25 Restaurants We Wish Still Existed

Bruni’s memoir isn’t the only book due out from a former Times critic. In October, William Grimes, his predecessor, will publish Appetite City, a fantastic “culinary history of New York” (per the subtitle) that ranges from Delmonico’s to Per Se, breezily touching on everything from the first time women were allowed to eat in a main dining room (at the buzzy Café Martin, the “Frenchest of French restaurants,” in 1907) to the first time foam made an appearance. Restaurateurs looking for a throwback concept will find plenty of fodder in Grimes’s enticing descriptions of lobster palaces, oyster cellars, and ice-cream saloons. After reading an advance copy of the book, we compiled a list of 25 such places we’re sorry to have missed.

1. The New York Garden (1809), an outdoor spot where if you slipped a quarter to one of the waiters, you could get your lemon ice spiked with cognac.
2. Thomas Downing’s oyster refectory (1825), where oyster-stuffed poached turkeys and oysters roasted on a large gridiron over a fire of oak shavings were served to the financial and political elite.
3. The oyster saloons of Canal Street, where you could eat unlimited bivalves for six cents.
4. Taylor’s, a lavish ice-cream saloon (complete with a seventeen-foot fountain and enormous chandeliers) that served pickled oysters and woodcocks on toast.
5. Colonel James A. Farrish’s chophouse, a “veritable palace of meat” where you could watch meat roast over an open fire before it was buttered and brought to you with a tankard of ale.
6. The Atlantic Garden (1858), a “combination theme park, pleasure garden, variety stage and saloon” that accommodated 3,000 and featured shooting galleries, bowling lanes, billiard tables, and an automated organ.
7. Pfaff’s basement saloon, a Village bohemian hangout where Walt Whitman and others ate Dutch pannekuchen and steaks.
8. Little Hungary on Houston Street, where the röte grütze (berry pudding) and Wiener backhändl (breaded fried chicken) was accompanied by Gypsy music and the menu read “You must eat it whether you like it or not.” Diners could refill their own wine glasses by pressing a button.
9. Rector’s, the Times Square “lobster palace” where “the food was as rich as the diners” and the legendary gourmand Diamond Jim Brady held court. Typical Brady meal there: Three dozen oysters, a dozen hard-shell crabs, several large lobsters, and a steak.
10. Jack’s, a rambunctious 24-hour restaurant decorated with antlers and stuffed wildlife, where sauced Ivy Leaguers, fighters, and actors poured in for lobster fat on toast and broiled pigs’ feet with deviled sauce.
11. Murray’s, which replicated Rome’s gardens via electric stars in the ceiling and Peking’s gardens via a model train that delivered dishes such as roses stuffed with cheese covered in mayo.
12. Healy’s. Two words: Beefsteak dungeon.
13. The Automat. The first one, opened in 1902, was said to serve absinthe frappes.
14. Hammerstein’s Paradise Rooftop, a sky garden with a 65-foot glass canopy where performers included a Russian cat-and-dog circus.
15. Terrace Garden (1911). It offered diners opera, dinner, and a cabaret show, plus a taxi ride home, for $2.
16. The Craftsman (1913). Opened in the furniture showcase of Gustave Stickley, it was perhaps the first “farm to table” restaurant, since ingredients came from Craftsman Farm in New Jersey.
17. Reisenweber’s, where the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was discovered (spurring the jazz age), and where a hula dancer performed in Doraldina’s Hawaiian Room. Site of New York’s first cover charge (25 cents).
18. Alice Foote MacDougall Coffee House. Opened by a pioneering female restaurateur (the Martha Stewart of the twenties), it served “big breakfasts with fruit, oatmeal, hot bread, sausages, buckwheat cakes and syrup.”
19. The Central Park Casino. The premiere outdoor dining spot of the day, it served scalloped lobster with foie gras and a truffled Mornay sauce.
20. The Paradise, a cabaret restaurant opened in 1932 that featured “an endless, stupendous, naked floorshow.”
21. The Mad Hatter, a tearoom run by a wealthy sculptor where patrons entered through a Rabbit Hole and signs on the wall quoted Lewis Carroll.
22. Nino’s Café, where in the forties you could eat sautéed llama steak, black bear steaks, barracuda, armadillo, woodchuck, or beaver with tail.
23. The Café Nicholson. Enda Lewis’s quirky subterranean restaurant and garden, frequented by the likes of Tennessee Williams, Auden, and Gore Vidal. Customers within 60 blocks got free chauffeur service in a Rolls Royce.
24. The Town and Country, a lavishly decorated regional-food restaurant serving everything from New England codfish with creamed egg to Louisiana gumbo.
25. The Forum of the Twelve Caesars, a Roman-themed restaurant from the owners of The Four Seasons. The menu included mussels with roe and wild-boar paté, and the wine coolers were in the shape of gladiator helmets.

Previously on Grub Street...

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