Bernard’s – Adult Film’s Social Center: Strippers, Porn Stars, Broadway Plays… and Onion Soup

Bernard’s – Adult Film’s Social Center: Strippers, Porn Stars, Broadway Plays… and Onion Soup

There are scores of movies, TV shows, and stories about New York City in the 1970s and 80s. They depict the city as grimy, lawless, and ungovernable – teeming with threat, but also with creative energy. A city of working class families, wayward artists, striving immigrants… and the canny operators trying to take advantage of them all.

And no neighborhood seemed to epitomize New York in those days like Times Square. It was chock full of adult bookstores, sex workers, peep shows, porn theaters and strip clubs – including the infamous strip club, the Melody Burlesk.

The Melody opened in 1973 on the corner of 48th street and Broadway. Secretly run by New York state’s assistant district attorney, Fred Cincotti, and wealthy construction company owner, Steve Katz, it quickly became a popular stop for adult film actresses like Seka, Marilyn Chambers, Lesllie Bovee, Sue Nero, Annie Sprinkle and Long Jean Silver – each looking to capitalize on their popularity.

A few years after the Melody opened, Bernard’s was born – just across the street from the strip club. It was a bar and restaurant that became a focal point for all flavors of New York’s entertainment industry – from theater hopefuls to television pioneers. But above all, Bernard’s was the epicenter of the adult film business’ social world: for a New York porn star, Bernard’s was the place to be.

And one man was at the heart of it all – Bernard himself.

This is Bernard’s story – and the story of Bernard’s.

With thanks to Jeanne Silver and Josh Alan Friedman for the photographs, and to Lisa Be for the paintings.

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Bernard – The Early Days

Are you a born-and-bred New Yorker?

Absolutely. I was born in Borough Park, Brooklyn and lived there until I went to college. 

Did you grow up religious? 

Yes. We were Modern Orthodox – Jewish. I went to yeshivas my whole life: elementary, high school and college. I graduated from Yeshiva University.

Did you consider yourself orthodox? 

No, not at all. And the reason I wasn’t Orthodox was because of sports. On Saturdays, the Sabbath, me and my friend Harvey used to go to our friend Lenny Kyler’s house to watch baseball games on television.

The opera singer Richard Tucker used to say “I’m a non-practicing Orthodox Jew.” And that was me. I don’t believe that a woman should participate in services, I don’t believe in female rabbis, I don’t believe a woman should read the Torah. But I do believe in equal rights. I’m not a misogynist, but I believe in the culture of Orthodox Judaism.

And my whole family remained practicing Orthodox. I’m the only one that didn’t.

BernardBernard’s High School Yearbook

What did you study in college? 

Political history. I wanted to be a lawyer, maybe because my uncle was a New York state supreme court judge.

The year I graduated college, Vietnam was going strong. There had been a law stating that anyone that went into graduate school was exempt from the draft, but the year I graduated, they overturned that law. Then the only people who were exempt were engineers, doctors, or divinity students. Or you could say you were homosexual. Or go to Canada or become a conscientious objector. Or become a school teacher.

I wasn’t going to go to Vietnam and I’ll tell you why: they made all college graduates entering the army second lieutenants, and second lieutenants were the ones that said, “follow me.” And the ones that said “follow me” were the first ones gunned down by the Viet Cong.

Were you against the war or were you just not willing to die for it? 

Both. But I was definitely against the war. I was a hippy – I had hair down to my neck.

So what did you do? 

I became a school teacher. They wanted men teachers in schools because in the poorer communities there were so few male figures. The black fathers just disappeared.

I taught in Red Hook and in Park Slope. I taught elementary school: kindergarten, first grade, second, and third.

How long did you teach for?

I taught until I was no longer eligible for the draft which was about five years. So I stopped teaching when I was about 26.

I loved teaching, but I hated the teachers. On day one, the women teachers would say, “Only 240 more days left.” So what do you want to do… just waste your life and go through it?

So I finished my eligibility and then I became an entrepreneur.

When you decided that you were not going to teach anymore, did you have an idea of what you would do next? 

No. But I knew it would be my own business.

I’d always had a knack for running a small business. I had my first when I was 16: it was an ice cream store with my brother in the Catskills during the summer. The ice cream company gave us a freezer and our first order came free. You paid for it on your next delivery.

We didn’t make money. But we had fun.

Bernard'sBernard’s College Yearbook

So did you open a business right after teaching?

Well, first I became a distributor of natural health bars for a friend of my brother-in-law. I’d go to supermarkets and fill up the shelves.

Then I wound up opening a plant store in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. There was a big plant craze going on in the ’70s back then. And my sister was a decorator and had opened a store in the city on the Upper West Side. It was called ‘An Occasional Piece’ – great name. I supplied plants for her clients. 

I opened that plant store with my wife. And my mother used to make macrame hanging baskets and sandstorms for me. 

How did you meet your wife?

On Fire Island. I rented a share in a house with a bunch of guys during the summer.

How long did that plant business last?

About two years. Not too long. Neither did the marriage!

Both began failing, so we closed shop, went our separate ways, and I went out to Malibu. My sister and her husband had rented a house just off the Pacific Coast Highway near the Getty Museum and they invited me to stay with them.

I loved it out there. It was beautiful and the weather was great. I ran five miles every day. And I met my best friend’s cousin and began dating her. We liked each other but her family snubbed me because her father was a big movie executive: he didn’t like that I was driving a Toyota Corolla, and not a Mercedes…

What did you do for work?

I worked with my brother-in-law. He started something brilliant. 

Back in those days, if directors or producers wanted someone to audition for something, they’d often wind up flying actors to different places. That consisted of airfare, hotel rooms, meals – and it all added up.

Well, video was just coming on the market and my brother-in-law provided a service where he’d videotape performers so they could submit their auditions by mail. 

The business was extremely successful. But my brother-in-law had a partner and one day that partner took all their money and disappeared. So the business fell apart.

After that, I took off for San Francisco and spent a great couple of weeks dating women.

But it was time to get back to New York. I was in my early 30s at that point and it was time to figure out what was next.

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The Birth of Bernard’s

So what was next?

When I got back to New York I met up with an old college friend – the same friend whose cousin I had dated in L.A. His name was Steve Katz – and while I had been out west he had opened up a strip joint with two partners.

Steve Katz

What did you make of the fact that your friend from Yeshiva University had opened a strip club?

I’m one of those people that doesn’t judge: whoever you’re fucking and wherever you’re fucking is none of my business as long as you don’t do it in front of me. So I didn’t care – it was Steve’s choice.

How did Steve wind up opening a strip club?

Steve was brilliant. It started when he took over his father’s business – his father had been a house painter – and Steve parlayed that into a successful roofing business. In fact, he turned it into a multi-million dollar operation.

At the same time, my brother became friends with a guy named Seymour Kramer. He would up becoming one of my brother’s best friends. Now… Seymour was not a nice guy.

Somehow Steve and Seymour became friends and wound up opening the strip club with a guy named Freddy Cincotti. Freddy was an assistant state attorney general in New York at the time.

And that strip club was the Melody Burlesk?

That’s right. It was the Melody Burlesk on 48th street. The three of them owned the Melody.

Well one day Steve invited me out for lunch – it was about 1978 I think.I met him at a restaurant called Vesuvio’s on 48th Street between Broadway and 6th – right near the Melody.

When I got there, Steve was with Seymour and Freddy. We all ate lunch together and they were nice enough guys – then the bill came. It was over $60 – which was a lot for lunch in the late ’70s. So Freddy said, “You know, for all of the money we spend on lunch, we should open up our own restaurant.” Then he says, “But who would run it?”

I immediately said, “I will.”

Melody Burlesk

Did you want to open a restaurant?

It hadn’t been on my radar, but I had nothing else going.

I knew nothing about the restaurant business. Zilch. I told them that, but they didn’t seem to care. One of them was friends with the owner of a restaurant called Hannibal’s. He arranged for me to go there and work for a few days. Hannibal’s owner taught me everything I needed to know in three days.

Three days to understand how to successfully run a restaurant in New York?

Ha! Well, I’d also been a waiter at the Jewish summer camps I went to. And I was, and still am, a great shopper – I knew how to get the best prices on things.

And listen, I’m not gonna brag… but I’m a very smart man. I understood everything right away.

Who came up with the menu for the restaurant?

I did. It was gonna be simple food. Steaks. Burgers. Chicken. And big portions too.

The kitchen was only as big as a bathroom but it was really successful. The food was great.

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Jeanne Silver:
I loved Mimi’s onion soup at Bernard’s. I could have lived on that every day.

Sue Nero:
I used to give head to Reggie the cook in the bathroom. He was so hot. And a good cook.

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And what were the financial arrangements for Bernard’s? 

Steve, Seymour, Freddy, and myself all went in as equal partners. I think we each kicked in 20 grand – so 80 grand total to renovate the place. We would all take an equal split of earnings, but I’d also take a salary for running the place. I was there every day.

Where did you get $20,000?

From my drug dealing.

No, I’m joking!

I had money. I always had money. Or maybe I borrowed it from my sister. I don’t remember.

And what location did you choose?

We chose an old gin mill called The Everglades near the Melody. The Melody was at 205 W. 48th St and we opened Bernard’s at 218 W. 48th St.

The place was just an old bar that didn’t serve food or anything. I had to get rid of all the crap customers so I raised the drink prices. They had been selling beer and wine for a dollar. I think I raised it to a dollar and a quarter… and the riffraff all disappeared.

Were you worried about being in Times Square then? It could be pretty sketchy in the 1970s and 80s…

Well, first of all we weren’t on 42nd street – we were on 48th which felt a bit removed. We were a clean restaurant, serving good food to good people. Like I told you, I raised the prices and I got rid of the shit.

I did get stabbed once though. I was walking home and tried to break up a fight between a prostitute and a pimp. I did break it up, but I got knifed in the process. The woman, a street prostitute, slashed me with a razor blade. After that incident, I had my workers walk me to my car for a bit. 

Why did you call the restaurant Bernard’s?

I didn’t call it that. The other guys wanted to call it that. And I was going to be there all the time so I went along with it.

Can you physically describe Bernard’s for me?

It was a very simple configuration. You walked in and the bar was on the right: it was a long wood bar. On the left there were about 10 tables, with one table right by the front window. And we had a jukebox so people could play music. And for a while when it was legal we had a video game or two in there. Asteroids, I think.

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Tiffany Clark:
Freddie [Lincoln] and I used to always try and get the table by the front window. It was a great date spot. Even if all our friends were at Bernard’s at the same time, being up front meant we could have some private time for just us.

Richard Milner:
It was a small bar, that somehow managed to fit everyone in. Everyone would be relaxed there, they could be themselves there. But the real fun was had in the back: the bathroom was the blow job and coke capital of the world.

Kandi BarbourKandi Barbour and Fred Lincoln – by Lisa Be

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Who worked with you at Bernard’s?

Tina was one of the girls who worked for me for a while. She started there when she was 16. I always told her, if anybody asks you how old you are, you’ve gotta say 18. You couldn’t serve liquor at 16. But she was a great worker.

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Joseph Stryker:
There were a few regular waitresses at Bernard’s – (wrestler) Greg “The Hammer” Valentine‘s sister was one. Rosa Ocasio was another – and she went on to become a New York police officer. And Jimmy Ricks was the bouncer at Bernard’s for a while. He used to sing with a group called The Ravens. He helped Melvin Franklin of The Temptations perfect his bass voice.

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And why did you choose a location near the Melody – so you had a lunch spot nearby?

They wanted it near the Melody so all the pretty girls from there would come to the bar and attract customers. If you’re passing by and you see pretty women through the window, you’re gonna come in.

Did the girls from the Melody get a discount?

No. But they rarely paid for their drinks cause guys bought them rounds all the time.

Melody BurleskBackstage at the Melody Burlesk

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Lisa Be:
The day I started working at the Melody in April, 1980, the well-known stripper Dixie Dew pointed across the street. “That’s Bernard’s,” she said. “We live there.  The owners of that place are the same as the theatre’s.”  

After that I always had lunch at Bernard’s before I worked. Bernard’s give us strippers a safe place to sit and eat and drink when we weren’t working. A retired cop named Jimmy had the informal job of keeping an eye on us, in part to keep the local pimps away from us and make sure the boundary between the performers and ‘the straights’ was maintained. He also monitored the several cocaine dealers who were permitted because they were known to management. 

Gradually, Bernard’s became known around the world as a place to go when you were in New York if you wanted to spot porn stars.

Josh Alan Freidman:
I remember quietly sitting at a table at Bernard’s with Bambi Woods, Lisa Be and a few other girls. They were telling me, “You can’t handle being with porn stars.” I was a relatively innocent boy and the girls were always playing head games, trying to trip me up.

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Who else hung out at the restaurant besides the dancers from the Melody?

We had so many famous people hanging out there – more than you can imagine.

First of all, Ain’t Misbehavin‘ had opened up next door and the cast would come in after performances all the time. Nell Carter was the lead in the show and she and I became absolutely best friends.

Nell CarterNell Carter onstage in Ain’t Misbeheavin’

A few people told me that you were Nell’s cocaine dealer – is that true?

That is true – I used to get her coke. But I was not the dealer. She asked me one night, “Bernard, can you get me something?” And I would speak to one of the dealers and I would get it for her. She died owing me $1500 for coke.

And by the way, I never slept with Nell Carter. Great woman though.

So you got a lot of theater people in the bar?

A good number. They would come out backstage and slide right in. And they weren’t treated like royalty, they were treated like regular people. 

I got to know Edward James Olmos well. He was in a broadway production called ‘Zoot Suit.’ It closed pretty quickly but he and I stayed friends. 

And Ed Harris used to come in all the time. This was when he was trying to break in, before his career took off. He would sit at the end of the bar drinking all alone.

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Jeanne Silver:
I used to see Ed Harris at Bernard’s all the time. He was always drinking Jack with a beer chaser. We never had sex but we did make out in the bathroom once. That was fun.

Sue Nero:
Joey Karson
and I used to pile into (musician and Chic co-founder) Nile Rogers‘ red Porsche and make the club rounds with him, including Studio 54. Tony, the drummer from Nile’s band, used to crash with me all the time at the Consulate Hotel – we had a thing. I used to see (actor) Larry Riley at Bernard’s a bunch too. When he did a show on Broadway with Howard Rollins and Denzel Washington, he took me to meet them. Both Larry and Howard wound up dying of AIDS. The 1980s were a scary time.

Sean Elliott:
(David Letterman bandleader) Paul Shaffer used to hang out at Bernard’s all the time. One night he was there sitting with me and Lisa De Leeuw desperate to score a gram or two of blow. Pretty soon he recognized a black girl who sold coke at Bernard’s, and got some from her. When he left, she told me and Lisa that at the beginning of the David Letterman show, if Paul started yelling ‘yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah’ in a really hyper way, that was his signal to his buddies that he was high on good quality cocaine. After that, whenever I watched the Letterman show I would always wait to see if Paul would shout ‘yeah yeah yeah yeah!’ and think of Bernards…

*

How did you feel about running Bernards? How long did it take you to ease into it?

Oh, I loved it right away. Interacting with different people all the time. Everybody liked me – and I don’t mean that with self gratitude. I was nice with people.

What I always said about Bernard’s was that you had a mix of Broadway stars, strippers, drug dealers, and tourists and they all got along. There was never a physical problem ever.

So you never had any problems with Bernard’s? No tax issues, no health issues, nothing? 

Pretty much. Well… they audited me once. They sent an agent in and he ordered a shot and carried it out with him. And they measured it and said, “According to our records, you’re selling a lot more than you’re reporting.” I paid a small fine – like $200. Nothing significant. 

Did Bernard’s earn you good money?

The money was fine. I wasn’t becoming rich, but I could live comfortably. I always had a new car – a new Audi, a new Mazda, a new 240Z. And I had a garage at the hotel on 8th Avenue and one at 84th Street in Manhattan near where I lived. 

I’m not an extravagant person. I don’t dress fancy, I don’t flash. I’m a simple Jewish boy from Brooklyn.

Lisa BeLisa Be at Bernard’s

Kathy HarcourtKathy Harcourt at Bernard’s

What did your partners think of the money Bernard’s was making?

They were good with it. I used to give them money each week. I would divide the profits into four equal piles and dole it out. But I would almost always put some of the money to the side so that if we were light some weeks I could top things up. I knew the secret to keeping everyone happy was having a consistent cashflow week to week. 

Did you manage the books?

No, my accountant did the books. But the guys never wanted to see the books. They all trusted me, especially cause I was making them money every week. Except for Seymour. He thought I was stealing. But I never took a penny.

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Joseph Stryker:
Freddy (Cincotti) was never at the Melody but he was often at Bernard’s. He met girls he wanted to date there – and he dated quite a few. One was a Melody dancer named Desiree DuSoir. She was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen in my life and luckily, I got to have sex with her. (My wife) Brandy and I also swung with Freddy once or twice when he brought in other girls he was dating.

But mostly Freddy and I just hung out at Bernard’s. After the bar closed at night, they’d pull the gate down half way. Then Bernard might leave, but Freddy and I would hang back with a couple of bottles at the table and talk.

BernardsJeanne Silver, Annette Heinz, Dian Hanson and others at Bernards

 

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Were you meeting lots of women at the bar?

Lots of them. And I was really a good looking guy back then. I really was. So I was having a lot of sex. It was fun.

What did you make of all the girls from The Melody? Did you get friendly with any of them? 

Yes, I did. One of them was my girlfriend. Her real name was Linda but her stage name was Danielle. In fact I was dating three girls named Danielle at the same time so that was convenient. All were very special to me. Sometimes the bar manager would say, “Hey, Danielle called” and I’d have no idea which one he was talking about.

Was one of the three Danielles, the person who acted in some adult films and sometimes went by the name Danielle Martin?

Yeah. She was beautiful. I was truthfully madly in love with her. She was still doing porno films when we started dating and I said, “You can’t do this anymore.” So I got her a job as a waitress on Lexington Avenue.

We wound up splitting up but I kept in touch with her.

Danielle MartinDanielle Martin, photo by Suze Randall

What happened to that Danielle?

She eventually moved to Nevada. She married some rich guy there – I think he was a doctor. They divorced but she got the house which was worth several million dollars. And she began taking classes to become a physical therapist.

We stayed in touch. But then one day her aunt called me up to tell me Danielle was dead. They found her on the couch with an empty bottle of vodka next to her. She was so young – in her 40s. It was such a shame.

What did you make of the adult film business?

I hated that business. I didn’t think people should be fucking on film. And it was an abuse of women.

Bernard'sTiffany Clark, Fred Lincoln, and Jeanne Silver at Bernard’s

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Richard Milner:
All the dancers, porn actresses, and sex show performers used to hang out at Bernard’s in between sets and jobs. So when I realized that, I’d go there to do all my casting: my film Centerfold Fever was pretty well all cast there. I’d just turn up and approach girls, like Serena or Lisa Be, with an offer to make some extra money by doing a photo shoot for ’Stag’, ‘Porn Stars’, or any of the adult magazines I happened to be publishing at the time. I remember Kathy Harcourt once said, “If you have a gram of coke and $100 cash, you can have me.” Sadly I didn’t have the cash. It’s something I still regret to this day.

Lisa Be:
Juliet Anderson
was interviewing Ron Jeremy at Bernard’s once, and she asked: “What about the degradation and humiliation of women in porn movies?” Ronnie, unhesitatingly, said: “I think that’s changing, and I’d like to see it change more.” I said: “Hey Ronnie, what are you doing RIGHT now?” I took him into the bathroom and fucked him there and then.

*

Is that what the porn stars used to tell you – that they were abused by the industry?

No. I never discussed it with them. That was my own personal feeling.

These women were badly in need of love and compassion. They were vulnerable. They never got it because they were siblings without siblings. And many of them were ignorant. 

Steve Katz, Seymour Kramer, Freddy Cincotti – they all took advantage of these girls. And I never took advantage of them. I never forced myself on them, I never coerced any of them. Ever.

But your co-owners did…

Freddy was a very wealthy man with a lot of power. He could have any woman he wanted because they were all attracted to him. Especially when he had a few drinks. Sober, he was a stern man. But he was a nice guy when he was drunk.

*

Jeanne Silver:
I had sex a few times with Freddy Cincotti and Steve Katz upstairs. I also slept with Steve’s driver, Chris, a couple of times. The owners let me run a tab there and settle up monthly. I loved Tina, Sharon, and Michael who all worked there. And my favorite thing was just chilling with Bernard and having great discussions about everything and nothing at the same time.

*

Did you get to know your co-owners well – like Freddy Cincotti?

I knew Freddy extremely well.

Making money was never important to Freddy. Freddy just wanted to be liked. He was married to a nice Jewish girl, Cynthia. And his son Peter later became a student of Harry Connick Jr. Peter went on to have a decent career. He never truly blew up but he’s a real good crooner.

But anyway, Freddy was just a quiet guy normally. Mostly because he was connected to the Mafia. His godfather was Fat Tony Salerno of the Genovese crime family. 

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Richard Milner:
The mob started hanging at Bernard’s too – probably because these particular bar owners themselves knew plenty of people in that world. One mobster wanted to ingratiate himself with us so he came in and offered us a pile of cocaine. He poured out this white powder and we all helped ourselves. Unfortunately it turned out to be some kind of animal tranquilizer and everyone got sick.

*

Did you find it ironic that Freddy was an assistant state’s attorney who owned a strip club and ran with the Mafia?

It was absurd. He should have been disqualified because of moral reasons.

It was an absolute joke. 

Fred CincottiFreddy Cincotti – by Lisa Be

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The Daily News, Dec. 11, 1982:
INDICT STATE AIDE IN PROSTIE PROMO: Frederick P. Cincotti, an assistant state attorney general, was indicted yesterday on charges of promoting prostitution at a Times Square burlesque theater he owns. Cincotti faces up to seven years in jail if convicted… Authorities described the Melody as a place where “women engage in sexual conduct with customers for a fee.” Authorities said at the club – which reportedly grosses $20,000 a week – the women circulate through the audience during the show and charge $1 up for various sex acts – ranging from fondling to intercourse. Cincotti, an assistant attorney general since 1964, was immediately fired from
 his $40,767-a-year-job.

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How many years did Bernard’s stay open? 

About nine years. We closed it around 1986.

Why did Bernard’s come to an end?

Developers were knocking down the block. In our lease, it said if they knocked it down we’d get no money. But we hired a lawyer and he got us $1.2 million.

If it hadn’t been for that redevelopment, we would have happily kept going. Everyone loved the place; I loved the place. It was a solid business and the people there were like family. I was sad to see it go.

Bernard'sKandi Barbour, Anna Turner and accountant Al Kronish at Bernard’s –
from the collection of Josh Alan Friedman

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Lisa Be:
One night I was at Bernard’s having a drink with friends. As I walked from my table to the bar, three Japanese tourists said: “Tha-aht is Lisa-a-aw Be!”  I smiled, and they asked, politely, to have their picture taken with me.  They took several shots, each eagerly standing with an arm around my waist.

“That must make you happy,” Sorita Savage, another stripper, said. But in that moment I remembered that when I was growing up, I had wanted to be famous for being an artist and a writer. As a porn actress, how famous did I want to get? Did I want to be like Seka, who always had to have two bodyguards with her, or like Vanessa del Rio, who wore disguises as she walked around New York? No. 

Getting well known was definitely going to place a limitation on my life. That was the moment I decided to leave the business.

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Epilogue

What did you do after Bernard’s closed?

First I took over a restaurant called Cafe Ariel on 42nd street between 10th and 11th Avenues. The people that owned it approached me and asked me to run it.

But I did that for less than a year. He was only paying me like 500 bucks a week. I knew I could do better.

So what was next?

A childhood friend of Steve Katz named Rick Goldschmidt approached me to partner on a Zabar’s type place up in Scarsdale. High-end specialty foods, prepared foods, that kind of thing. He called it Bernard’s, so the name continued on!

That place was fabulous. I had great cooks. But I made two mistakes. First, I took two of my Indian workers from my restaurant days – and the people up there was really anti-everybody that didn’t look like them. They didn’t like Indians handling their food. It was so stupid – cause those guys were great.

My second mistake was that the parking was at the back of the building. The Jewish women in the neighborhood didn’t want to have to walk around the building from the lot in the back. And then these women would complain that the roasted chicken was undercooked. I told them the chicken was slightly pink because that’s the natural color, we weren’t using chemicals, and it was fully cooked. But they would bring it back and ask for a refund.

So we wound up closing.

Was that the last time you did anything related to Steve Katz or the other guys from the Melody?

No. At the same time I was working at those food places, Freddy, Steve, Seymour and I opened a couple of liquor stores. They were goldmines at first – really good businesses. But we got involved with this guy named Arthur. Turned out Arthur wasn’t paying the wholesale bills – so we lost our businesses because of him. 

So Times Square is done, Scarsdale is done. The liquor stores are done. What came next?

I bought a restaurant in Coney Island, Brooklyn. I had an Israeli friend with an arcade out there and he told me about a family restaurant that was being sold – so I bought it. And I ran it for 20 years.

I kept it exactly like the previous family owners had it. It was Coney Island food – hamburgers, fried chicken, shrimp, sausages – all the food I’d never eat… but people loved. And I loved interacting with the people out there, especially the foreigners. It was really great.

I closed it up recently because my manager, who was fantastic for many years, all of a sudden became a drunk. After 15 years of never missing a day or being late, he started not showing up. And I couldn’t be bothered to try and find someone else. So I sold the place.

When I was younger I could be at a place every day, all day. But not any more. 

So are you retired now?

I guess so. A friend of mine recently asked me if I thought he should retire – and I said, “No, don’t do it: you’re gonna hate it.”

But am I retired? Yes, I’m retired. I made a lot of money in Coney Island, I really did, so I’m comfortable. And at a certain point, if you have enough money to last you the rest of your life, everything else is irrelevant.

But I miss being active.

Looking back on life, any regrets?

I wish I had stayed married and had children. I really regret not having children. I’m still friendly with my ex, but we can only take each other in small doses. She still busts my balls.

And when you look back now on Bernard’s on 48th street, how do you think about those years?

Oh, it was fun. A lot of fun. And a lot of sex. So much sex…

I have always lived by my father’s credo, and that was, “Treat everybody the way you wanna be treated.” And for some of the girls from the Melody and from the movies, they came from turmoil… I cared for them

And Bernard’s was where they could find normalcy. They could just be themselves.

Those were good days.

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Lisa Be:
I remember Bernard’s as a place of joy and acceptance. I wasn’t welcome everywhere because of what I did for a living, but there… we could all hang loose without being judged. I remember relishing the chopped steak and mustard and white wine and the loving, interesting conversations. 

I wish we had a place like Bernard’s today.

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Bernard Furmansky Bernard today

BernardsBernard’s today

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  • Posted On: 13th November 2022
  • By: Ashley West
  • Under: Articles

55 Comments

  1. Corey · November 13, 2022 Reply

    A very worthwhile piece on a slice of Time Square that oozed sex and fun.

    • Susie Nero · November 14, 2022 Reply

      That was awesome!! I loved hanging at Bernards between shows at the Melody. It was our hangout. I was never a drinker but bought most of my coke there from “baseball Billy” and loved the comraderie with my fellow dancers, loved all the amazing actors and musicians that came through. I especially loved Reggie, the cook, but, for me, Bernard was this very handsome but somehow untouchable guy. He never tried to get to know me, maybe because I am Jewish and it turned him off. Most Jewish men are not attracted to their own in naughty situations. Also, the fact I never ordered any alcohol there. My closest male friend in the biz was Peter Wolf, a regular fixture there. I was just in NYC and took a photo of what is now Hurley’s Saloon. It seemed to be the exact location. Anyway, great article, as usual, and Bernards will always be one of my greatest memories of the 80s. My best to Bernard if he even remembers me.
      Susie Nero❤️

      • Dian Hanson · November 18, 2022 Reply

        Come on, Susie, how could Bernard forget you? You were always bigger than life. Peter Wolff’s son contacted me recently, btw. Was great to reminisce about Peter and hear that the kid is doing well.

      • April Hall · November 20, 2022 Reply

        Thanks so much for sharing your memories with us Sue!

    • April Hall · November 20, 2022 Reply

      Thanks Corey!

  2. Hans · November 13, 2022 Reply

    And that’s what I like…. love…. adore about this site. A detail – minor to the extent that 99% of people will never have heard of Bernard’s – but a detail nonetheless, that elucidates the history of adult films… in fact tells part of the story of New York in the 70s that would otherwise be lost forever.
    This is real history.

  3. Kevin Pringle · November 13, 2022 Reply

    Wonderful! Thanks for this…

  4. George Kane · November 13, 2022 Reply

    Fred Cincotti’s story is fascinating.

    I wouldn’t trust anyone other the Rialto people to investigate and report on it.

    Gold standard.

  5. Parrish · November 13, 2022 Reply

    Wow- what an amazing account from Bernard himself. Thank you Rialto Report! I’ve always been fascinated by Bernard’s since hearing of it and it’s too bad there aren’t a lot of photos of the place. Would love to go back in time and have a drink there. Lisa Be’s illustrations are too cool. I’d love to correspond with Lisa as well. Thanks for giving those of us too young to have seen Bernard’s a better feel for what that atmosphere was like.

  6. PopPuddin · November 13, 2022 Reply

    Amazing piece. Thanks. Always been intrigued by the whole idea of Bernard’s and what all went on there. Wish there were photos of the outside of it and more of a full view of the interior.

  7. Annette Heinz · November 13, 2022 Reply

    It was where I lived between shows

  8. Ken Steere · November 13, 2022 Reply

    You found Bernard…!?!?!?!?!????

    This is amazing…. I thought he was long dead, and his story was lost forever.

    Amazing research. Thank you.

  9. TC · November 13, 2022 Reply

    Such a lovely, golden-age, rabbit-hole trip down memory lane… Freddy and Tiffany both so adorable and flamboyantly sexy… Not to mention Kathy Harcourt and Anna Turner (a favorite friend from the West Coast!!).
    Steve, Al, and the entire cast of merry pranksters frozen in time… what a delectable treat.

    The “today” photo is so bland and lifeless… a stark social commentary of what can happen in the absence of rich, oral history (and vintage photos). Thanks RR Team… appreciate you beyond measure.

  10. Sean Elliot · November 13, 2022 Reply

    Great interview
    Bernard still looks great!
    Thanks for the memories..and the mammorys 😎

    • Chris Bostic · November 18, 2022 Reply

      I always enjoy these stories the most. Maybe it’s because the actual hardcore films normally disgust me. I’m not really all that interested in them as an art form. I’m more interested in the history and soul of those who helped create them.

      If I were a young man in those days, I would have definitely hung out at Bernard’s over the strip joint, but I would have passed on the coke. The food sounded delicious and I’m sure the conversation was something else.

      Love ya, Lisa Be. Your my golden age of porn, girlfriend. Honestly, I don’t like hardcore pornography, but I do have a thing for women with “the girl next door” type of good looks.

    • April Hall · November 20, 2022 Reply

      Thanks for sharing your memories Sean!

  11. grendelvaldez · November 13, 2022 Reply

    Brilliant work as always RR. Danielle Martin my heart breaks. I thought she had passed. So sad. Stay Cool & Ciao.

  12. Cathy Gigante-Brown · November 13, 2022 Reply

    Very interesting to learn more about the place and the man I’d heard so much about. Great fodder for a movie…

  13. greg · November 14, 2022 Reply

    I have a strong feeling of nostalgia for Bernard’s even though I was never there.

  14. J. Walter Puppybreath · November 14, 2022 Reply

    Awesome as always, RR!

  15. Chris · November 14, 2022 Reply

    Hi Bernard we met when you used to work out at the New York health and racquet club on East 56 street. You invited me to Bernards the bar and the rest was history I was a young lad working at the club part time going to CollegeI got to be porn stars when I was 20 years old and drank beer and it was awesome thank you so much Chris

  16. Chris · November 14, 2022 Reply

    Ha ha my mistake New York health and racquet club was on W. 56th St., Bernard was a regular he was in good shape worked out all the time. thank you Bernard for inviting me to your bar I loved it1981 1982

  17. Larry · November 15, 2022 Reply

    I am fascinated by the Rialto machine. For each article or podcast we see, how many behind-the-scenes interviews, conversations, meetings, and emails go unseen? How much research has happened? And how deep does the archive go? I once sent the team a document which I randomly acquired decades ago. They tracked down the author and had at least one conversation with this person. So far it hasn’t surfaced on the site, but maybe someday it will. How much material like this do they have in the vault? How many hundreds or thousands of hours of interviews have they conducted and what percentage of it is actually on the site? Is someone tagging or logging or transcribing all this media?

    If Ashley or April decide to do a piece on a film or filmmaker or performer, how do they find the good pull-quote from the unused interview they did eight years ago? Documentary filmmakers can have teams working for weeks to handle this kind of task. However the Rialto team is pulling this off, it’s unbelievably impressive.

    I’m nostalgic for a lot of things – the pinball arcade inside in the 42nd street Subway station, dropping into Show World with a quarter to see a random person undulating, SOHO being empty on a Sunday morning. Someday we’ll be nostalgic for the Rialto Report. This is it’s golden age.

    • Mark · November 16, 2022 Reply

      Amen to that Larry.

      This is the most phenomenal effort conceivable – about a subject that should have conceivably died many years ago. Yet here it comes alive in the most vivid manner possible.

      Breathtaking .

    • Jay Pierce · November 17, 2022 Reply

      I kinda fear the day that The Rialto Report goes off the air. I love it every week.

    • April Hall · November 20, 2022 Reply

      Wow Larry – we’re really touched by your comments. Thank you so much!

  18. Lisa Be · November 15, 2022 Reply

    Bernard, I certainly hope you read this because words can’t express how important it is, and certainly not just to me. I’ll never forget that day that criminally-minded stripper named Bianca started a fight with me at the bar, Jimmy broke it up and threatened to kick us both out, and you indicated me, saying: “THIS girl is alright.” I’d been coming in your bar to eat, drink, draw and read EVERY day for six months then (Oct. 1980) and you knew I couldn’t possibly have started it. She was ejected, I was allowed to stay. That showed a good sense of justice (and I was very grateful to you because finding another place where I felt safe and comfortable wouldn’t have been easy).

    However, your belief that women shouldn’t study Torah or be rabbis does not, and I’m being very sincere when I say that I never knew how much you meant to me till I felt how shocked and disappointed I was. If women can be great doctors, lawyers, college professors and run for political office, why not lead a congregation? Without being Jewish, may I mention that so many young people are showing less and less interest in religion that allowing women to be rabbis would be pragmatic as well as just (Catholic people are running out of priests and nuns!). I read an article by a woman who’d grown up Orthodox once who described how devastated she had been when she saw her baby brother get a party for being born when she hadn’t. Bernard, what does that do to a child’s self-esteem? Isn’t that terrible? What if a grade school girl tried to open a holy book and was told that was for boys? That involves such a terrible waste of human potential that I just can’t believe you’d be in favor of such a thing, and I’ll bet you a cookie that if Freddy Cincotti and Arthur Rubin, who both had Jewish daughters, were here, they’d side with me.

    May I suggest to anyone interested “Torah Study,” by Rachel Keren, who writes: “Over time, scholars mitigated women’s exclusion from Torah study by rendering it inapplicable to all content, inapplicable to all women, or both. In the late eighteenth century, the Jewish Enlightenment revealed an urgent need for the inclusion of women.” (Available online.)

    Where it says: “Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” should we add something that says: “But Orthodox Jewish women shouldn’t expect much?” I submit that Jewish people have never been safer and freer than they are here. Please don’t wipe women out of our great American experiment, Bernard–no constructive purpose is served by it.

    Love, Lisa

    • Dian Hanson · November 18, 2022 Reply

      Hey Lisa, so glad you’re doing well. Just showed my young bf the photos of us boxing that ran in Partner back in 1980. He was very titillated. 😉

      • Lisa Anne Cammett · November 21, 2022 Reply

        Nice to hear from you, Dian! A few years ago Strand Bookstore’s outdoor satellite near 59th & 5th was carrying all of your porn books–and I think I looked at the whole book about legs! Funny how R-rated might be more interesting than X-rated if you’re saturated. –Lisa

        • Dian Hanson · November 23, 2022 Reply

          I love that leg book the most! Beautifully posed and composed photos of women having fun, but The Big Penis Book has been my top seller. Size, apparently, matters.

  19. JACKSON AXE · November 17, 2022 Reply

    Great stuff.
    The thing I’ll take most from this, though, is the sad news that Danielle only made it to her 40s.

  20. Mort · November 18, 2022 Reply

    Wowww what an Awesome story and great record of the center of the New York Adult Industry. Lisa Be Fantastic sketches

  21. Dian Hanson · November 18, 2022 Reply

    Makes me nuts you didn’t reach out to me for this article. Peter Wolff and I were five-night-a-week regulars for years. I remember the night they sent in the decoy to out Freddy Cincotti. She was young and hot, with big breasts. Stood up in the middle of the bar and ripped her shirt open, shook her boobs at everyone and announced she was appearing down the street. That won everyone over and they then talked freely about who owned the place as she returned night after night.
    There is so much more to tell on this notorious bar, but glad Bernard is alive and well. Wonder about Billie the bartender, whose birthday we were celebrating in the pic above.

    • April Hall · November 20, 2022 Reply

      Makes us nuts too – but we’re waiting for the full Dian portrait of your incredible life and career. Can’t wait!

  22. Mike Graham · November 19, 2022 Reply

    Spectacular!

    The number of different angles that The Rialto Report finds and shares is awesome. Who knew I would become interested in a bar or its owner..???

    Keep on doing what you;re doing here. It is wonderful stuff.

  23. Jane Ross · November 19, 2022 Reply

    Please interview Lisa Be and Dian Hanson……!!!! I can’t wait!

  24. Eric Park · December 6, 2022 Reply

    Amazing that Bernard is the one to reveal Danielle Martin’s untimely passing. It’s tidbits like this that keep me coming back to Rialto Report time and time again!

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