Delmonico's 44th Street, 1903.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
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Founded by Swiss immigrants in 1824, Delmonico's Restaurant was the first luxury restaurant in New York, and for almost 100 years defined "haute cuisine" in America.
Dishes invented at Delmonico's include Baked Alaska, Delmonico Potatoes, Delmonico Steak, Eggs Benedict and Lobster Newburg. While Delmonico's is sometimes credited as well with inventing Oysters Rockefeller, that dish was actually created in New Orleans: what Delmonico's did was introduce it to New York.
At the time that Delmonico's, at other public eating places in America (inns and hotels for the most part), you just ate what was on offer that day, for a fixed price, at times set by the establishment. Delmonico's introduced to America the relatively-new French concept of a menu, with different things you could choose at different prices, and, to boot, you could come in at any time that suited your schedule. They served the food on fine china. The menus were in French with English translations (later, with English on one side, French on the other.)
Delmonico's was legendary not only for its food, but for its high prices as well. There were times at Delmonico's when, had its ceilings collapsed, the American political and economic structure would have been decimated, because of all the influential people gathered at the same times around its tables. Celebrities that frequented Delmonico's over the years included Samuel Morse, Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell, the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Morgans, the Astors, the Goodyears, the Bissells, Grand Dukes of Russia, Napoleon III, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.
Despite being such an exclusive restaurant, Delmonico's grew to be almost a mini-chain of six restaurants operated by the Delmonico family -- a statement perhaps to how much wealth there was in New York at the time. But Delmonico's style and dining couldn't survive forever. Towards the end of the 1800s, the rich were being influenced by new food science discoveries talking about healthier eating. Two government measures, some say, accelerated the demise of Delmonico's. The first was the introduction of income tax in 1913 in America which reduced the seemingly-unlimited disposable income of the American rich. And in 1919, the introduction of Prohibition saw the last of Delmonico's patrons stay home in droves, where they could have an illegal glass of wine with their dinner in secrecy.
- 1824 -- The Delmonico's dynasty was founded in New York in 1824 by two brothers, Giovanni (1788 -- 10 November 1842) and Pietro Delmonico (1783 -- 1861.) They later anglicized their names to John and Peter, though they used the French version of their names, "Jean" and "Pierre" in legal documents. They were Italian-speaking Swiss immigrants from a small village called "Mairengo" in the Ticino canton of southern Switzerland. Giovanni had been a sailor (some say sea captain), until he decided to settle in New York, opening in 1824 near the Battery a wine business that imported casks of wine and bottled it for sale.
- 1826 -- Giovanni closed his wine business and returned to Switzerland, where his brother Pietro by this time owned a candy and pastry shop in Berne, Switzerland. Giovanni persuaded Pietro to sell up and come back to New York with him. Together, the two actually had a quite amount of money between them for the time: $20,000 US.
- 1827 -- on 13 December, the two brothers opened a cafe called "Delmonico and Brother, confectioners" at 23 William Street to sell coffee, pastries and wine. Peter worked in the kitchen preparing the goods for sale; John worked at the front of the shop handling business and the customers, with Peter's wife helping him. They kept the cafe open until 1835.
- 1830 -- While retaining 23 William Street, the brothers opened a restaurant right next door at 25 William Street. With the addition of the restaurant, they fine-tuned the name of their business to "Delmonico & Brother, confectioners and Restaurant Francais." The restaurant served lunch and dinner. Pietro knew how to make pastries and candy, but not meals, so they hired cooks.
- 1831 -- Lorenzo Delmonico (6 March 1813 -- 3 September 1881) arrived in New York. He was their nephew, the son of their brother, Francesco, who had opted to remain in Mairengo, Switzerland. Lorenzo was 19 at the time. He stepped into the restaurant on 1 September 1831. Lorenzo would prove to be passionate about food quality and service, and would remain with the business for forty years.
- 1834 -- The brothers open a hotel at 76 Broad Street. It was more of a boarding house, and served three meals a day at set times.
- 1835 -- By now, two of Pietro's daughters are working for the business. To join them, three more of their brother Francesco's sons came over to work for the family business: Siro, Constant, and Francois. Francois would later be the father of Charles Constant (c. 1840 -- 1884), Rosa (c. 1839 -- 24 March 1904) and Giovannina. At the end of this year, tragedy tested the family as the 25 William Street restaurant was destroyed on 16 December 1835 in a fire that razed fifty acres of lower New York City.
- 1836 -- In January, the family re-opened the restaurant in temporary quarters inside their 76 Broad Street hotel, and kept it for there two months. On 23 February 1836, they moved the restaurant to its own, new quarters at 2 South William Street at the corner of Beaver Street. This became known as the "Citadel." They bought the land and built on it. John Lux was hired as the chef of cuisine for the restaurant, and held that position there for the next 15 years.
- 1842 -- Giovanni Delmonico died on 10 November 1842. He was deer hunting at Islip, Long Island when his gun accidentally went off, killing him. Peter was 60 at the time. Lorenzo (aged 29 at the time) assumed business management of both the restaurant and the hotel.
- 1843 -- In March, Giovanni's widow died. Ownership of the business passed to Lorenzo and Pietro. The name was changed from "Delmonico and Brother" to ""P.A. & L. Delmonico" (Pietro often used "Pierre-Antoine" as his name.)
- 1845 -- The 76 Broad Street hotel is destroyed by a fire that hit New York on 19 July 1845.
- 1846 -- The brothers open a replacement hotel at 25 Broadway on 1 June 1846, taking out a ten-year lease on the land, and building the hotel themselves. Meals were served à la carte. Lorenzo managed the business aspects, while his brother Constant Delmonico looked after the day-to-day operations of the hotel.
- 1848 -- Lorenzo hired Alessandro Filippini for the Pine Street Restaurant, where Filippini was both "Chef de cuisine" and manager.
- 1848 -- Pietro Delmonico retired in 1848 to a 220-acre farm in Brooklyn he had bought earlier in 1834. He and Giovanni had used the farm to grow vegetables they needed but which weren't for sale in America at the time. Pietro sold out his interest in the Delmonico's business to Lorenzo, making Lorenzo the sole owner.
- 1856 -- New York was expanding northward on Manhattan island. Lorenzo let the lease lapse for the land for the hotel at 25 Broadway, deciding that instead of continuing in the hotel business, he would open a second restaurant in the newly developed areas of New York to capture business there. He leased land for twenty-one years at the corner of Chambers Street and Broadway in what had been the Irving House Hotel, across from the New York City Hall (built 1803 to 1812.) Lorenzo put his brother Siro in charge of this new second restaurant on Chambers Street, and put Charles Constant in charge of the old restaurant on South William Street. Lorenzo remained in charge overall. During this year, a chef named Felix Delice was cooking for Delmonico's (probably at the new one when it opened.) Not much else is known about Delice; he may only have lasted for the one year, 1956.
- 1861 -- Peter Delmonico died in retirement, at the age of approximately 78.
- 1862 -- On 9th April 1862, Lorenzo opened Delmonico's third restaurant on East 14th Street. He gave charge of it to his nephew Charles Constant Delmonico (c. 1840 -- 1884, son of Francois), aged 22 at the time. The restaurant had a Delmonico's cafe beside it as well.
- 1862 -- In May, Lorenzo hired Charles Ranhofer as "chef de cuisine" of the East 14th Street restaurant. Ranhofer was twenty-six at the time.
- 1863 -- Alessandro Filippini may have left Delmonico's sometime in this year, and then returned to his former responsibilities at the Pine Street restaurant sometime in 1864.
- 1865 -- Lorenzo opened a fourth Delmonico's restaurant in a five-story brownstone building at 22 Broad Street. He got his cousin, John Longhi, to manage it.
- 1876 -- Lobster Newberg was invented, probably at the East 14th Street location in the first half of the year. In the summer, Charles Ranhofer retired after fourteen years at Delmonico's and returned to France. In the same year, on 11 September, the restaurant that had been at East 14th Street closed, as that area of town had became less desirable, and re-opened on the same day on the south side of 26th Street, occupying all the land (150 feet) between Fifth Avenue and Broadway. The new location had many separate dining rooms, a cafe on the ground floor, a red and gold ball room and four private dining rooms on the second flour, and on the third flour, a banquet hall along with other private dining rooms. And, again in the same year, on 26 October, Delmonico's moved the Chambers Street restaurant to 112-114 Broadway near Pine Street. Referred to as the "Pine Street" location, it had four floors of dining rooms. The bakeries were in the basement and the kitchens on the top floors. The prepared food was sent down to the dining rooms on dumb waiters.
- 1879 -- After a three-year retirement, Charles Ranhofer returned to head up the Fifth Avenue and 26th Street restaurant.
- 1881 -- Lorenzo died at the age of 68. His nephew, Charles Constant, son of Francois, inherited the entire business. Prior to his death, Lorenzo had returned several times to Mairengo, and given the town money to fund public works such as a town hall, a parish hall, a road from Mairengo to Faido, and a new high altar for the church there, the Chiesa San Siro (though it is the baroque side altar that the guidebooks will always mention.) The townspeople erected a monument to his honour in their cemetery (though he is actually buried in New York), and a plaque at the entrance to the church.
- 1882 -- The price of Delmonico Steak is raised from $0.75 to $1.00.
- 1884 -- Charles Constant Delmonico, son of Francois, dies at the age of 44. He had two sisters, Rosa and Giovannina, but Giovannina (whose married last name had become Crist) had predeceased him. So he left half the business to his Rosa, and divided the other half between Giovannina's three children: Charles Delmonico Crist (died May 1901), Lorenzo Delmonico Crist, and Josephine Delmonico Crist Otard (Otard being her married surname.) All three of them changed their last names legally to Delmonico, with Josephine becoming Josephine Crist Delmonico Otard. Rosa encouraged her nephew Charles Crist Delmonico to become the new overall manager, which he did starting in 1884. Sometime after 1884, John Longhi retired from the Broad Street restaurant. He was disappointed, as he had expected the business to come to him.
- 1886 -- Charles opened the 341 Broadway restaurant, which occupied the basement and first two floors of an office building. He had the renovations done by the architect James Brown Lord (1859-1902), who would later design the new South William Street restaurant in 1891.
- 1888 -- The Pine Street restaurant was closed because business had dwindled there. Alessandro Filippini took the opportunity to retire and start writing.
- 1890 -- The South William Street restaurant was temporarily closed, as Delmonico's felt that the building it was in too dated. They had owned 2 South William Street. They acquired adjoining properties covering 2-6 South William Street, and 56-58 Beaver Street. The Beaver Street side of the lot was 55 feet (16.7 metres) long; the South William Street Side was 126 feet (38 1/2 metres) long. The previous building was demolished. Construction of the new one, covering all the new properties, began 10 July 1890. Work was overseen by James Brown Lord.
- 1891 -- The South William Street restaurant reopened in its new building on 7 July 1891. It was eight stories tall, with electric lights. The ground and second floor were used for dining rooms; floors three to seven were rented out as offices; the kitchens were on the eighth floor. The entrances for the offices were on the sides of the building, one on each street (Beaver and South William), with the entrance for the restaurant right on the corner. The cost of building was $360,000. This location is now referred to by historians and New Yorkers as 56 Beaver Street. In the same year, the Delmonico's at 341 Broadway was closed, after only 5 years in operation.
- 1893 -- The Broad Street restaurant was closed, as the lease was up and the owners of the building wanted to sell it off to land developers.
- 1897 -- On 15 November , the 44th Street restaurant was opened under a 15 year lease of the building, with James Brown Lord having handled the renovations. The restaurant allowed smoking in the dining rooms. This was seen as a victory for women, because men would no longer have an excuse to abandon them at the table after dinner to retire to the smoking room. There were three floors of dining rooms; the kitchens were in the basement.
- 1898 -- Delmonico's central kitchen operations were transferred from the Madison Square garden restaurant to the 44th Street restaurant. The transfer was supervised by Ranhofer, who then retired. A M. Grevillet becomes "chef de cuisine."
- 1899 -- The Madison Square Gardens restaurant was closed at the end of its lease, as business there was declining. Delmonico's now had only two restaurants left.
- 1901 -- Charles Crist Delmonico dies in May of 1901. His aunt Rosa took over management for the next three years until she died in 1904.
- 1904 -- Rosa dies on 24 March 1904, aged 65. She left the business to her niece and nephew (to recap, Charles Crist Delmonico's brother and sister.) Two-thirds went to Josephine Crist Delmonico Otard, and one-third to Lorenzo Crist Delmonico. Rosa also specified that Josephine would have full management control. Josephine appointed Eugene Garnier, who had worked for Delmonico's since 1872, as General Manager. The brother and sister immediately began fighting, which lasted until 1907.
- 1911 -- The lease on the 44th Street restaurant, which would have expired in 1912, was renewed for another 15 years, up until 1927.
- 1910 -- Eugene Garnier retired (he died four years later in 1915. ) Wilfred J. Taupier became General Manager. Taupier installs telephone booths in the 44th Street restaurant.
- 1917 -- The South William Street building and property were sold off to the American Merchant Marine Insurance Company for $500,000 in August 1917 -- Delmonico's had planned to continue operation there, leasing the parts of the premises it required back from the Insurance company, but in November 1917, when other pressures were compounded by the wartime rationing board's calls for meatless and wheatless days, they simply closed the restaurant down. The restaurant floors were divided up into office space. In 1920, the Merchant Marine company sold the building to the Insurance Company of North America for $1,250,000, more than doubling their money in three years.
- 1919 -- Josephine's brother Lorenzo declared bankruptcy.
- 1919 -- The 44th Street Restaurant business was sold off to a man named Edward L.C. Robins.
- 1919 -- Prohibition came into effect. The wealthy couldn't have wine in public, only in secret at their homes. New York Society stopped eating out.
- 1921 -- In April, the 44th Street Restaurant was raided for serving vodka and gin.
- 1923 -- Delmonico's served dinner for the last time anywhere on 21 May 1923 in the 44th Street restaurant and closed at 11 pm that night.
Over the years since, other establishments have opened with the Delmonico's name. The Delmonico descendants attempted to prevent this, but a judge ruled that the name was available for use, because the family themselves had ceased trading under it.
A man named Oscar Tucci opened a restaurant called Oscar's Oldelmonico (sic) Restaurant in the Delmonico building on South William Street in 1934. The public called it "Oscar's Delmonico." Tucci, aiming to recapture Delmonico's original clientele, started with renting the basement and first floor, then expanded to reclaim the second floor for restaurant use in 1935. By 1943, the restaurant had taken over as well the first floor of the building next door at 48-54 Beaver Street. In the 1960s, it was managed by Harry Poulakakos, who would go on to open Harry's at Hanover Square in 1972. By 1977, Oscar's Delmonico was taken over by the Huber Family, who closed it in 1992. In 1999, it was reopened by a partnership called "Ocinomled", that also runs other Manhattan restaurants. It is still in operation today (2007), now calling itself "The Original Delmonico's", and advertising that it has been in business since 1837.
Today, so many Delmonico's exist all across the United States that you'd almost think it was a chain. What many of them have in common is advertising themselves as a "steakhouse", and in the minds of many people, the name Delmonico's now equals "steak."
Urban myth often says that the Delmonico Steak was item number 86 on the menu (the story doesn't say which version of the menu, as it changed over the decades, of course.) Because it was often sold out, the expression "86'ed", so the story goes, was used by Delmonico staff to mean an item that is sold out.
Main Restaurant Location
- 1830 -- 25 Williams Street (destroyed by fire 16 December 1835)
- 1836 -- moved to 76 Broad Street (temporary location for two months)
- 1836 -- moved to 2 South William Street (opened 23 February 1836, remained in operation here until 1917.) Main crowd: bankers, rich business owners.
Other Restaurant Locations
- 1856 -- Chambers Street (1856 to 26 October 1876), moved to 112-114 Broadway near Pine Street (26 October 1876 to 1888.) Main crowd: politicians, lawyers, brokers.
- 1862 -- No. 1 East 14th Street (9 April 1862 to 11 September 1876), corner of Fifth Avenue and East 14th Street, one block west of Union Square. Housed in the converted Moses Hicks Grinnell mansion. Main crowd: New York society. Then the restaurant was moved to 212 26th Street, corner of Fifth Avenue and 26th Street, near Madison Square (11 September 1876 to 1899.) Housed in what had been the Dodsworth Studio Building (where a young Teddy Roosevelt had taken dancing lessons.) When Delmonico's abandoned the building in 1899, it became the "Cafe Martin." The building was demolished a few years later and replaced with a new one in 1913. Now (2005), it is the site of the Wedgewood House apartments.
- 1865 -- 22 Broad Street (1865 to 1893.) Operated as the main, central Delmonico's kitchen for all the restaurants. Main crowd: stock brokers.
- 1886 -- 341 Broadway (1886 to 1891.) Dry goods district.
- 1897 -- 44th Street. North-east corner of 44th and Fifth Avenue (15 November 1897 to 1923.)
- 1834. 76 Broad Street. Destroyed by fire on 19 July 1845.
- 1846. 25 Broadway. Opened on 1 June in this year. In 1856, the hotel was sold off when Lorenzo decided to focus on restaurants, and reopened by others as the Stevens House.
- The "Delmonico Hotel", built in 1928 and opened as the Viceroy, then briefly named the "Cromwell Arms", had nothing to do with the Delmonico family. In 1929, it was renamed to the Delmonico Hotel when yet another restaurant calling itself Delmonico's opened in it. The restaurant lasted until 1936. The thirty-two storey high building was renamed in 2003 to the Trump Park Avenue.
When P.T. Barnum ran into financial difficulties in 1856, Lorenzo Delmonico joined with a group of other New York men (including Cornelius Vanderbilt) in offering to lend him money. (Barnum declined.)
From 1836 to 1863, there was no central bank in America to issue money. Businesses, states and cities issued their own. During the civil war, even Delmonico's issued their own paper currency; it was accepted as good at many places other than just Delmonico's.
Mark Twains' 70th birthday was celebrated in 1905 in a private banquet room at the 44th Street Delmonico's. Among the 150 people present were Andrew Carnegie, Emily Post and Mrs. Wilson Woodrow.
Many members of the Delmonico family are buried in the cemetery next to St Patrick's Old Cathedral, 263 Mulberry Street, New York.
Literature & Lore
Delmonico's Menu 1 April 1863.
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© Courtesy of Hospitality Industry Archives,
Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant
Management, University of Houston
"For years, the most important social event in New York had been the annual Assembly, held at Delmonico's. And, for years, invitations to the Assembly had been rigidly based on the standards of 'birth and breeding.' An invitation to the Assembly was the ultimate proof of social rank." -- Stephen Birmingham. America's Secret Aristocracy. Berkley Book, New York, NY 1990
"During his stay in the city [Buffalo Bill] was made the guest of honor at sundry luncheons and dinners given by his wealthy entertainers. He found considerable trouble in keeping his appointments at first, but soon caught on to the to him unreasonable hours at which New Yorkers dined, supped, and breakfasted. The sense of his social obligations lay so heavily on his mind that he resolved to balance accounts with a dinner at which he should be the host. An inventory of cash on hand discovered the sum of fifty dollars that might be devoted to playing Lucullus. Surely that would more than pay for all that ten or a dozen men could eat at one meal. "However," he said to himself, "I don't care if it takes the whole fifty. It's all in a lifetime, anyway."
In all confidence he hied him to Delmonico's, at which famous restaurant he had incurred a large share of his social obligations. He ordered the finest dinner that could be prepared for a party of twelve, and set as date the night preceding his departure for the West. The guests were invited with genuine Western hospitality. His friends had been kind to him, and he desired to show them that a man of the West could not only appreciate such things, but return them.
The dinner was a thorough success. Not an invited guest was absent. The conversation sparkled. Quip and repartee shot across the "festive board," and all went merry as a dinner-bell. The host was satisfied, and proud withal. The next morning he approached Delmonico's cashier with an air of reckless prodigality.
"My bill, please," said he, and when he got it, he looked hard at it for several minutes. It dawned on him gradually that his fifty dollars would about pay for one plate. As he confided to us afterward, that little slip of paper frightened him more than could the prospect of a combat single-handed with a whole tribe of Sioux Indians.
But it would never do to permit the restaurant cashier to suspect that the royal entertainer of the night before was astonished at his bill; so he requested that the account be forwarded to his hotel, and sought the open air, where he might breathe more freely." -- from Helen Cody Wetmore. Last of the Great Scouts: The Life Story of William F. Cody. 1899.