Taste of the Tour
Jack Nicklaus came for the Gorgonzola salad. Claude Harmon liked his steak medium rare and charred on the outside. Dave Marr always needed two breath mints after he ate the garlic bread.
Every PGA Tour stop has its favorite restaurants and watering holes. Manero’s, located on a sliver of land along the harbor here, was the place to be when the Tour came to nearby Westchester County.
“Snead, Palmer, Nicklaus — half the field would be in there,” says Billy Farrell, the former pro at Stanwich Club in Greenwich for thirty-six years.
The pros have their favorite stories about Manero’s. Nicklaus remembers the time his son Jackie, then four, had a piece of lobster lodged in his throat. Jackie started to turn blue and his eyes rolled back in his head.
“Go get it!” ordered Phil Rodgers, the old pro and Nicklaus’s short-game coach. So Nicklaus slid his hand down his son’s throat and saved the day, only to turn around and find that son Steve had climbed on the table and was munching on his dad’s dinner.
Then there was the time Claude Harmon meant to tuck his napkin in his pants, but he grabbed the tablecloth with it, taking half the dishes with him when he stood up to go to the bathroom. And ten years ago, an elderly, stern-looking man summoned to his table the restaurant’s proprietor, Nick Manero Jr., nephew of 1936 U.S. Open champion Tony Manero. “You don’t know me,” the customer said, “but your uncle spoiled my last chance to win a major, and I’ll never forgive him for it.” And then Hall of Famer Harry Cooper winked.
Many of the pros stayed across the street at the Showboat Hotel for easy access to the restaurant. Former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman first stayed there and dined nightly at Manero’s while teaming with Billy Buppert to win the prestigious Anderson Four-Ball amateur titles at Winged Foot Golf Club in 1958–1959.
“They loved golf. Everyone in Manero’s played golf,” Beman remembers. “You couldn’t go to Mamaroneck and play Winged Foot and not go there. There was no second choice.”
Yet last June, when the tour returned to Winged Foot for the U.S. Open, Manero’s wasn’t even an option. After sixty-two years, the restaurant served its last steak on February 26, 2006.
Manero’s was a real-life Cheers for golfers. Instead of Sam Malone, the former Red Sox pitcher, tending bar, there was Tony Manero, the restaurant’s namesake, holding court as maitre d’. His brother-in-law, Nick Manero Sr., was the lovable “Coach” figure, except with brains. The wait staff was more Italian than Carla Tortelli. Many of them carried golf bags and single-digit handicaps by day, then carried a tune singing “Happy Birthday” to customers by night. Now that it’s gone, those who used to frequent Manero’s feel the same sense of loss as when Cheers went off the air — without the comfort of endless reruns.
“I was planning to go there during the Open for old time’s sake,” says Butch Harmon.
Tony and Agnes, Nick’s sister, met in 1931 and were married fifty-nine years. Coincidentally, they shared the same surname: Mainiero. But like his childhood friend, Gene Sarazen, whose name was changed from Eugenio Saraceni (it sounded more like a violin than a golfer), Tony’s name was simplified to Manero by the media.
“Everyone automatically thought Tony owned the restaurant, but that wasn’t the case. Nick did,” says Dick Manero, Tony’s youngest son. “My dad was a draw. Everyone knew him, and they would come to see him.” In fact, Tony was pathologically shy, says his son. But he was fond of talking about golf and his demeanor brightened when a customer greeted him as “Champ.”
Nick Manero was a sharp businessman. He went to law school and was a legal secretary to New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Nick was a cook during World War II, and when he came home he opened a restaurant, the 19th Hole, named in honor of Tony, below the family’s residence at 537 Steamboat Road. But Nick recognized that Tony’s golf success was good for business, so in 1945 he changed the name to Manero’s to cash in on the name of one of the area’s most popular sports figures.
With his silver hair tucked under his signature oversized chef’s toque, eyes dancing with good humor behind his round glasses, Nick welcomed customers by name with a jolly comment. Sometimes he would borrow a line from the catchy signs adorning the wall, such as “Beautiful women eat steak to stay that way,” “What food these morsels be” and one that had a tantalizing offer: “Free steak for life if you give birth here.”
An endless stream of large groups sat elbow to elbow in the bustling, rough-hewn restaurant. The décor was simple: paper placemats on Formica tables, with black-and-white golf photos hanging on the varnished wood walls.
“It was fashionably shabby,” Dick says with a wry smile and a chuckle. “Dated but lovable.”