in the one-performance flop The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall. She told me I was the first person who had ever asked her about that show in her entire career.
Then there was the raucous night we closed down the joint with the West End Whingers and Baz Bamingoye, all stranded in NY because of that volcano in Iceland. Or after the first preview of Finian’s Rainbow, when SarahB and I were seated by Angus himself. It seemed that everyone we knew or wanted to know was there, as we chatted with Kate Buddeke and Kate Baldwin. Sarah and I were rechristened Elsa and Max that night, as we found ourselves singing “Edelweiss” with cast members from Superior Donuts.
After a pre-show drink before the opening night of Superior Donuts with Steve Loucks, Doug Lyon and Gil Varod, I met Elizabeth Ashley in the entrance alleyway. Though she was by herself, she seemed to be holding court, with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in another. I couldn’t resist myself and said hello, and we got chatting. She asked me my name and shook my hand. We chatted for about fifteen minutes mostly about her career, and it was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. Goodbyes were made when her friend (who happened to be Penny Fuller) showed up.
After the closings of both August: Osage County and [title of show], SarahB and I spent hours having a casual dinner and drinks, chatting and being ridiculous. I recall many other jaunts: after seeing A Little Night Music, Follies, Blithe Spirit — the list goes on and on. Angus was also the spot the Independent Theater Bloggers Association chose to celebrate the life of theater journalist Patrick Lee after his untimely death in 2010.
Following the closing of Mary Stuart, our party ended up at a table adjacent to Janet McTeer and Marian Seldes. Interestingly it was a table of nobodies who reprimanded our fun with a terse “PIPE DOWN, WILL YA!” (They apologized on their way out. As they should). That afternoon was as close as I’ve ever come to a full-on spit take in public.
The last time I went into Angus was about a year or so ago. I found myself nostalgic for the many good times I had spent there, but it was different. I didn’t know anyone who was working there anymore. I was still seated near the front window but even the interior had changed. I was later startled to walk by one day to discover the alleyway entrance was now the door to a fish and chips shop. The cafe’s entrance was now in the front, right where our corner roundtable once sat. I don’t know much about the restaurant business, but can’t imagine keeping a restaurant open in a prime area of NYC is an easy task. I’m sorry Angus is closing, but forever grateful for the many, many happy memories I had there with many, many wonderful friends.