Museum of the City of New York Collection on Dining and Hospitality, 1719-1996 (bulk 1834-1996)

Extent: 10 boxes (4 oversize)
The Museum of the City of New York Collection on Dining and Entertainment contains materials related to New York City’s restaurants and hotels between the years of 1719 and 1996.

Historical Note
This collection takes a closer look at New York City’s relationship with dining and hospitality through restaurant and hotel menus and other ephemera.

New York’s restaurant scene was enriched by the arrival of immigrants to the city in the late nineteenth century. Chief among the new cuisines was Italian. Pizza, a Neapolitan food uncommon in most of Italy, quickly became a staple in New York after G. Lombardi opened Lombardi’s Pizza on Spring Street in 1905. The original Lombardi’s closed in 1984, but re-opened in 1994 at 32 Spring Street where it still operates today. Jewish immigrants opened grocery restaurants called delicatessens, offering breads, smoked salmon, dried fish, noodle pudding, frankfurters, pastrami, pickles, and cream soda. Chinese restaurants developed dishes for American tastes and Russian restaurants, such as the Russian Tea Room, were often run by émigrés and patronized by artists and writers.

During Prohibition (1920-1933), New Yorkers and tourists found fun in the city’s speakeasies, like Pirates’ Den on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. The World’s Fair of 1939-40 introduced authentic French cuisine to Americans. Le Pavillon set the standard for fine French restaurants in America. New Yorkers were introduced to Japanese cuisine in the 1950s and 1960s with restaurants such as Toyo-Kwan, Druma, and Miyako serving sukiyaki, teriyaki, and tempura. Saito was the first sushi bar, opened in 1957, and Benihana, the first Japanese steakhouse opened in 1964 on West 56th Street. The 1970s saw another influx of immigration that resulted in increased ethnic restaurants, including Indian, Thai, and Ethiopian.

City Hotel (1794-1849), located on the west side of lower Broadway between Thames and Cedar streets, was likely the first building built in America with the purpose as a hotel. It was also the city’s principle concert hall, hosting New York’s third Philharmonic Society. Luxury hotels began appearing in New York around the mid-nineteenth century, including Astor House and Fifth Avenue Hotel. During the 1890s larger and more luxurious hotels were built reaching as high as 17 stories, with steel construction, telephones, electric lighting, and improved elevators. Hotels built at this time include the original Plaza Hotel (1890), the Hotel Savoy (1890), the New Netherland Hotel (1893), and the Waldorf Astoria (1893).

During the second decade of the 20th century, huge facilities were built near railroad complexes to accommodate the growing number of middle class travelers. They were grandly decorated, affordable, convenient, and functional. The first was the Hotel McAplin (1912) near Penn Station. Architectural firm Warren and Wetmore became an expert in hotels, designing the Ritz-Carlton (1910), the Vanderbilt Hotel (1912), the Biltmore Hotel (1914), and the Hotel Commodore (1919) – changing the direction of hotel architecture from Edwardian elegance to modern convenience. During the 1980s and 1990s, city hotels added thousands of rooms, including the Marriot Marquis Hotel (1985), New York Vista Hotel (1981) and Hotel Millennium (1991). By 1993 the city had approximately 60,000 hotel rooms. In 2014, it was reported that New York had approximately 112,940 hotel rooms.

Scope and Content
New York City has a wide variety of food and drink due to its size, status as a port, and large and diverse immigrant population. This collection highlights New Yorkers’ historic and ongoing relationship with dining through restaurant and hotel menus. Items in the collection offer a snapshot of food trends throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. The restaurant series dates from 1719 to 1996 featuring cuisines such as American, Southern American, Italian, French, German, Mexican, Chinese, Irish, British, Spanish, Japanese, Greek, Hungarian and Russian. The hotel series takes a closer look at hotels in New York with ephemera dating between 1834 to 1993.

Series I: Restaurants
Series II: Hotels

Click here to view the complete finding aid for the Collection on Dining and Hospitality

Related Collections
Museum of the City of New York Collection on Formal Dining Events

Museum of the City of New York Collection on Prohibition

Museum of the City of New York Collection on Culture and Entertainment

The Museum is grateful for the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities; this collection was reprocessed as part of the NEH project Illuminating New York City History through Material Culture: A Proposal to Process, Catalog, Digitize, and Rehouse the Ephemera Collections of the Museum of the City of New York. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.