Thu, Aug 24, 2006 - Page 6 News List

New York's oldest bartender turns 90

THE GUARDIAN , NEW YORK

New York's oldest bartender learned early in his career not to be over-awed in the presence of celebrity.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were "just regular people," and never gave him any trouble; Judy Garland was "sad," and sat in the corner drinking whisky, but was otherwise pleasant. John Lennon liked a scotch. And Marilyn Monroe?

"I'll tell you this about Marilyn," Hoy Wong said on Tuesday, leaning forward at a table in the bar of the Algonquin Hotel. "She always wore really low-cut dresses."

Mr Hoy, as he is universally known, turned 90 yesterday, and last night his colleagues in midtown Manhattan, were preparing to throw a party for him, along with 350 friends and customers.

After 58 years behind the bar, pouring some 750,000 drinks, the Hong Kong-born Hoy was enjoying the attention. But he had no plans to get drunk: He has not had a drink since a heart attack in 1982.

After coming to the US in 1940, Hoy served in the army for three years, seeing out the end of World War II in India and China, and learning, from his experiences as a mess sergeant, that he would not relish a career as a cook.

"Being a bartender, it's easy living, and you get to talk to people every day, pay attention to the customer," he said. "And it's good money."

Hoy met most of his star customers while at Freeman Chum, a Chinese restaurant that has long since closed. At another bar job, in 1961, he took an order from the Duke of Windsor, for a House of Lords gin martini "on toast."

The request baffled other staff, one of whom was ready to get the kitchen to prepare some toast. But Hoy knew he wanted a Martini with a lemon-peel spritz, set on fire. The former king ended up ordering two.

Hoy moved to the Algonquin in 1979. The wisecracking members of the 1920s Algonquin round table -- Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and others -- had long since moved on. But they had been replaced by other high-profile customers such as Anthony Quinn and Henry Kissinger.

"I'm not going to retire," Hoy said. "As long as I'm healthy like this, I'll keep going. You know why? I figured it out. President Bush -- he needs the money. So I've got to keep working to pay the tax."

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