Holiday matchbooks from 1930s midtown cafes

What better way to let customers know your restaurant honored the Christmas season than by advertising it on a matchbook? These long-gone Manhattan eateries apparently agreed.

If you worked in the vicinity of Lexington Avenue and 41st Street at any point from the 1930s through the 1960s, you may have spent your lunch hour at the no-frills-named President Cafeteria and Tavern.


“Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner and open until 1a.m., the cafeteria advertised self-service hot meals ‘at reasonable prices’ in a relaxed, casual environment,” writes The Five O’Clock Teaspoon, a fascinating culinary history site.

“The self-proclaimed largest restaurant in the Grand Central Zone, The President was a reliable staple of the Murray Hill neighborhood and was a regular haunt of soon to be luminaries such as the writer Charles Reznikoff and the aspiring actress Susan Hayward.”


Rutley’s matchbook looks festive—but the restaurant sounds a little cut-rate. Opened in 1926, it closed in 1932, an apparent casualty of the Depression and Prohibition. Another Rutley’s, however, existed in the 1940s on Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street.

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6 Responses to “Holiday matchbooks from 1930s midtown cafes”

  1. BabyDave Says:

    Funny, I remember the President as a table-service restaurant. Not really fancy, but white-tablecloth.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    maybe “cafeteria” didn’t have the more downscale association it has today.

  3. BabyDave Says:

    I checked the Five O’Clock Teaspoon link and read that there was a more formal dining area, with a cocktail lounge, in addition to the cafeteria space. That is what I am remembering. Thanks for this post. It brought back some great memories of good times with my grandparents.

  4. sue Says:

    Hi there…. I am in NYC for a visit and just this blog.. I was actually trying to recall name of 5 o’clock teaspoon since I saw my father’s restaurant described on that blog last year.

    My father owned The President. My mother was his third wife, so he was much older and worked there part time when I was a child in the sixties.

    I just began a writing project that involves some memories and I am really excited to see this old matchbook, along with the information.

    Thank you kindly.

    Ps I live in NC but my daughter just moved here and I look forward to spending g more time in New York.

  5. “The most unusual cafeteria in New York” « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Longley’s boasts of its “unbelievably fine food” on the back of the card. But they don’t specify any menu items—probably because the food wasn’t much different from what was served at the city’s other popular cafeteria chains at the time, like the President Cafeteria. […]

  6. Two top 1930s attractions at Rockefeller Center | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Matchbook covers were once fantastic venues for advertising. Check out these holiday-themed beauties from 1930s New York restaurants. […]

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