A downtown restaurant with pillars from Pompeii

delmonicostheepochtimesYou could say that New York’s pricey restaurant culture all started with Delmonico’s.

Opened by two Swiss brothers in 1827 as a cafe serving “cakes, ices, and fine wines” and expanded in 1831 into a restaurant serving European-style cuisine, this luxury eatery pioneered a la carte ordering, wine lists, and multi-page menus.

By the turn of the century, several Delmonico’s operated in prime city neighborhoods: Union Square, Madison Square, and soon uptown on 44th Street.

delmonicosmenu1880sBut today, only one still stands—a circa-1890 beauty at the juncture of Beaver and South William Streets.

This Delmonico’s pays tribute to earlier incarnations by featuring dishes supposedly invented by the restaurant like Delmonico steak, eggs Benedict, and baked Alaska.

The building itself is also a homage to Delmonico’s history and the continent that inspired its cuisine.

How? Look at the two white pillars at the restaurant entrance. They were reportedly excavated from the ruins of Pompeii and brought to New York by one of the Delmonico brothers to flank the entrance of an earlier Delmonico’s on this site in the 1830s.

delmonicosstaff931-1-18421“On July 7, 1891, the new Delmonico’s Restaurant at South William Street opened to the public,” states one history of the restaurant.

“The new structure was eight stories tall and featured, for the first time, electric lights. It also kept several touches from the original structure, including the Pompeii pillars and cornice that framed the entrance.”

delmonicos1890sThe Sun noted the pillars as well when describing the new 1891 building. “Out of the wreck of the old building the two white marble pillars . . . which Lorenzo imported from Pompeii have been retained and form part of the entrance. . . . “

Perhaps it’s just legend. But if the pillars really are from Pompeii, it would make them one of the oldest artifacts in the city.

[Top photo: theepochtimes; second image: MCNY 97.41.293; third photo: MCNY; fourth photo: King’s Handbook of New York, 1892]

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5 Responses to “A downtown restaurant with pillars from Pompeii”

  1. mitzannaMitzanna Says:

    The menu above is not from Delmonico’s. See article: https://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2012/01/31/a-famous-fake/

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you–I took it out and replaced it with one from the 1880s from the NYPL menu collection.

  3. Andrew Porter Says:

    I’ve seen the information about the pillars in numerous places: guides to architecture, and to the city of New York.

  4. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    ‘Ten Restaurants that Changed America’
    by Paul Freedman.

    In the mid-1800s, unaccompanied women in America were generally not allowed to dine at restaurants:

    “Midday dining presented a challenge for women too busy or too far from home to return there for lunch. They might be in the company of other women or alone, but at any rate not escorted by men who were occupied with work and work-related socializing; men had their own luncheon habits. In the nineteenth-century United States, men made the rules about public dining and admitted women to restaurants on sufferance, according to a complex series of arrangements. Different practices governed the two main meals of the day.

    “Restaurants depended economically on women accompanying men at the evening meal. … Lunch, however, was segregated by gender and involved a series of problems, according to the social customs of the nineteenth century. In the grand and even not-so-grand metropolis, men were increasingly likely to work at some distance from home and to stay near their workplace for the midday meal. The point at which women too absented themselves from the house created a demand for their sustenance. The growth of cities and the creation of specialized shopping districts meant that it was often incon­venient for women as well as men to return home for lunch. …

    “The public rooms at fancy restaurants were usually reserved at lunch for men only, but some of them allowed women to have lunch in private dining spaces. In the era before Prohibition, bars offered free food, which, along with a crowded and boisterous atmosphere, encouraged demand for drink. Free-lunch bars were hopelessly inappropriate spaces for respectable women, as alcohol-driven conviviality was inevitably coarse — the antith­esis of what was considered ladylike.

    “Restaurants and bars afforded opportunities for men to meet and con­sort with women deemed not respectable. Certain oyster cellars provided private stalls with red curtains and individual gas lamps as well as larger private rooms where, as George Foster describes in New York by Gaslight (1850), ‘men and women enter promiscuously, eat, drink and make merry and disturb the whole neighborhood with their obscene and disgusting revels.’ New York had a dozen or so ‘private supper rooms’ in the 1840s, and after the Civil War they were understated but ubiquitous in many neighborhoods. These were attached to restaurants that catered to the usual public, but they had their own entrances. Only couples were served; a group of men could not reserve one of these rooms for the sake of mere ordinary privacy. The meal and drink charge were as much as double the stated price on the regular bill of fare. A small room had a set table and adjoined a convenient bedroom, and any sort of food could be ordered at any time of night.

    “Respectable women had to be isolated from these louche scenes, and were consequently hemmed in by rules concerning their presence in res­taurants. An example of the complexities of female dining is provided by the Fourteenth Street branch of Delmonico’s, which drew the highest ele­ments of society during its brief reign from 1862 to 1876. Its rules highlight the ambiguity but nevertheless the importance of social boundaries and the attempt to ‘manage’ female patronage. Here ladies were not allowed at all in the first-floor café. They were welcome in the restaurant at dinner, but only in the company of men. At lunch they could dine only in all­-female groups and only in private rooms.”

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thank you Audrey, and you’re reading my mind…I’ve been planning to pick up and read Paul Freedman’s book since it came out late last year.

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