Smoked sturgeon and shish kebab are among the oldest dishes being served between West 59th and 110th Streets. From arson, kitchen catastrophes, movie stars, and lucky lottery numbers, the eatery holdouts of the Upper West Side embody unique tales of a past and present Upper West Side. The Upper West Side attracts intellectuals and creatives alike with its famed Lincoln Center and spillover of Columbia University affiliates near West 110th Street. As the neighborhood has become increasingly desirable for wealthy young people, an aggressive battle for development has ensued.
The neighborhood was historically home to Jewish, Irish, and Caribbean immigrants, as well as African Americans who lived in the former San Juan Hill neighborhood that was demolished to make Lincoln Center. Pandemic-related difficulties and the ever-increasing cost of rent in the area have unfortunately led to the demise of some long-standing, local neighborhood restaurants, like La Caridad 78. Some flavors of an older Upper West Side still remain though, in the form of a few persistent holdouts. Here are seven of the oldest restaurants on the Upper West Side with dine-in options.
1. Barney Greengrass (est. 1908)
Between W 86th and W 87th streets on Amsterdam Avenue, the legacy of “The Sturgeon King” remains intact. Barney Greengrass originally opened his appetizing store in Harlem in 1908 and relocated it to Amsterdam Avenue in 1929. In 1938, Barney Greengrass expanded to include a restaurant. Now, Barney Greengrass’ grandson Gary Greengrass oversees the restaurant, continuing the family’s 110-year-old management. The restaurant and deli specialize in smoked sturgeon and other smoked fish.
In 1939, Barney Greengrass received an order from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who wanted sturgeon shipped to him in Georgia. According to Gary Greengrass, the nickname “The Sturgeon King,” came from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speechwriter Sam Rosenman. The establishment also appears as an Upper West Side classic in 30 Rock, Revolutionary Road, and Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close.
Barney Greengrass has survived its fair share of setbacks including a temporary shut down due to a health violation, pandemic closures, and a recent arson. According to Zagat, the Barney Greengrass’ strong reputation for selling to-go items and shipping its sturgeon helped it stay afloat during the pandemic.