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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!

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    1. re: Lucia

      Second Fraunces Tavern (from a history-worthy point of view).

      Will add Delmonico's, which is where a lot of the classic dishes like Lobster Newburg, Baked Alaska, etc., are invented.


      1. re: Lucia

        I agree with the Fraunces Tavern recommendation. And having been there for a birthday dinner, I would say that the food was more than adequate. I think it has much more of a historical feel than Delmonico's does.

      2. Keens Steakhouse. I've not been; but DH likes it alot.

        2 Replies
        1. re: LNG212

          Keen's, by all means. Great venue, great history. Old clay pipes on the ceiling. Been there for since 1885, and as opposed to Fraunces Tavern, you will get good food. I have been to both several times, and it is a no-brainer. Keen's by a long shot. www.keens.com

          1. re: steakman55

            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.

        2. 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.

          1. In addition to the others already listed:

            Bridge Cafe (oldest surviving tavern in the city, and once a brothel)
            Rainbow Room
            Landmark Tavern
            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
            Sammy's Roumanian
            Tavern on the Green
            Sylvia's (inexpensive to moderate Southern/soul food)
            Wo Hop (inexpensive americanized Cantonese)
            Lombardi's (pizza)

            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.

            1. 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.

              1 Reply
              1. re: iluvcookies

                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.

              2. Thank you all for the fabulous suggestions! Sounds like Keets is a must, but I'm going to hit up a bunch of these over the next couple months!

                1. I can't vouch for the food, but the Bridge Cafe is located in one of New York's few eighteenth century buildings. Nearby is a humble little brick house which, apart from St Paul's, is the only building that survives from Colonial British New York City. 150 years ago, the Bridge Cafe housed a notorious bar. If you were too rowdy (which, considering the laxity that prevailed, must have been very rowdy indeed), the woman who ran the place would bite your ear off and put it into a jar of pickled ears, which was kept behind the bar, not for consumption, but as a curiosity and a warning to future miscreants.


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Brian S

                    I have had lunch at the bridge cafe and it was really good. I would definitely go back.

                  2. I lived in Manhattan from the 70s to the 90s and didn't know this place existed!!!


                    I don't know whether they have dining, it's not mentioned on their site ~ but it is somewhat historic!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Debbi64

                      I don't think it was around then as a bar ... it's certainly historic and a beautiful space.

                      1. re: Debbi64

                        The Campbell Apartment's been around a while. It's a great place (gorgeous decor) to stop by for a drink and it's much better since no-smoking became the reality. But I do not believe they serve food (could be wrong, since it's been some time since I've been there).

                      2. Hi, again, I tried to edit my message above, but I guess I was unsuccessful? Anyway? Would 1959 be considered historic?


                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Debbi64

                          I don't think the building in which El Parador is currently located is historic. We recently had dinner there for the first time, and the food was very disappointing.

                        2. It's not exactly high-end but how about The Ear Inn? Very historic.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: tno247

                            Is Chumley's back in business? OK, not high end, but I remembered how thrilling it was the first time I went there with its lack of sign and secret back exit.

                            1. re: roxlet

                              Not high end, not even restaurants, but I immediately thought of Chumley's, the Ear Inn and McSorley's! How about Il Vagabando?