Restaurants of NYC Past

Oyster saloons, hula dances, and absinthe frappes! William Grimes catalogues the New York food scene of yesteryear -- a look at 25 long-gone eateries.

Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York, from NYT foodster William Grimes, doesn’t hit bookshelves until October, but Grub Street has a preview that’s making us positively misty-eyed for a time we wish we’d experienced firsthand. They flag 25 restaurants Grimes describes – below, our highlights of their highlights – and make one thing clear: Long before anyone conceived of all-mac-n-cheese menus or Guinness ice cream floats, New York’s restaurant scene was heavy on gimmicks.

“The oyster saloons of Canal Street, where you could eat unlimited bivalves for six cents.”

“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.”

“Little Hungary on Houston Street, where […] diners could refill their own wine glasses by pressing a button.”

“The Automat. The first one, opened in 1902, was said to serve absinthe frappés.”

“Reisenweber’s, where […] a hula dancer performed in Doraldina’s Hawaiian Room. Site of New York’s first cover charge (25 cents).”

“Nino’s Café, where in the forties you could eat sautéed llama steak, black bear steaks, barracuda, armadillo, woodchuck, or beaver with tail.”

Grub Street’s full list and more on Appetite City over here.

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