15 Vintage NYC Restaurants, Bars and Cafes

Eddie’s Sweet Shop in Forest Hills

The restaurants that our grandparents told us about are getting replaced weekly. The last automats in New York have long since closed down. And naturally, many New Yorkers are worrying for their city. Our suggestion? Go dine at some of the oldest and greatest places in the city before they’re replaced. Or go with faith that they won’t be replaced; after all, they’ve withstood the test of time so far. With the help of Mitch Broder’s new book, Discovering Vintage New York, we’ve compiled some of our favorite vintage discoveries.

1. P.J. Clarke’s (built 1868, est. 1912)


Buddy Holly proposed to his wife Maria Elena at P. J. Clarke’s. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons by Jazz Guy

The bar that has shaped what people think of bars. Buddy Holly proposed here, Frank Sinatra had Table 20 on reserve, and Johnny Mercer, JFK, Jackie O, Ted Kennedy, and Dick Clark all became a part of the iconic bar’s history. Nat King Cole once called their bacon cheeseburger “the Cadillac of burgers.” Order the Cadillac.

2. Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant (est. 1913)

When Grand Central Terminal‘s anchor restaurant was first established, it was a little behind on New York’s oyster craze. It caught up. It’s perfected the oyster, and now serves 140 seafood dishes. If you don’t like fish (you’re down to a selection of 5 dishes), come for the magnificent ceiling.

3. Eddie’s Sweet Shop (est. 1920s)

This Forest Hills ice cream parlor and candy shop is quintessentially retro, complete with turn-of-the-cenutry counters, antiques, and the types of candy that you thought didn’t exist anymore. Everything is made in-house, including the to-die-for sundaes. This wasn’t in Discovering Vintage New York but we included it in this list.

4. Aron Streit, Inc. (est. 1925) 

Aron Streit matzo factory-NYC New York-Untapped CitiesSource: Cooper Squared.

There are a lot of reasons to get excited about the last major family-owned matzo baker in the country. For one, you can peer through the bars on the windows for a glimpse of the action, and there will be a pretty good chance that someone will reach through the bars to hand you freshly-baked matzo. Second, the rabbis will give you a tour of the factory that churns out 2.5 million boxes of matzo a year – mostly the old-fashioned way. Third, their non-Passover matzo comes in about fifteen flavors.

5. Caffe Reggio (est. 1927)

Cafe Reggio-NYC New York-Untapped CitiesSource: Best Restaurants in Your City.

If the assortment of dark Renaissance-era oil paintings, statues, and stained-glass windows aren’t enough of an indication that this tiny coffee shop is a classic, just ask consult local historians. Their claim: the espresso machine that still stands tall in Reggio, imported from Italy in 1902, was the first in America and essentially gave Americans their first taste of the beverage. At the time, the store was a barbershop that served clients 10-cent cups of coffee. It didn’t switch its focus to caffeinated beverages until 1927. See more of coffee shops that made into our Top 10 Coffee Shops for Design Buffs in Manhattan.

6. Minetta Tavern (est. 1930s)

Minetta Tavern-NYC New York-Untapped CitiesSource: Culture Divine.

Since Keith McNally revived this place in 2009, it’s been selling burgers that cost $26, and that are worth every penny, according to food critics. But before that, it was an Italian restaurant that was a favorite of Beat poets and other unshaven pub crawlers in the Village. Most remnants of this time remain, and what’s been added only lends the tavern all the class and ambiance you’d want to accompany your $26 burger. This was also one of our own adds to Discovering Vintage New York‘s list.

7. Wo Hop (est. 1938) 

Looking for authentic Chinese food? Go anywhere else in Chinatown. Wo Hop is known for deliciously unauthentic, Americanized Chinese food. The walls of this basement restaurant are covered with photos of patrons, put there by patrons; add your own while you wait for your “Chinese” dish to come out.

8. Hungarian Pastry Shop (est. 1961)

The bathrooms at The Hungarian Pastry Shop were once adorned with the intellectual graffiti of Columbia students long since graduated (don’t worry, the wall has been restarted), and a hand-painted sign from the original owner advertises pastries that are no longer sold, and there’s no WiFi. Those shouldn’t be distractions when there are so many spectacular pastries still being baked here, and so many weird and fascinating people to talk to while you enjoy them. It was also where a scene in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives was filmed.

9. Marie’s Crisis Cafe (est. 1970s)

The site of Thomas Paine’s 1809 death is now being filled with showtunes. Every night, Marie’s Crisis Cafe is filled with jovial Broadway enthusiasts who sing into the night for ten hours. The pianist claims to have memorized fifteen thousand songs. It’s also home to a WPA mural that depicts the French and American revolutions.

10. Katz’s Delicatessen

Katzs Delicatessen-Lower East Side-Houston Street-Exterior-Neon Sign-NYC

This iconic New York City deli was founded in 1888. It has weathered the development around its corner location on Houston Street and Ludlow Street and has even expanded next door to create a “deli-inspired” gallery, called The Space. Famous for its pastrami and hot dogs, Katz’s also has an interior is also worth a look for a New York City frozen in time.

11. Peter Pan Donuts

Peter Pan Donut Shop Greenpoint Brooklyn NYC Untapped Cities

Beloved Greenpoint stronghold, Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop, still serves old fashioned donuts at a vintage style lunch counter. Servers wear ’50s era green and pink uniforms too.

12. Bemelman’s Bar (painted 1947)

In exchange for one and a half years of room and board for himself and his family, Ludwig Bemelmans painted the walls at the Hotel Carlyle Bar in 1947. As a result, the bar was renamed Bemelmans Bar. The murals depict Central Park throughout the seasons with a cameo by Madeline.

13. King Cole Bar (est. 1948, mural from 1906)

The King Cole Bar, located in the elegant St. Regis Hotel, is famous for its namesake mural and for being the birthplace of the Bloody Mary cocktail. The mural, painted by illustrator Maxfield Parrish, was originally commissioned  by John Jacob Astor IV in 1909 for his Knickerbocker Hotel. Parrish was reluctant to paint the mural due to his Quaker upbringing but ultimately agreed for the sum of $5,000. Old King Cole is thought to have been modeled on Astor, but there does not appear to be any resemblance between the two. Read more in our article Where a Drink is Served With a Work of Art.

14. Sardi’s (est. 1927)

Photo Credit: CNNPhoto Credit: CNN

Sardi’s opened in 1927 and is best known for the hundreds of celebrity caricatures that line the walls. The artist Alex Gard actually painted those caricatures in exchange for a meal a day at the restaurant. It also serves as a film location for Mad Men in season 5, where Bobbi Barrett and Don Draper meet.

15. McSorley’s (est. supposedly 1854)

Just a heads up, beers here are served in orders of two.

Standing inconspicuously at 15 E. 7th Street, McSorley’s Old Ale House offers two drinks: McSorley’s Dark Ale and McSorley’s Light Ale. Despite their lack of variety, or perhaps because of it, the bar has thrived throughout the years, managing to keep fairly low prices. Collectibles line the walls, some of them there since 1910. Wishbones hang from above placed there by neighborhood boys who went to war and did not make it back. Though the ale house is declared to go back to the year 1854, records deem it impossible. Whatever the year the establishment came to be, they have some of the oldest urinals, dating back to 1911.

Be sure to check out Mitch Broder’s Discovering Vintage New York for more locations! Tell us what your favorites are in the comments! 

Additional reporting by Laura Itzkowitz, Benjamin Waldman and Michelle Young.

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