To the Editor:
Re: “Final Curtain for O’Neals’” (June 3)—it saddens me to see another good and popular restaurant close its doors. However, if I remember correctly, the brothers had a restaurant at the address named O’Neals’ Balloon. I had heard that the word “balloon” was used in place of O’Neals’ Saloon. For some reason they could not use the word “saloon.” In another part of New York, they opened Ginger Man. Is my mind playing tricks with me? Will one of your astute readers set me right or wrong? Thank you.
Upper West Side
According to owner Michael O’Neal, the family did open a restaurant called O’Neals’ Saloon in 1967, across the street from the present day O’Neals’ (then the Ginger Man). A few weeks after it opened, Michael O’Neal received a letter from the State Liquor Authority saying that it would not license a saloon. There was no formal law banning saloons, but a regulation dating back to the end of Prohibition had halted the practice. His wife came up with the idea of putting a paper “B” over the “S,” even though “baloon” was misspelled. Eventually, a law was passed permitting the authority to license saloons, but O’Neal had gotten so much press (“the most press I ever received in my entire life”) and another saloon had already opened on the street, so he just kept the name “baloon” as a little joke. O’Neals’ Baloon eventually closed.
The original name of O’Neals’ was the Ginger Man, a nod to brother Patrick O’Neal’s role in the Off-Broadway production of the same name. Today, another bar called the Ginger Man operates on East 36th Street, but it has no connection to the O’Neal family.