Outstanding: Some Of The Oldest Restaurants Of New York

As global food capital, New York City has some of the finest restaurants and most acclaimed chefs in the world. Yet many restaurants struggle to stay afloat, especially in the hyper-competitive environment of Manhattan.

In 2011, Business Insider predicted that out the 1,000 restaurants that opened in the New York City the year prior, only 800 would still be operating in five years. With such a high fail rate, any restaurant being in business for over 100 years – especially one in Manhattan – is worthy of appreciation.

Here are just a few of the many eating establishments in Manhattan that have beaten the odds, and are still going strong.

Image: Russ & Daughters

Russ & Daughters – 1914

179 E. Houston Street and 127 Orchard Street

A New York City destination since 1914, Russ & Daughters – and the relatively newly-opened Russ & Daughters Café – set the standard for Jewish food and heritage in New York City, and indeed, America.

What was started in 1907 by Joel Russ selling fish out of a barrel to Jewish immigrants in the Lower East Side has grown to be an institution with several stores, now being run by the fourth generation of this remarkable family. Stop in for the best-cured fish, spreads, bagels, noshes, to-die-for deli sandwiches, and delicious authentic Jewish cuisine.

Image: The Ear Inn

The Ear Inn – 1817

326 Spring Street

Formerly the residence of James Brown – George Washington’s African aide in the Revolutionary War who went on to make it big in the tobacco business – The Ear Inn has quite a lively history and colorful reputation.

The building in which The Ear is located was originally built in 1770, and has served food and liquor continuously since 1817. The upstairs rooms have seen many uses from brothel to smuggler’s den, doctor’s office, speakeasy, and more. Even its current name has a story; to avoid a drawn-out review of new signage by the Landmark Commission in the 70s, the owners simply painted over parts of the “B” to make it an “E”, thus changing BAR to EAR.

The Ear Inn offers its well-known burgers, pub classics, and gourmet dishes, all served with the freshest ingredients, great spirits (both behind the bar and from the afterlife), and a generous portion of fun.

Image: The Pizza Snob

Lombardi’s – 1905

32 Spring Street

With the impressive distinction of being America’s first pizzeria, Lombardi’s in the Little Italy section of New York City invites you to “taste a slice of history.”

Heralded as being one of the top pizzerias in the city, Lombardi’s pies are a cut above using fresh mozzarella, authentic tomato sauce, and coal-oven baked crust.

Their clam pie is legendary, using freshly-shucked top-neck clams from Connecticut and a delectable mixture of pecorino Romano cheese, fresh herbs, and olive oil, making it “reminiscent of very good linguini with white clam sauce,” according to NYMag’s Steven A. Shaw.

Image: NYC Magazine

Pete’s Tavern – 1864

129 East 18th Street

Part Portman Hotel/part horse stable circa 1829, this landmark began as a bar in 1864 under the name of Healey’s Café before becoming Pete’s Tavern.

Just like other centuries-old establishments in New York City, Pete’s Tavern has an interesting history. From being the unofficial back-door meeting place of Tammany Hall back in the day, to running a flower shop as a cover during Prohibition, to being the place where authors such as Ludwig Bemelmans (Madeline) and O. Henry (Gift of the Magi) penned their masterpieces, Pete’s Tavern’s walls and booths have seen (and heard) it all.

Today, Pete’s Tavern features delicious Italian-American food, inventive cocktails, and their famous 1864 House Ale. When weather permits, dine al fresco overlooking Gramercy and Irving Place.

Image: Manhattan Sideways

Keen’s Steakhouse – 1885

72 West 36th Street

Widely considered one of the finest restaurants in the city, Keens’ dry-aged sirloin, filet mignon porterhouse, prime rib, legendary humungous mutton chops and more are only rivaled only by its past, and curious decorations.

Look up to the ceiling and you’ll see the world’s largest collection of clay churchwarden smoking pipes – 50,000 in fact – neatly affixed to the rafters, as a reminder of Keen’s former glory as the Pipe Club, with such notable members as George M. Cohan, Teddy Roosevelt, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, J.P. Morgan, Babe Ruth, and more.

When Keen’s opened as a chophouse in 1885, it served as a hotspot for the rich and famous, with a steady clientele of actors and celebrities. It was so highly sought after that the famous actress Lily Langtry sued Keen’s in 1905 for admittance to this previously men’s only establishment.

Image: Barbetta

Barbetta – 1906

321 West 46th Street

Being the oldest Italian restaurant in New York City, run by the same family that founded it in 1906, and also being the oldest restaurant in the Theatre District, has earned Barbetta the exclusive distinction of being the only American restaurant to be recognized by the Locali Storici d’Italia (Italian landmark).

Stepping into the refined dining room of Barbetta takes you back to a more elegant and cultured time. Yet the menu and atmosphere are anything but old. The simple yet scrumptious menu of seafood, fresh pasta, and traditional Piemontese dishes are innovative and inspired. During warmer months, enjoy your meal in their outdoor garden dining area.

The Ties That Bind

One thing that seems to be a common thread for many of these restaurants that have been in business for over a century is family. Without family members wanting to pick up the baton and take the establishment into a new era, many restaurants fail to exist beyond the life of their founders.

Luckily for New York, family traditions run as deep as the Hudson River, so – with any luck – many of the city’s iconic establishments will be open and thriving for generations to come.

Look for next week’s blog, “Spend A Day In Another Era, New York Style“.

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