The Financial District is home to two of the city’s oldest and most fabled eateries. Fraunces Tavern is Revolutionary with a capital R: It served its first customers in 1762, and while it has not continuously operated as a restaurant or pub throughout the following centuries, its address is believed to be the oldest surviving building in Manhattan. Delmonico’s, which opened in 1837, can be considered revolutionary in its own right, as it is credited with the creation of lobster Newberg, eggs Benedict, and the Delmonico steak, among other culinary delights.
54 Pearl Street
Samuel Fraunces opened the doors of his tavern, then called the Queen’s Head, in 1762, but the brick building on the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets was built in 1719, on the site of a home that had been constructed in 1671. The pub was a popular meeting place—the New York Chamber of Commerce was founded there in 1768. Fraunces decamped to New Jersey in 1775, leaving his son-in-law to run the pub; during this time it became a gathering spot for the British and Loyalists. In 1780, for instance, royal governor William Tryon hosted a dinner for 70 guests, including British generals, at the tavern.
[Image: Allison Meier/Flickr]
Yet just three years later, the tavern was the site of George Washington’s farewell dinner for the officers of the Continental Army, and in 1785, Fraunces (who had since returned from New Jersey) leased the tavern to the Continental Congress so that the fledgling Department of Foreign Affairs could use it as offices. The War Department and the Treasury soon leased offices there as well. It wasn’t until 1788, under new ownership, that the building operated as a tavern again. For much of the 19th century, though, the building was used primarily as a boarding house, with a bar on the first floor.
Come 1900, 54 Pearl Street was slated for demolition. The Daughters of the American Revolution spearheaded efforts to preserve the site, and in 1904 the city agreed to sell it to the Sons of the Revolution in New York. In 1907, Fraunces Tavern—or as it was now called, Fraunces Tavern Museum & Tavern—was back in business.
Fraunces Tavern is worth a visit not just for the museum’s historical artifacts or for the Colonial splendor of its oak-paneled rooms, farmhouse-style tables, and benches. It consistently receives high marks for its service and its food. The menu offers dishes that would have pleased the palate of the Colonists (Scotch eggs, raw oysters, fish and chips, steak) with a sprinkling of contemporary flourishes such as organic chipotle bison burger and chicken and shrimp stir fry. The bar serves up some 130 craft beers and ciders and more than 200 whiskeys. What’s more, the tavern regularly hosts live music: jazz brunch on Saturdays, rock music on Saturday evenings, and Irish and American folk music on Sunday afternoons.
Imbibing at Fraunces Tavern.
[Image: John Wallace/Flickr]
56 Beaver Street
Brothers John and Peter Delmonico had operated a small pastry shop for about 10 years before opening their eponymous restaurant on the triangular intersection of Beaver, William, and South William Streets in 1837. Their goal was to create the country’s finest dining establishment, and they succeeded. Delmonico’s was the first eatery in the nation to use tablecloths; its private wine cellar, with more than 1,000 bottles, was said to be the largest in the city; it was the country’s first restaurant to allow customers to order à la carte as opposed to from a set menu and to even offer patrons a printed menu, which at first was written exclusively in French.
[Image: Shinya Suzuki/Flickr]
The restaurant’s innovations extended to the kitchen. It began serving its signature Delmonico steak around 1840, under the stewardship of original chef Alessandro Fellippini. What, exactly, Delmonico steak is remains a mystery: Is it a particular cut of beef? (Depends who you ask.) Is it prepared a special way? (Delmonico’s has never said.) Multiple parties do agree, however, that it is large, well marbled, tender, and delicious.
The restaurant’s other culinary inventions, many of which still appear on the menu, are less shrouded in mystery. Delmonico potatoes are a baked medley of grated potatoes, bacon, onion, cheese, and béchamel sauce, created around the same time as Delmonico steak. The restaurant claims its legendary chef Charles Ranhofer invented eggs Benedict in the 1860s to appease a regular customer who wanted to eat something new for lunch. Ranhofer also refined a recipe for boiled lobster, cream, eggs, and cognac to create lobster Newberg, and in 1867 he commemorated the purchase of Alaska from Russia by devising baked Alaska.
Boldfaced names have long been attracted to Delmonico’s stately decor, pampering service, and of course, mouthwatering fare. Opera singer and 19th-century superstar Jenny Lind was said to have dined there after every one of her New York performances. Mark Twain and Charles Dickens were feted at the restaurant; Theodore Roosevelt celebrated at least one birthday there. Financier “Diamond” Jim Brady and his paramour the singer Lillian Russell were regulars—the present-day menu includes an oyster starter named in his honor—as was Nikola Tesla. Certainly any restaurant that appealed to both gluttonous Brady and finicky Tesla deserves to be considered legendary.