Dinner with history on the side: historic restaurants of Manhattan?
I'm a historic preservationist at heart and by trade, so I appreciate having my dinner with some history on the side. Can anyone offer suggestions for a medium to high-end restaurant in Manhattan that has a long, interesting history and a fabulous historic venue? I'm open to any type of cuisine!
The walls in the main dining room at Keens are covered with American memorabilia. Also, In addition to the rows of clay smoking pipes suspended from all the ceilings, what's really fascinating are the ones belonging to famous people dating back to the 19th century which are in display cases in the vestibule.
If you're into speakeasies, then Gallagher's Steak House and the 21 Club are the last two remaining in Manhattan at least. I know the story on Gallaghers. As a 'speak' it was a favorite hangout of sports types including boxers. No doubt the people who ran the betting books on those events were there too. Anyway, when prohibition was over, the owner, Jack Solomon, was devastated. What was he going to do now? His loyal customers all told him that he had the best food of any speak in town, so why not turn it into a legit restaurant? He did. And ran it until his death in the 60's. At one point, in the 40's & 50's he was raising angus beef for the restaurant at a 'farm' down in Virginia. The portraits of angus cattle which are in the restaurant are of some of his prize winners. Had a few race horses too. It was Gallagher' which started the charming menu entry "The Other Soup" back in its earliest days. The speak and restaurant were named after Jack's wife, Helen Gallagher. After she died he married, Irene Hayes, the florist, who when they met was the only redhead among the Ziegfield girls.
I'm sure others on this board can fill you in on the history of 21 Club.
In addition to the others already listed:
Bridge Cafe (oldest surviving tavern in the city, and once a brothel)
Angelo & Maxie's
Grand Central Oyster Bar & Grill
One If By Land (only about 35 yrs old, but Aaron Burr lived in the building)
Onieal's Grand Street
Waverly Inn & Garden
The Russian Tea Room
Tavern on the Green
Sylvia's (inexpensive to moderate Southern/soul food)
Wo Hop (inexpensive americanized Cantonese)
In addition to Keens, Delmonico's, and Gallagher's, many of the city's other steakhouses would probably qualify.
Of course, the owners' families have changed a number of times over the years at many of these. And many of the restaurants are resting on their laurels.
No one has mentioned Katz's Deli? It's been there forever and has barely changed. Get your ticket, get some pastrami on rye and a Dr Brown's, grab a seat, close your eyes and you can't tell if it's 1948 or 2008. Not exactly high end, but a unique NYC experience. From a preservationist's point of view, this is a must see.
I think no one mentioned Katz's because the asker was looking for high end-ish restaurants...but Katz's can't be beat as far as a deli with great food and history. Also in the medium category is Amy Ruth's on 116th ---and there are a lot of great Harlem jazz-era hangs with fantastic soul food and great memorabilia.