It’s impressive that an establishment framed around insulting hundreds of famous people by distorting their faces has lasted as long as it has. Sardi’s has been one of Times Square’s most celebrated fixtures for 84 years — the "longest running show on Broadway" is much more of a legend than Cats will ever be.
Vincent Sardi opened up the restaurant in 1921 with his wife Eugenia, in their own home. Their first customers were a few friends in the silent-film industry who gathered at the brownstone to enjoy some post-theater chow. Hey, let’s go over to Sardi’s place and drink at the bar in the middle of his dining room! You get the idea. Six years later, the establishment moved to the current 44th Street site for some elbowroom and less invasion of personal space. Sardi decided to mimic a decor he’d seen in Paris and wanted to hang a few silly portraits on the wall. His artist was Alex Gard, who supposedly made an arrangement with Sardi to swap his caricatures for daily meals. The need for sustenance and ornamentation spawned nearly 800 portraits of patrons over the next few decades, from actors to playwrights to producers.
In 1950, it became the custom for a cast of a new show to dine late at Sardi’s after opening night, when the customers in the restaurant would give the company a standing ovation. The rest of the night was filled with arguments and apprehension, as the cast dined, drank, and killed time in anticipation of the early morning newspaper reviews. Sardi’s even boasts a low-cost "actor’s menu" to ease the pain of understudy and ensemble roles, with hopes that their thespian patrons could one day dine underneath his or her own portrait. In more modern times, Sardi’s has expanded its clientele to touristy celeb-spotting types. The milieu at Sardi’s is explained by their motto: "We treat stars like ordinary people, and ordinary people like stars."