Onion Mike’s on Second Avenue

O. O. McIntyre // Amid the clamorous ugliness of Second Avenue is Onion Mike’s. My cicerone for the excursion to this underworld cache is a former Bowery clog dancer who has scaled the barrier separating the underworld from the upper.

Onion Mike is a squat, gorilla-chested man with undershot jaw and bloodshot eyes. He wears a soiled sweater and several days growth of beard. When he talks it is with a gutteral eruption. It is evident he rules by fear.

He began with one of those sidewalk sandwich stands that cater to night hawks. Then he moved into his cellar place. It is low ceiled and clings to the coal oil lamp in the center. The room is stippled with small coverless tables.

It is the most hideous haunt I ever saw. I was told by my guide who knew all the habitues that murder was “five dollars a head” and I believe him. The women had gold teeth, parchment complexions and suspicious coughs.

One young fellow, not more than 30, with claw like hands pounded a piano in his coat sleeves. He came over to our table to “cadge” a drink. He said he used to “spiel up town in a swell joint.”

“What brought you here?” I asked.

“Booze and a blonde,” was his succinct reply.

The piece de resistance on the menu was raw steak sandwiches with generous slices of raw onions. During the time I was there a policeman strolled in. The hush was ominous but he merely strolled over to a water cooler and refreshed himself with a drink.

A placid eyed wrinkled Chinaman sat in one corner with a girl of not more than 20. They never talked but smoked one cigaret after another. In the back a parrot now and then screamed its unholy imprecations. It swore with fiery abandon.

Syndicated column, Aug. 30, 1923

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