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September 30, 2002

A Dollar and a Dream: How a fabled Wall Street institution came to be.

By Gregory Bresiger

Also in this article

  • A Dollar and a Dream: How a fabled Wall Street institution came to be.

It began with the dream of a young man growing up in Greece. The pursuit of that dream led him to a neighborhood in lower Manhattan.

A famous Wall Street institution, Harry's at Hanover Square, actually came naturally to the enterprising fellow. Harry Poulakakos had run a small business even as a teenager growing up in Sparta, Greece. "My father told me there would be a good opportunity for a better life in the United States," he said. In 1956, Harry Poulakakos took a chance. He came to the United States with the dream, and some might have said an impossible dream, of running and owning a business.

"Those first few years were very hard," said Poulakakos, as he surveyed his jammed and popular restaurant and bar on a recent weeknight. His business today is as much a part of the financial district as Delmonico's, which is a few blocks up from Harry's.

Still, before the success and fame, Poulakakos was a stranger in what must have seemed at times a strange land. Nevertheless, this was a land that he would soon learn to love.

"Two years after I came here I decided this is my country. I want to be a citizen because this is the greatest country in the world," Poulakakasos said. The 64-year-old entrepreneur lives in nearby Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his wife and son. The son also runs his own restaurant upstairs.

Financial District

New York City's fabled financial district was a place where Harry Poulakakos would succeed beyond his wildest imagination. Today he and his son, Peter, are working on opening two more businesses this fall. Where did it all start?

Poulakakos, by the 1960s, was tending bar in the financial district and building up a following among the trading community. Eventually, he started managing a restaurant and bar. Many of his new-found friends encouraged him to go out on his own.

After years of hard work for Poulakakos and his wife, and years of saving, the American dream was finally realized in the fall of 1972. Harry's at Hanover Square was born. But the restaurant and bar could have easily been stillborn.

Harry's new business - like so many other small businesses in New York City, a municipality famous for huge rents as well as expensive business and individual taxes - faced a fight for survival in its first years.

The city and the nation were about to go through some hard times. Indeed, in the late 1970s, the city would skirt bankruptcy.

But danger was anon. The economy was about to head south fast. And the market would follow in 1973 and 1974. Just as Poulakakos' business was finishing its first year, the financial industry was going into a virtual depression. The stock market fell close to 50 percent in an 18-month period as stagflation, the Yom Kippur War and the first oil embargo devastated the American economy, especially the financial markets.

However, Poulakakos' relationships with traders and other financial professionals - built up through years of working at other bars - were about to save him.