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DonRocks

Oldest Restaurants in the New York City Area

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Feeling a little misty-eyed and nostalgic about Chef Itoh's passing, I'd like to begin a group project to honor the oldest restaurants in the New York City area, mirroring the one we've maintained for years in Washington, DC. Surrounding areas are included, and since our community was founded on April 15, 2005, anything that was open on that date is included as well.

1767 - Fraunces Tavern (Financial District, originally called "Queens Head Tavern," damaged and rebuilt several times)
1794 - Bridge Cafe (was a grocery store for several decades in the early 1800s)
1817 - James Brown House (now The Ear Inn ("Ear" is a clever change of "Bar" due to zoning laws))
1827 - Delmonico's (23 William St. destroyed in 1835, revived at 56 Beaver St., origin of several dishes, 1st U.S. à la carte menu and wine list)
1854 - McSorley's Old Ale House (the opening date is very much in question, see Wikipedia for details)
1859 - Killmeyer's Old Bavaria Inn
1864 - Pete's Tavern
1868 - Old Homestead Steakhouse
1874 - Ryan's (became P.J. Hanley's, then closed and reopened as Goldenrod)
1880 - White Horse Tavern
1884 - P.J. Clarke's (3rd Avenue)
1885 - Keens Steakhouse
1887 - Peter Luger Steak House
1888 - Katz's Delicatessen (Lower East Side)
1892 - Old Town Bar (Flatiron District)
1906 - Barbetta (Theater District)
1908 - Barney Greengrass "The Sturgeon King" (Upper Westside)
1908 - John's of 12th
1910 - Yona Schimmel's Knishes
1913 - Grand Central Oyster Bar (closed 1972-1974)
1914 - Russ and Daughters
1916 - Nathan's (Coney Island location)
1917 - Café Des Artistes (closed 2009, opened 2011 as The Leopold at Des Artistes)
1920 - Nom Wah Tea Parlor (perhaps the oldest Chinese restaurant in New York
1922 - 21 Club (Greenwich Village, moved in 1925, 1926, and to its current location in 1929)
1922*- Chumley's (closed 2007 due to chimey collapse, still has plans to reopen
1922 - DeFontes Of Brooklyn
1926 - Frankie and Johnnie's Steakhouse (a speakeasy during prohibition)
1927 - Gallagher's Steakhouse (birthplace of the New York Strip Steak)
1927 - The Russian Tea Room
1932*- Pal's Cabin (West Orange)
1932 - Papaya King
1933 - Patsy's Pizzeria (East Harlem)
1934*- The Rainbow Room (at the top of the RCA building (now GE building) closed 1985-1987, 2008-2014?)
1934*- Tavern On The Green (2nd-highest grossing restaurant in the U.S. in 2007, $38 million)
1936 - McGovern's Tavern (Newark)
1936 - Peter McManus
1937*- The Carnegie Deli
1937*- Stage Deli
1937 - Subway Inn (moved 2 blocks from original location in 2017)
1937 - Le Veau d'Or
1939 - Leo's Grandevous (Hoboken)
1940 - Tom's Restaurant (the setting for the mythical "Monk's Diner" on Seinfeld Episodes)
1944 - Patsy's
1945*- Ben's Best (Rego Park)
1947 - Verona Inn (Verona)
1949 - Hector's Cafe and Diner
1950 - Donohue's Steak House (Upper East Side)
1950 - Libretti's (Orange)
1950 - Junior's
1953 - Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop (Greenpoint, ownership change in 1993)
1954 - 2nd Ave. Deli (original location closed in 1996, new locations began opening in 2007)
1957 - Arturo's
1959 - The Four Seasons
1962*- Big Nick's Burger Joint
1962 - La Grenouille
1962 - Hobby's Deli (Newark)
1964 - Di Fara Pizza
1964 - Sarge's Deli (Murray Hill)
1965 - Joe Allen
1966 - Sparks Steakhouse
1968 - La Caridad 78
1972 - J.G. Melon
1972 - One If By Land, Two If By Sea
1973 - Gray's Papaya (Upper West Side)
1979*- Le Train Bleu (Bloomingdale's, Upper East Side)

* Closed

[Thank you, New York City, for providing such a rich history. You are a truly remarkable city.]

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I think that Delmonico's dates back to the earlier 1800s & Fraunces Tavern is way older than that.  Bridge Cafe might be late 1700s as well.  Then there's Keens and Katz's... not sure when for either but definitely 1800s.  Time for Google.

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McSorley's Ale House on the Lower East Side dates to the 1850's or 1860's.   One recollection I have of that place is visiting w/ a friend wearing a U Virginia t-shirt.  The ia was covered up.  Some guys saw the word Virgin and hoisted him on up in the air.  The hearty drinkers haled him as the bar's only virgin that night and any night.

Closed on June 1 this year and near where I grew up was Pal's Cabin, first opened in 1932 and maintained by the same family for several generations.

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Lombardi's pizza is supposedly the oldest pizza place in the US; true or not, it dates to 1905

Yona Schimmels Knishes: been making them since 1910

Russ and Daughters Appetizing (not exactly a restaurant, but you can eat a bagle with lox on the sidewalk out front, as I often did in the old days): 1914

Barney Greengrass the Sturgeon King: 1908

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Peter McManus - 1936,  The oldest family owned bar in  NYC.  The front facade was also used in Seinfeld episodes.  It says Cafe.  It is really a bar.  Like you read about.

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The Four Seasons, 1959.

According to the original NYT Craig Claibourne review, the average dinner check for two, including wine, was $40.

TFS could be, IMHO, the greatest "restaurant concept" of all time.  Part restaurant, part art museum, part architectural masterpiece.  The roster of familiar names (artists, culinarians, others) associated with it thoughout its history is truly amazing.

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The Russian Tea Room, 1927.

Founded by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet near Carnegie Hall as a hangout for themselves and their pals when performing in New York.  Known for, among other celebrity things (think Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie), being Madonna's employer as a cloak room attendant before she became famous.  Excellent liver dumplings.

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Grand Central Oyster Bar: 1913 (with a hiatus in the mid-70's)

Carnegie Deli: 1937

Stage Deli:  also 1937, but closed last November, tho it was open in 2005 and is thus qualified for the list?

Juniors (of Brooklyn): 1950 (home of the famous cheesecake)

Nom Wah Tea Parlor: 1920.  Probably the oldest still-operating Chinese restaurant in NYC.  Started with tea and baked goods.  Now serving dim sum.

Cafe des Artistes: 1917.  Closed in 2009, but reincarnated as The Leopard at des Artistes in 2011.  A very historic restaurant, patronized by celebrities particularly those in the arts, though not so well-known among the hoi polloi.  Famous for its murals of wood nymphs by Howard Chandler Christy.  Run by George Lang from 1975 until 2009.

Chumley's: 1922.  In the Village.  Once a speakeasy, it closed in 2007 due to a chimney collapse.  Re-construction has been slow and sporatic, but promises are still being made that it will re-open.

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All the changes are in, and this is a rich, rewarding history lesson. Interesting detail is *very welcome* in everyone's posts, which guides me to inserting the restaurants, and hopefully also adding a few words of fascinating facts as well.

Thank you everyone! Let's bolster Philly and Baltimore too! I love history, and I love working on this project.

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John's of 12th  Traditional NY red sauce Italian restaurant since 1908, now experimenting with "Vegan Italian" food. Classic neon sign. Original tile floors and panels of stained glass ceiling. Candles in the back room have been burning since the place opened with the wax of each new candle melting to form a larger and larger mound of wax with each passing day. It used to be a gathering place for newspaper editorialists and Washington Square Park protest organizers during World War II and into the 1960s.

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Tom's Restaurant:  Early 1940's.  A fixture at 112th and Broadway, serving diner food to generations of students at Columbia.  Started out as Kane's, a Jewish place, before being sold to some Greeks who re-named it.  One of my roommates, also named Tom, ate breakfast there every morning, and never had to order -- they had most of what he wanted at his spot at the counter before he sat down.  Best known to most as the setting for the mythical "Monk's" Diner on Seinfeld.  I always found it odd to see the shots of Tom's when I watched Seinfeld.

Nathan's:  1916.  The Coney Island hot dog establishment needs no introduction.

DeFontes:  1922.  Italian sandwich place originally serving longshoremen working at the Red Hook docks in Brooklyn.

Patsy's:  1944.  Famous southern Italian place frequented by numerous celebrities, particularly and most notably Ol' Blue Eyes himself (that would be Frank Sinatra for you younger readers) whose favorite restaurant it was.

There is another Patsy's, this one Patsy's Pizzeria, opened in 1933 in East Harlem, and among New York's oldest pizzerias.  The two Patsy's have been in and out of court fighting over the name for some time.  Patsy's Pizzeria now has several branches, opened by various family members and co-owners.

While we are talking about East Harlem, there is Rao's: 1896.  But unless you are an important Italian "businessman," an A-list celebrity, or a tycoon with connections, you probably had best forget about ever being able to eat there.  There is only one seating, weeknights only, and only 10 tables all of which are "owned" by various persons; it's been described as a "condominium," and basically you can only get in by invitation.  The food is said to be worth the hype.  You can, however, dine at their place in Vegas.  Or make their dishes at home from the copious recipe list on their website, which might or more likely might not be the same recipes used in the restaurant.

EDIT:  Glory be!  One day after posting the above what should appear on DR.com but this article -- so now you too can figure out how to score a table at Rao's.

Frankie and Johnnie's Steakhouse: 1926.  Another former speakeasy that became a steakhouse after the end of Prohibition. Not as widely known as some others, but good meat, especially the lamb chops IMO.  A place that has very special and fond memories for me, specifically that set of stairs in the link.  It involved a member of the fairer sex of course, (no, nothing carnal happened on the stairs).  I'll say no more.

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The Rainbow Room: 1934.  Another of the storied New York restaurants.  At the top of the RCA Building (now the GE Building) in Rockefeller Plaza.  Originally a supper club attracting New York's elite, with a dance floor and big band performances.  Designed in the art deco style by French architect Jacques Carlu.  Closed from 1985 to 1987 for a restoration sponsored by among others David Rockefeller.  Run by the Cipriani family of Venice (Harry's Bar) from 1998, who among other things are said to have paid the Gambino crime family $120,000 to make labor troubles go away.  Closed again in 2008 ostensibly due to the economic troubles of the period.  It was declared a historic landmark last year, and is said to be re-opening in 2014.

Tavern on the Green: also 1934.  Originally a sheep barn in Central Park, it was converted into a restaurant in 1934 under the guidance of Robert Moses, Parks Commissioner at the time.  Run by several operators in the years that followed, under contract with the Parks Department.  In 1974, it came under the control of the legendary restauranteur Warner Le Roy (Maxwell's Plum, Potomac in D.C.) who enlarged it and added his own flamboyant stamp to the decor (the Crystal Room and much else), making it into one of the largest grossing independent restaurants in the U.S., serving as many as 500,000 covers per year.  John Lennon hung out there a lot in the late 70's.  The Parks Dept. finally kicked out the LeRoy family in 2009, and started operating it as a visitor center while looking for a new operator.  Numerous groups made proposals, including (who else) Donald Trump.  Currently the Emerald Green Group of Philadelphia is charged with reopening it, but whether they will succeed is anyone's guess.

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Gallagher's Steak House: 1927.  Another speakeasy-turned-restaurant at the end of Prohibition.  Claims to be Broadway's first steakhouse and the first place where the "New York strip steak" was served.  Located next door to the Alvin Theatre, it is a surviving Runyonesque shrine to prizefighters and jockeys.  Founded by Edward and Helen Gallagher, she a former Ziegfeld girl, then later run by another ex-Ziegfeld girl until, about 10 years ago, being sold to a group that had previously been involved in the Four Seasons and Rainbow Room.  They apparently took the money route, franchised it out, and are said to have dumbed down the menu and food quality.  Bought early this year by Dean Poll, who earlier tried and failed to revive Tavern on the Green.  Currently closed for renovation -- said to be reopening next month.

One if by Land; Two if by Sea: 1972.  Not so old, but with a claim to historic-ness because it is located in Aaron Burr's old carriage house, in the Village.  Acclaimed as New York's most romantic restaurant, and thus the go-to place to take your date (well, duh).

P. J. Hanley's: 1894.  Claimed to be Brooklyn's oldest bar.  Opened as Ryan's; once owned by Bushwick brewer Otto Huber, who served his own brews including one called "Goldenrod."  The place finally folded earlier this year, but has been revived as "Goldenrod," keeping the decor and ambiance of the earlier days.

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P. J. Hanley's: 1894.  Claimed to be Brooklyn's oldest bar.  Opened as Ryan's; once owned by Bushwick brewer Otto Huber, who served his own brews including one called "Goldenrod."  The place finally folded earlier this year, but has been revived as "Goldenrod," keeping the decor and ambiance of the earlier days.

 
johnb, thank you for all these nuggets of history. I'm pretty sure your 1894 is a typo for 1874, so I'll go ahead and change it.
 
[For some odd reason, I cannot edit your post, but it's correct up top.]

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Tavern on the Green: also 1934.  Originally a sheep barn in Central Park, it was converted into a restaurant in 1934 under the guidance of Robert Moses, Parks Commissioner at the time.  Run by several operators in the years that followed, under contract with the Parks Department.  In 1974, it came under the control of the legendary restauranteur Warner Le Roy (Maxwell's Plum, Potomac in D.C.) who enlarged it and added his own flamboyant stamp to the decor (the Crystal Room and much else), making it into one of the largest grossing independent restaurants in the U.S., serving as many as 500,000 covers per year.  John Lennon hung out there a lot in the late 70's.  The Parks Dept. finally kicked out the LeRoy family in 2009, and started operating it as a visitor center while looking for a new operator.  Numerous groups made proposals, including (who else) Donald Trump.  Currently the Emerald Green Group of Philadelphia is charged with reopening it, but whether they will succeed is anyone's guess.

So here is the latest news about TOTG, from last Sunday's NYT Magazine, which I had missed but found courtesy of the Rockwell rss news feed.

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Hector's Cafe and Diner, 1949??

A neighborhood greasy spoon in the old meatpacking district, said to have started in 1949.  What I know I learned from this article in the NYT.   Pretty colorful establishment, serving the needs of a few remaining meatcutters and late night club goers.  Located directly under the Highline at 12th and Washington.  Cash only; formica tables. It is truly an example of a place that remains, unchanged, as its surroundings have done a 180.  The meatpacking district has become trendy in the extreme, with high end restaurants, boutiques, and clubs, while most of the previous denizens have gone to New Jersey or the Bronx.  Del Posto is a few blocks away, and other nearby establishments have names like Diane von Furstenberg and Pastis.  Hector's and and a few remaining meatpackers are hanging on due to a special rent deal with the city that will last until 2032.

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John's of 12th will soon have a new owner from the Beatrice Inn (also a former GM at the Waverly Inn), who is going into this restaurant with a "preservationist" approach:

http://evgrieve.com/2013/12/about-new-ownership-for-105-year-old.html

Some history from the current owners:

http://evgrieve.com/2013/12/out-and-about-in-east-village_18.html

http://evgrieve.com/2013/12/out-and-about-in-east-village-part-2.html

(Just an editing note for the chronological list at the top of this thread -- the opening date was transposed as 1980, but John's opened in 1908.)

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Arturo's on Houston and Thompson St. opened in 1957.

The original owner of Ballato, on Houston and Mulberry St. died in 1980, and it remains popular under the current owner, who has run it since 1992. I had my first ever osso buco there in the late 1960's, and it seemed like a very old place then.

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The original owner of Ballato, on Houston and Mulberry St. died in 1980, and it remains popular under the current owner, who has run it since 1992. I had my first ever osso buco there in the late 1960's, and it seemed like a very old place then.

Can anyone find out about Ballato?

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Can anyone find out about Ballato?

According to Mitch Broder, chronicler of things old New York, Ballato opened in 1956.  Here is the piece from his blog.  And once again my hat is off to Zora for digging up the information about this place.  I had a vague recollection of reading that article in the NYT and thought the place it talked about should surely be included in this list, but had no way to figure it out what it was.

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Gem Spa, 1920's??...under current name since 1957.  Closed for four months in 1972.

A newsstand, but more importantly the quintessential egg cream place in the East Village.  Claims (along with dozens, maybe hundreds, of others) to have invented that NY treat.  Who knows, but their version is certainly one of the best and favorites.  A hangout for the beatniks and later the hippies/radicals each in their respective eras.  Credit to Mitch Broder's blog for reminding me about it.  Here's the Wikipedia article.

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