News Column

The oldest restaurants in New York City

August 8, 2014

By Georgia Kral, amNewYork, New York

Aug. 08--In New York City, staying on top of the hottest new restaurants can be like an Olympic sport. Rushing to get a table and eat at the best new spot is a cutthroat game.

But true restaurant lovers also appreciate the good old standbys -- restaurants that have been open for decades or even a hundred years.

1762 -1767 (approx.): Fraunces Tavern

Sometime between 1762 and 1767 in lower Manhattan, Fraunces Tavern began serving ale and food. It has not been a functioning restaurant in the entire time since, however. The historic building was home to prominent New Yorkers, is called the oldest building in Manhattan by the Sons of the Revolution, was host to the secret society the Sons of Liberty and is a site on the New York Freedom Trail. Today, it's a tavern again, serving Colonial style Shepherd's Pie, Tomahawk steaks for two and raw oysters (of course). It is also the home of the Frances Tavern Museum.

Fun Fact: General George Washington dined at Fraunces Tavern with his officers in the Continental Army on Dec. 4, 1783, after the British withdrew from New York.

54 Pearl St., frauncestavern.com

1794: Bridge Cafe

On this site, liquor and food has been sold since 1794. It began as a grocery and "wine and porter bottler," according to its website, and has been in the food and drink service ever since. It was once called Empire House, and also Water Street Cafe. The current owners bought the building and the restaurant in 1989 and renamed it the Bridge Cafe.

Fun Fact: Like most old buildings in NYC, this one has a storied past. During Prohibition, the business was officially a restaurant, but beer was also available.

279 Water St., bridgecafenyc.com

1837: Delmonico's Restaurant

In 1827, the Delmonico brothers set up a small shop in the financial district selling fine pastries, coffees, chocolates, wines and liquors and Havana cigars. No doubt seeing that luxury sold, the brothers bought a plot of land at the intersection of Beaver, William and South William streets in the heart of the city's Financial District and Delmonico's Restaurant was born. It opened in 1837 and still operates today. There are now five restaurants in the Delmonico Restaurant Group.

Fun Fact: The classic American foods Lobster Newberg, Eggs Benedict and of course, the Delmonico Steak, were created at Delmonico's Restaurant.

56 Beaver St., delmonicosrestaurantgroup.com

1864: Pete's Tavern

This unobtrusive Gramercy tavern and beer hall has been a fully functioning restaurant and drinking establishment for 150 years. (Even during prohibition, when a flower shop served as a front.) The pub style food and nostalgic decor still delight guests. It was once called Healy's, named after its owners.

Fun Fact: The writer O. Henry lived nearby Healy's, and the tavern plays a role in his story "The Lost Blend." It is also rumored he wrote his famous story "The Gift of the Magi" at Healy's.

129 E. 18th St., petestavern.com

1868: The Old Homestead Steakhouse

Perhaps you've seen the large life-size cow on the outside of the building that's been home to the Old Homestead Steakhouse since 1868? It's basically a beacon, beckoning to historic restaurant and steak lovers alike. This classic NYC establishment has never strayed -- servings are large and the prime dry-aged rib eye is a must order. Old Homestead is the oldest steakhouse in NYC -- beating out both Luger's and Keens.

Fun Fact: It's said that the "doggie bag" was invented here. The portion sizes were so large that there were always leftovers that had to be sent home with customers.

59 Ninth Ave., theoldhomesteadsteakhouse.com

1884: P.J. Clarke's

The home of one of New York City's most classic hamburgers, P.J. Clarke's is an institution. It fills up with happy hour revelers (just like in "Mad Men," you remember when Peggy danced for Pete?) and is a favorite of tourists, New Yorkers and big whigs alike. P.J.'s is a classic NYC experience that everyone needs to have.

Fun Fact: P.J. Clarke's didn't get its name until 1902. From 1884 until then, the bar was managed by a "Mr. Jennings," who opened after seeing a demand for a watering hole for the Irish immigrants who labored in the area.

915 Third Ave., pjclarkes.com

1885: Keens Chophouse

Keens was established by Albert Keen in the former Herald Square theater district and was host to actors and others involved in the play making business. It is the last remnant of the district. Keens is well-known for its pipe club -- and the hundreds if not thousands of pipes that line the ceiling of the restaurant. According to the restaurant, it has one of the largest collections in the world of churchwarden pipes. As history tells it, the pipes would be left by their owners at their favorite tavern or inn, so it would be ready for them when they wanted an ale and a smoke. The Keens clay pipes were brought from the Netherlands, and they were registered by guests and kept clean by "pipe boys." Members of the pipe club included Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Adlai Stevenson and John Barrymore.

Fun Fact: While most old-school New York City steakhouses are best-known for porterhouse steaks, rib eyes and prime rib, at Keens, you order the Mutton Chop, which is a saddle of lamb, nearly 2 inches thick.

72 W. 36th St., keens.com

1887: Peter Luger Steakhouse

Eating at Peter Luger's Steakhouse in Brooklyn is a rite of passage for any serious eater. Devouring a porterhouse steak, onion and tomato salad, thick cut bacon, creamed spinach and a dry martini will never feel as good as it does here. Originally called Carl Luger's CafÉ, Billiards and Bowling Alley, the restaurant opened in 1887 in what was then a predominantly German section of Williamsburg. When Peter Luger died, a local businessman who ate two steaks a day there bought the restaurant and maintained what Luger began.

Fun Fact: Peter Luger's only buys USDA prime steaks for its restaurants. They are dry-aged on site.

72 W. 36th St., peterluger.com

1888: Katz's Delicatessen

Everyone's favorite Jewish deli was originally called Iceland Brothers, named after, you guessed it, the Iceland Brothers. Willy Katz joined the business in 1902 and they became known as Iceland & Katz. Then Katz bought out Iceland. Name changes aside, Katz's has remained true to its style and menu over the years. If you want a pastrami sandwich, matzoh ball soup or chopped liver, head to the Lower East Side.

Fun Fact: The famous scene from "When Harry Met Sally," where Meg Ryan's character fakes an orgasm, was filmed in Katz's. The owners recently told Gothamist that the scene is reenacted once or twice a week, even now, two decades after the film was released.

205 E. Houston St., katzsdelicatessen.com

1890: Yonah Schimmel Knishery

Yonah Schimmel began selling knishes from a pushcart on Houston Street in 1890, and in 1910 moved into the storefront where it still operates today. Visiting the knishery is like taking a step into the Lower East Side of the past, and the knishes they make today are the same as when they started.

Fun Fact Yonah Schimmel was also a rabbi.

137 E. Houston St., knishery.com

1897: Lombardi's

Lombardi's was started by an Italian immigrant from Naples and is the birthplace of New York style pizza, now recognized around the world as one of the best things you can eat. The pizzas were first sold in 1897 from a grocery store, and the pizzeria opened in 1910.

Fun Fact: The Pizza Hall of Fame recognized Lombardi's as the first pizzeria in the United States.

32 Spring St., lombardisoriginalpizza.com

1900: Bamonte's

Like most New York City neighborhoods, Williamsburg has changed quite a bit in recent years. There was once a thriving Italian community living around the Graham Avenue stop on the L train. While some descendents of that community still remain, and a few Italian bakeries and butcher shops too, the crown jewel is Bamonte's Restaurant, which is so wonderfully stuck in the past they do not even have a website. This red-sauce joint is a perfect distraction from modern life. Stop in for a plate of Zuppa di Clams.

Fun Fact:Scenes of "The Sopranos" were filmed at Bamonte's.

132 Withers St., Williamsburg, 718-384-8831

1904: Ferdinando's Focacceria

Originally just a luncheonette for the area's longshoreman, today Ferdinando's is a beloved hole-in-the-wall Sicilian restaurant far off the beaten path. Both old-timers and newcomers in the neighborhood enjoy the food at Ferdinando's, especially the panelle (Sicilian fritter made with chickpea flour) and vastedda (cow's spleen) sandwiches, layered high with ricotta and Parmesan. Ferdinando's also makes a delicious Pasta con Sarde, with garlic, olive oil, fennel, sardines and pignoli (pine nuts.)

Fun Fact: Ferdinando's was started by Ferdinando Siaramataro, and taken over by his son in law Francesco Buffa, who married his daughter. It's a family business.

151 Union St., Columbia Street Waterfront District, 718-855-1545

1906: Barbetta

Barbetta's website boasts that its the oldest restaurant in New York City that is still owned by the family that opened it. Whether or not that's exactly true doesn't totally matter here, we're just glad such a beautiful and historic place still exists in the theater district. Barbetta celebrates the food of the Piemonte region of Italy, with a goal of showing that Italian cuisine is not always simple and rustic. White truffles figure predominantly on the menu when in season.

Fun Fact: In 1987, Barbetta was one of the first restaurants to discourage smoking by "replacing matches in matchbox with after dinner chocolate mints," according to its website.

321 W. 46th St., barbettarestaurant.com

1908: John's of 12th Street

John's is another hidden gem of a red sauce joint serving simple, delicious Italian food. You can even order pasta in a butter sauce. The space is reminiscent of the Italian restaurant in "Godfather," where Michael Corleone shoots the mobster and police captain. There are white table clothes and tile floors.

Fun Fact: Guy Fieri's Good Network show "Diners, Drive-In's and Dives" filmed a segment at John's. Fieri loves the veal meatballs with Marsala sauce.

302 E. 12th St., johnsof12thstreet.com

1913: Grand Central Oyster Bar

The Grand Central Oyster Bar opened when Grand Central Terminal did, in 1913. The restaurant is iconic and is beloved for its fresh seafood and historic ambiance. The Guastavino tile ceilings were recently restored. Even if you don't want to eat there, next time you're in Grand Central, stop by for a look.

Fun Fact: While the Oyster Pan Roast was the dish that made the restaurant famous, the Oyster Bar wasn't actually the seafood-focused establishment you know it as today until 1974.

Grand Central Terminal, 89 E. 42nd St., oysterbarny.com

1914: Russ & Daughters

The first store opened by Joel Russ was on Orchard Street, below Houston Street, in 1914. In 1920 he moved to the current location on Houston Street. Just this past year, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Russ & Daughters, a cafe opened on -- you guessed it -- Orchard Street. During the depression, Joel Russ decided to sell his house and not his business, moving his family into more cramped living quarters. His business sense is what allows us to still enjoy the appetizing foods of Russ & Daughters today.

Fun Fact: In 2000, the Smithsonian Institute designated Russ & Daughters "a piece of New York's cultural heritage."

179 E. Houston St., russanddaughters.com

1916: Nathan's Famous

Owner Nathan Handwerker started Nathan's Famous with his wife Ida after working at Feltman's German Gardens, another hot dog restaurant.

Fun Fact: According to the film "Famous Nathan's," Handwerker was a leader in workforce integration. Many African American and hispanic workers were able to find jobs at Nathan's when nowhere else in the area would have them.

Surf and Stillwell Avenues, Coney Island, nathansfamous.com

1920: Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Nom Wah is considered the first dim sum parlor in New York City. It was first located at 15 Doyers St., and in 1968 moved to 11-13. The restaurant has the same vintage look it did when it opened, and ordering is done with a checklist, using a pencil to mark off the items you'd like.

Fun Fact: Nom Wah is famous for its moon cake, made with homemade lotus paste and red bean filling for the annual Chinese autumn festival.

11-133 Doyers St., nomwah.com

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