I received a lot of great feedback about last month’s article regarding Brooklyn’s Longest Running Family Restaurants, so today’s post is about Manhattan’s Oldest Eateries. Before there was Grand Central’s Oyster Bar (established 1913), The Palm (1926), or even Katz’s Deli (1888), the city hosted thousands of famous eateries, dozens of which are still around today. Some names are more recognizable than others, but every one of them is still worth a visit.
Financial District: 56 Beaver St.
The idea for this iconic establishment came as early as 1827 when the Delmonico brothers opened a successful shop that sold pastries, coffee, chocolate, liquor, and cigars. Ten years later, they bought the triangular plot of land at the intersection of Beaver, William, and South William Streets and opened what would quickly become one of the best fine-dining venues in NYC. A favorite of Theodore Roosevelt and Samuel Clemens (aka, Mark Twain), Delmonico’s was the first to offer private dining rooms and to serve menu items à la carte. It became known for its house special, the Delmonio steak (still widely copied today), and for its extensive wine list. Delmonico’s is also known for originating Lobster Newberg, Eggs Benedict, and Baked Alaska. Its spacious dining room, rich with mahogany-paneled walls, paintings of old-school patrons drinking martinis, and ornate, lofty ceilings, is still regarded as one of the best fine-dining locales in New York.
Gramercy Park: 129 East 18th Street
You might recognize Pete’s Tavern from numerous TV shows like Seinfeld and Sex and the City. At the turn of the century, the famous writer O. Henry frequented what was then known as “Healy’s” when he lived down the street. He wrote about it in his short story “The Lost Blend,” calling it “Kenealy’s,” a fact made known by Pete’s awning that proclaims “The Tavern that O. Henry Made Famous.” Pete’s sits in a building with a history all its own. Originally part of the Portman Hotel, the bar operated as a speakeasy disguised as a flower shop during Prohibition. In the ‘50s, it became NYC’s first popular gay bar. Today, despite its history and character, this loveable tavern retains a neighborhood feel and remains remarkably tourist-free. It’s known for its pub fare and beer, including Pete’s own brew, the 1864 Ale.
Old Homestead Steakhouse
Meatpacking District: 56 9th Avenue
As the neighborhood has changed around it, Old Homestead has remained the same legendary steakhouse since opening its doors in 1868. Then known as the Tidewater Trading Post, the “meatery” has operated from the same place since, making it one of the longest continually serving restaurants in the country, let alone NYC. The restaurant is known for its iconic life-sized cow named Anabelle over the entrance and its Texas-sized servings. In fact, the “doggie bag” is said to have been originated here due to the generous plate sizes. Old Homestead was also the first locale to put on its regular menu a burger priced more than $40—the Kobe burger.
SoHo: 326 Spring St.
One of the oldest existing taverns in New York City, the Ear Inn is housed in the ground floor of the historic James Brown Building, built in 1817. Brown, an African-American Revolutionary War veteran who served as an aide to George Washington, was the proprietor of a tobacco store at the location when it was built in 1817. Then it was only several feet from the Hudson River shoreline. After several owners, beer brewer Thomas Cook purchased the location in 1890 and ran a successful saloon. The townhouse became a speakeasy during Prohibition, and the upstairs apartment served as a boarding house, brothel, and smuggler’s den throughout the years. Today, locals rave about its comfort food, patchwork divey decor, and paper tablecloths that you can draw on. I definitely recommend that anyone check out this location at least once.
Financial District: 279 Water St.
The Bridge Cafe sits in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, though it opened a good 90 years before it. Although it’s been closed since Superstorm Sandy, reconstruction is expected to be completed this year. Many await the return of this venue, which has been serving drinks in one form or another longer than all but one other place in town, Fraunces Tavern. It is housed in one of Manhattan’s oldest wood-framed structures, and when it opened in 1794 as a bar and brothel, the East River lapped up to its foundation. Former patrons include waterfront pirates right up through and beyond the 1850s when it was called “The Hole in the Wall.” In fact, many fights, robberies, and several murders are said to have occurred here. Some claim the building is haunted. Repairs on the 221-year-old building will preserve the original pillars, intricately ornate tin ceilings, and oak bar. Once reopened, the Bridge Cafe will be like stepping back into time.