That’s Delmonico’s on Fifth Avenue at 44th Street, which opened in 1897 and entertained such famous diners as the Prince of Wales, who became King Edward VII. Today’s History Page takes you inside the luxe eatery, and how it brought French opulence to American food.
For two centuries, Americans who dined out had been doing so in taverns or inns. There they guzzled beer, paid a fixed price for whatever meat-and-two-veg fare was on offer, and sometimes engaged in raucous political debate. In the 1820s, however, new eating options emerged. Within Manhattan’s cramped business district, short-order joints known as “six-penny houses” — the fast-food spots of their day — bustled with lunchtime crowds, who devoured mediocre meals amid general pandemonium. Meanwhile, fancy hotels were offering an increasing variety of dishes, though they tended to serve them all up at once, compelling diners seated around communal tables to polish them off as fast as they could.
The Delmonicos, by contrast, adopted Parisian customs. For the first time, as Lately Thomas writes in “Delmonico’s: A Century of Splendor,” “New Yorkers were able to order a luncheon or a dinner of their choice, select from a varied bill of fare, have it cooked to perfection and served at the hour they named, wash it down with a sound light wine, and pay a reasonable, set price.” Diners sat at their own tables, where they were treated to suave service and ate at a leisurely pace. This made Delmonico’s the first New York dining establishment worthy of being called a restaurant. (The French word had not yet entered common English usage.)