Toots, Sweet.

The documentary Toots—about the legendary NY restaurateur/barkeep Toots Shor, who owned the place with his name on it at 51 W. 51st St.—had its “U.S. Theatrical Premiere” at Facets Multimedia in Chicago on Friday. I’m not sure exactly what that means, since the film was reviewed in the New York Times on September 14, 2007, with an endline that says “opens today in New York,” but no matter. It is a fun film; a great character study; a vivid portrait of New York in the fifties and sixties; a look at journalism, sports, the mafia, show business and alcohol when there was a point on the map you could locate the nexus of all five; and when it’s done, all you want to do is go to Toots Shor’s.

It’s impossible, of course—one might as well wish to visit Brigadoon, the Scottish village of musical-theater lore which becomes visible to outsiders only once every hundred years. But Toots makes the watering hole Toots Shor’s visible, if not visitable, on demand. More than that, it makes it come alive.

Although the movie is the work of one of Shor’s granddaughters, Kristi Jacobson, Toots is not a vanity project. Jacobson is a documentarian whose films have run on HBO, A&E, ABC, and PBS, and at festivals nationally. The film is well-paced, drawing you into its world from the first sip. A real movie-making intelligence drives it. “Intoxicated” might not be too strong a word to describe the state it puts you in, as the film builds its case for the specialness of a lost world.

Over a period of ten years, Jacobson got revealing on-camera interviews with Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite, Gay Talese, Sidney Zion, Pete Hamill, Frank Gifford, Whitey Ford, Joe Garagiola, and others who were there. These she has integrated artfully with clips, stills, and other archival materials. Frank Sinatra is seen reminiscing about Shor, in a clip which I believe is taken from Sinatra’s 1985 lecture at Yale, the one organized by Zion. The movie gives us tales about Marilyn, DiMaggio, Mantle, Gleason, Hemingway. Damn. Just writing this, I want to go to Toots Shor’s all over again.

The movie plays at Facets through this Thursday. See if it you can, or if it comes to your city. Failing that, get the DVD, which comes out on December 31.


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