Sardi’s Restaurant opened on March 5, 1927, on 44th Street. It quickly became a Broadway institution. Vincent Sardi wanted to imitate a jazz-age Parisian nightclub, Zelli’s, which covered its walls with caricatures of the artists, musicians, and agents who were its regulars. Sardi’s would make its own composite portrait of New York’s theatre scene.
The first official Sardi’s caricaturist was Alex Gard, a Russian exile. Sardi and Gard signed a contract that provided a meal a day in Sardi’s for Alex Gard in return for his caricatures. It was stipulated that Sardi could not complain about the caricatures and Gard could not complain about the food. Gard produced 720 caricatures for the restaurant’s walls by the time he died in 1948, collapsing in the Times Square subway station.
Sardi’s tradition of caricatures continues today, in the same location where it began. Three official caricaturists have succeeded Gard; today, over 1,200 portraits line the restaurant’s walls, with about 20 added each year. Most of them are of actors.