Pictured above: Delmonico’s, New York/Detroit Publishing Co./c1903/LOC.
Delmonico’s Restaurant, America’s First Restaurant, located in the heart of New York’s financial district and just a few blocks from the New York Stock Exchange, at Beaver and 2 South William Streets in lower Manhattan, has been in the business of serious eats since 1837.
The Restaurant single-handedly changed the way New Yorkers dine out yesterday and today. Delmonico’s is known as the first American restaurant to offer patrons the option of ordering from a menu à la carte, rather than table d’hôte.
The premiere Restaurant’s basement held the largest private wine cellar in the city and may well have been among the first restaurants to employ a separate wine list. Delmonico’s set the standard for gourmet food with its signature recipes which continue in popularity today and include Eggs Benedict, Lobster a la Newberg, Manhattan clam chowder, Delmonico Potatoes, Delmonico Steak, quite likely, Chicken a la Keene. In its own refinements and presentation, Delmonico’s helped popularize Baked Alaska in 1876.
Through its colorful history, Delmonico’s has been feted by movie legends, renowned novelists, visiting royalty, presidents, politicians, and rogues including Jenny Lind, Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Arthur Sullivan, “Diamond Jim” Brady, Lillian Russell, alongside Diamond Jim, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, J.P. Morgan, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., Nikola Tesla, Edward VII, then-Prince of Wales, and Napoleon III of France.
Homage to the grandeur of the iconic Restaurant and its place in history has been captured in films.
“Hello Dolly, the 1947 film “Life With Father,”
The rich history of Delmonico’s restaurant has transcended the generations, from Prohibition to the Great Depression, and persevered through cultural changes and attitudes alongside the impossibilities of World Wars.
Delmonico’s dawned at a time in America’s history when restaurants were a precious commodity far and few between aside from colonial taverns and similar like establishments.
John “Giovannia” and Peter “Pietro” (Del-Monico) Delmonico, Swiss brothers, founded a cafe – pastry shop in 1827 located at 23 William Street. In May of 1829, the brothers rented a room in the adjoining building, at 25 William Street as business began to see a steady growth. In February of 1830, the Delmonico’s rented the entire building at 25 William Street and launched Delmonico’s Restaurant. notable then as the first restaurant or public dining room to be opened in the United States. Nephew, Lorenzo Delmonico, joined the brothers in 1831 and between the three of them, Delmonico’s grew to be one of the finest restaurants in the world.
The Great Fire of 1835 that ravaged Manhattan, December 16, 1835, found Delmonico’s utterly destroyed in the blaze. As surely as Phoenix rises from the ashes, so too did Delmonico’s. In August of 1837, the Restaurant,” later referred by its patrons as “The Citadel,” resumed operations at a new building purchased on the corner of Beaver, William and 2 South William (formerly Mill) Street. So grand was the reincarnation, it’s rumored that the columns framing the entrance of Delmonico’s had been imported from the ruins of Pompeii. The building sported three floors complete with private dining rooms and was 3 1/2 stories high. The first and second floors featured large “saloons” (dining rooms), decorated with inlaid floors and breathtakingly expensive decor. The third floor featured several private dining rooms, as well as the kitchen. The cellar boasted wine vaults stocked with some 16,000 bottles of the finest French wine.
In 1842 John Delmonico died and in 1848 Peter sold his interests, leaving the restaurant to his nephew, Lorenzo. Lorenzo, to say the least, had ideas of his own for Delmonico’s.
During 1850, the legendary Delmonico steak was put on a menu that already featured brilliant culinary creations.
In keeping with whispers of grandeur and an already impeccable reputation, in May of 1862, Delmonico’s hired Charles Ranhofer (November 7, 1836, in Saint-Denis, France – October 9, 1899, in New York), considered one of the greatest chefs of his day. Ranhofer, an author of the of encyclopedic cookbook book,” The Epicurean” (1894), was the chef for Delmonico’s from 1862 to 1876 and 1879 to his retirement 1896.
The lore and legend of Delmonico’s spread and between 1865 to 1888 it expanded to four restaurants. On September 3, 1881, Lorenzo Delmonico passed away at 68. Following his death, nephew Charles Constant Delmonico inherited the business for a brief time until 1884 when he too passed. Charles Crist Delmonico (“Charles C.” or “Young Charlie”), was Delmonico’s active general manager, until 1901. Delmonico’s flourished with nearly ten more Delmonico’s holdings.
Restaurants owned and operated by the Delmonico family
23 William Street December 13, 1827 – December 16, 1835 (destroyed by fire)
25 William Street March, 1830 – December 16, 1835 (destroyed by fire)
76 Broad Street February 23, 1836 – July 19, 1845, (destroyed by fire)
2 South William St. August, 1837 – July 10, 1890. Rebuilt and reopened July 7, 1891, closed 1917
25 Broadway June 1, 1846 – 1856
Chambers Street and Broadway 1856 – October 26, 1876
East 14th Street and 5th Avenue April 9, 1862 – September 11, 1876
22 Broad Street 1865–1893
Fifth Avenue and 26th St. September 11, 1876 – April 18, 1899
112–114 Broadway near Pine St. October 26, 1876 – 1888
Fifth Avenue and 44th Street November 15, 1897 – May 21, 1923
The restaurant saw a decline with the country’s changing habits and economic factors, most likely influenced greatly by Prohibition. In 1919, Edward L.C. Robins purchased Delmonico’s location at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street that later closed in 1923. The location was the last vestige of the Delmonico family owned holdings claiming continuity to the original.
Since those days, the history and ownership of the original and most famous of Delmonico’s restaurants have been rich and ever-changing, but its location has remained the same.
Following the closure of the last Delmonico’s, a number of imitators wanna be’s, and copycats opened “Delmonico’s” restaurants including the original Delmonico’s located at 2 South William Street. The remaining Delmonico family exercised options to retain exclusive rights to the name, but a court ruled with the closing of the final restaurant the name had passed into the public domain.
During 1929, Oscar Tucci opened a “Delmonico’s” known as “Oscar’s Delmonico’s” at 2 South William Street. There, Tucci revived the original menus and recipes of the original restaurant. Oscar’s Delmonico’s enjoyed a prominence in its own right while hosting prominent citizens of the day. It remained open until 1977.
In 1981, another Delmonico’s was opened by Ed Huber at the same famous location as the original Delmonico’s. It remained in operation until 1992.
Between 1992 and 1998, the building remained vacant before the Bice Group purchased the property and opened a Delmonico’s enthusing the majesty and vitality of the former location. In 1999, the restaurant was sold to the Ocinomled partnership, which continues to operate Delmonico’s at the South William Street location and notes the address as 56 Beaver Street.
Today, a reincarnation of Delmonico’s continues to operate on South William Street after it was subsequently reopened by other restaurateurs under the same name. The Restaurant has been restored to its former glory featuring lavish, stately rooms rich with dark woods and opulent upholstery, stately chandeliers, and tables draped in the grandeur of white linen.
Some of Delmonico’s Firsts in America
First dining establishment to be referred by its French name, “Restaurant”
First restaurant to feature a printed menu
First restaurant to feature a separate wine list
First restaurant to display tablecloths
First restaurant to offer private dining rooms
First restaurant to accommodate a ball or gala outside of a private residence
First restaurant to allow women the space to congregate as a group
First restaurant to have a renowned “star” chef
First restaurant where guests enjoyed the privacy of their own tables
First restaurant to engage a female cashier
First restaurant to serve Eggs Benedict
The home of Delmonico Steak and Delmonico Potatoes
Delmonico’s Official Website http://www.delmonicosrestaurantgroup.com/restaurant/index.html
Steak Perfection http://www.steakperfection.com/delmonico/Bibliography.html