Fri Apr 1 2011
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz
Long before chef Marcus Samuelsson's white-hot comfort-food canteen drew gastronomes to Harlem, another restaurant by the same name (now shuttered) held sway over the area. Located on 138th Street and Seventh Avenue, 12 blocks north of its successor, the original Red Rooster—a smoky, low-ceilinged den with red lighting and a neon jukebox—served as the clubhouse for local luminaries and visiting glitterati. Within the legendary hangout's walls, novelists James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison lingered, jazz musicians Duke Ellington and Max Roach tippled, Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. held court, and baseball great Willie Mays met his first wife, Margherite Wendell. As at Samuelsson's incarnation, the first Rooster offered soul-food classics like fried chicken, collards and potato salad. But the real draw was its signature Wednesday special of chitlins (stewed pork intestines) and champagne served with corn bread and "all the trimmings," which gained fans in both Josephine Baker and the eminent New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne, who pronounced chitlins to be the "soul food to beat all soul food" in his 1968 recommendation of the storied haunt.