J.G. MELON, Upper East Side

by Kevin Walsh

J.G. Melon, a tavern at 3rd Avenue and East 74th Street, is hardly Forgotten, as it is famed far and wide for its burger as so many taverns in the NYC area are. Like so many long-established NYC distributors of potables J.G. Melon (3rd Avenue at East 74th Street) started out as a speakeasy (the Central Tavern) during Prohibition; it has had its present name since 1972, sort of named for original owners owners Jack O’Neill and George Mourges, with a watermelon motif in the artwork. Over the years it has hosted many famed customers including Grace Kelly, Billy Martin, Brooke Shields, Gerry Ford, Mike Bloomberg and a flock of Kennedys. The interior was filmed for a scene in Kramer vs. Kramer. Here’s a look at the place in 1940: unfortunately the photographer caught the neon billboard edge on, so I can’t see what’s on it, but it likely had something like Central Tavern, the old name. Quite likely the J.G. Melon neon, which lights up bright red (it was turned on as I passed in broad daylight) was changed in 1972.

According to Jef Klein’s Best Bars of New York, JG Melon’s burger is endorsed by celebrity chef Bobby Flay. That settles that! Or does it? In a 2020 Eater article, Ryan Sutton claims that J.G. Melon has lost its burger fastball:

The burger does not smell richly of beef, like a proper Shake Shack specimen, nor does it pack any succulent juiciness. Consistent with the Solares assessment, it does not show signs of having been seasoned. It is simply a dry, bland, hockey puck of a burger. Even the charred exterior betrays little bovine aroma or umami richness. It tastes less like real beef and more like something forged from rehydrated tree bark and marinated asphalt.

I would take Sutton with a grain of salt, so to speak, since he seems to have a disdain for taverns like Melon:

J.G. Melon is the real life version of a fictionalized rom-com New York, where someone takes a Greyhound to the big city and finds that everyone is an amoral businessperson or a mean cab driver in a cartoonish, “hey, move it pal” kind of way. See those guys in blazers who showed up after you? They’ll find a way to snag a seat at the bar before you. 

I haven’t been in yet, since most of my Manhattan ramblings with friends have been concentrated south of 34th Street in recent years.

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Peter May 27, 2022 - 11:03 pm

$19 for a burger and fries is too much. And it’s probably gone up since 2020.

JamsSx May 28, 2022 - 3:16 pm

Over priced, overrated, over crowded. Worked in the neighborhood both before (from 93) and after the big renovation and this was a place I avoided if at all possible. Many better places with better burgers.

Bob Morgan May 31, 2022 - 8:10 am

I like the place. Good burgers, chili, usually serve til 215 am. Good mixed East Side crowd.

John Fembup May 31, 2022 - 3:27 pm

Cowabunga! I lived at 47th and 3rd for years and never knew about this place. P.J. Clarke’s was my watering
hole – roughly 1995 – 2005. Shoulda looked more uptown.


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