The Dixon Cafeteria, a 43rd Street mainstay from the ’40s through the ’60s,
seized many opportunities to show off its distinctive double-horseshoe X.
THE D, I, O and N clinched the case, of course. But it really was X that marked the spot of the Dixon Cafeteria, which did business from the 1940s through the 1960s at Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street.
Dixon’s X was a distinctive double horseshoe that could, with the addition of a toque-topped chef’s head, be turned into human form. It appeared on postcards, tableware and a hot-pink neon sign that seemed to have disappeared along with Dixon’s.
But surprise: that long-lost neon was uncovered in November when a newer sign installed in front of it was taken down. Probably no one was happier about this urban archaeological find than Lillian Oswald, 72, of Flemington, N.J., a former Rockette who said her father, Marty Hodulick, had been a co-owner of Dixon’s.
According to Mrs. Oswald, her father was born on Olib, an island in the Adriatic Sea that is now part of Croatia. He came to America in 1922 and learned the restaurant trade at his uncle’s diner in Pawtucket, R.I. After he moved to New York, he and his partners, John Rucando and Cash Petrovich, opened Dixon’s at 673 Eighth Avenue in 1946, evidently undaunted by the fact that the space had previously been used by the Boyertown Casket Company.
There wasn’t a Dixon in the bunch. “We think that Dixon was the name of the first cafeteria they purchased across the street,” Mrs. Oswald said, “and they just decided to keep the name.”
The cafeteria décor mixed hard-edged Deco and soft-hearted charm, with a mural opposite the steam table that depicted an idyllic little village. (On Olib, maybe?)
No sentiment was wasted at the steam table, where countermen would put the more expensive imported herring on oval plates and the cheaper domestic variety on round plates, to signal the cashier what to charge. Seltzer, however, was free.
Dixon’s was known for its baked goods, especially the whole-wheat bread, which The New York Times praised as “superb” in 1961. Its homemade yogurt, The Times said, was also “extremely good.”
If Dixon’s wasn’t quite Sardi’s, it was brushed occasionally by theatrical luster. “My brother and sister-in-law remember a casting director that came to Dixon frequently and gave them tickets to ‘Male Animal’ with Robert Preston,” Mrs. Oswald said. That would have been in 1952 or 1953, perhaps Dixon’s golden age, when it was also furnishing the Rockettes with éclairs and napoleons, to no apparent ill effect.
Mr. Hodulick and Mr. Rucando left the business in 1969, Mrs. Oswald said. She is not sure how much longer Mr. Petrovich held on.
The resurrected X did not last long at all. By last week, it was gone. As were the D, I, O and N.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
8TH AVENUE AT 43RD STREET, NEW YORK CITY
Color Linen Postcard.