The world-famous Copacabana, a mainstay of New York nightclubs, came to symbolize everything that is glamorous and elegant. No other club has had a more profound effect on the public recognition of a performer and their roster reads like a who’s who of show business and the music industry.
The club opened in January 1941 at 10 East 60th Street in New York City. Although Monte Proser’s name was on the lease, he had a powerful partner: mob boss Frank Costello. Costello put Jules Podell on the scene to look after his interests, and within a few years Proser was out and Podell was the official owner.
Many entertainers made their debuts at the Copacabana and helped to develop the unparallel reputation. In 1948 Jon Murry, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra were on stage at the same time. Harry Belafonte headlined the club the 1950s. Sam Cooke performed there on July 8, 1964, resulting in the LP Sam Cooke at the Copa. Sammy Davis Jr. shattered attendance records with his run in May 1964 and in 1965 The Supremes made their debut there in July, resulting in Motown Records booking The Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye in the next few years.
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were frequent performers at the club, and did their last performance there as well, on July 25, 1956, which is seen in the 2002 TV movie Martin and Lewis.
The Copacabana was originally operated as a supper club with the menu reflected the Latin-American theme and exceptional service. The Copa was known as one of the only supper clubs in New York which actually served food equal to that served in the top restaurants in town.
This nightclub achieved a degree of notoriety due to a May 16, 1957 incident involving members of the New York Yankees. One evening, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, Johnny Kucks and Billy Martin, along with their wives arrived at the nightclub to celebrate Martin’s birthday. Sammy Davis, Jr. was the headliner. During the performance, a group of bowlers, apparently intoxicated, started to interfere with Davis’ act, even hurling racial slurs at him. This behavior incensed the Yankees, especially Martin, since his club roommate was catcher Elston Howard, the first African American to join the Yankees. Tensions erupted between the two factions, and the resulting fracas made newspaper headlines. Several of the Yankees were fined. One of the bowlers sued Bauer for aggravated assault, but Bauer was found not guilty. Billy Martin was subsequently traded from the Yankees.
In keeping with the trends of the time, in the mid-1970s, the Copa became a discothèque. It was closed for three years in the 1970s after the owner died. The 1978 Barry Manilow hit song “Copacabana” is about the nightclub.
In 1992, then-owner John Juliano moved the club from its original location of over 50 years, to 617 West 57th Street.
In 2001, the club was forced to move a third time to West 34th Street and Eleventh Avenue, when its landlord terminated its lease early to build office towers on the site. Since the early 2000’s the club has been a home for disco, salsa and other Latino acts. In June 2007, the New York City MTA exercised eminent domain and closed the club due to the expansion of the New York City subway. El Gran Combo was the final performer.
Part of the 2003 Yerba Buena song “Guajira” is set there. The Copacabana was used as a setting in the films Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Tootsie, Carlito’s Way, Martin and Lewis and Beyond the Sea, as well as several plays, including Barry Manilow ‘s Copacabana (musical).
It is with great excitement that the Copacabana reopens in its fourth location in Times Square with three floors including a revival of the original commitment to exceptional food with a restaurant on the second floor, the Copacabana Supper Club with Chef Alex Garcia, a live music and club venue and a fourth floor retractable rooftop space with views of the city no matter the season.