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Patrons Come Just to Watch Herbie : World's Worst Waiter Turns Tables on Doubters

March 12, 1989|JULES LOH | Associated Press

It is a rare attitude in this bottom-line town, where family-owned restaurants with individual traditions and values have become almost extinct.

Since Prohibition's repeal in 1933, Costello's has had to move three times to stay alive, but never farther than half a block. It has been at its present spot at 225 East 44th since 1974. With each move, its most cherished movable treasures went with it--the bar, the back bar, the Thurber drawings, Herbie.

The bar is of cigarette-scarred oak rubbed to a warm patina by three generations of elbows.

Three generations of mementos decorate the back bar. Above an array of bottles rises a clutter of photographs and testimonials, and above these hang an assortment of gifts from grateful customers.

They include a cavalry saber from the Spanish Civil War; a "TC" branding iron from Stanley Walker, New York editor turned Texas rancher, and the remains of a blackthorn walking stick that Hemingway broke over the head of John O'Hara in 1944, not in anger but on a bet.

The story, from an eyewitness, is that O'Hara claimed that blackthorn was the only wood that couldn't be broken over an Irishman's head. Hemingway bet he could break that very stick over the head of that very Irishman.

He padded O'Hara's head with napkins, laid the stick on the napkins and took hold of each end. "Brace yourself, John," he said, and pulled down until the stick cracked.

At Costello's, legends abound.

Herbie, the World's Worst Waiter, is already one of them.

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