Classic New York: Old Venues, New Thrills

As indicated by its name, "New" York is definitely not "Old" York.

This constantly shifting city is often focused on the here-and-now, the spots that have opened most recently and are getting the loudest buzz. But there are plenty of NYC hotspots that date not from the 21st century but from the early 20th or even the 19th century – and that are still going strong.

Here's a look at a select group of places to eat, drink and shop that have lasted for around 100 years, give or take a decade or two.

Classic Food: A Century of Good Eats

From fine dining to casual delis, New Yorkers have been eating well for several generations. We start with more formal options below before looking at some everyday mealtime choices.

Oak Room and Oak Bar at the Plaza

The Edwardian-style Plaza Hotel, built in 1907 at the intersection of Central Park South and the shopping mecca of Fifth Avenue, is one of New York City's most recognizable landmarks. The soaring cathedral ceilings and abundant wood in the Plaza's elegant Oak Room (768 Fifth Ave.; 212-758-7777), which just reopened to the public after an extensive renovation, also lend the restaurant a landmark-in-the-making feel, but one that's not at all stuffy. Atlanta star chef Joel Antunes serves up eclectic French-influenced food with a slant toward fish and meat dishes, and though the prices are aggressively modern (appetizers range from $18 for a beetroot gazpacho with horseradish ravioli to $38 for Jerusalem artichoke lasagna with fresh truffle, and entrees from $32 for roasted winter vegetables to $74 for a charred grilled ribeye), the service is old-fashioned friendly. After dinner, join the lively crowd for a classic cocktail at the neighboring Oak Bar, where you can step back in time with drinks such as Carrols Cocktail, a tasty pre-Prohibition-style concoction of calvados, Benedictine liqueur, sweet vermouth and aromatics ($18).

21 Club

For one of the most atmospheric dining experiences in the city, you can't do much better than the former speakeasy and celebrity magnet the 21 Club (21 West 52nd St.; 212-582-7200;, opened on the sly during Prohibition in 1929. As you enter down the stairs along with the longtime regulars, tourists and power lunchers, you'll pass brightly colored models of jockeys, many donated by horse breeders and owners starting in the 1930s. You'll end up in the Bar Room, a surreal dining space under a ceiling hung with footballs, model planes, trucks and other toys, all given to the restaurant by its storied clientele. But the 21 Club's real claim to fame is its secret wine cellar, hidden behind a door that looks like a brick wall; it can only be opened by a meat skewer inserted into a tiny crack in the door. Though police raided the club during Prohibition, the cellar was never found – but you can see it for yourself by asking for a private tour after dinner. As for the food, the menu is divided into modern vs. classic dishes. For a taste of the traditional, start with the iconic Pommes Soufflées, puffy hollow fried potatoes served with a spicy 21 cocktail sauce ($14), followed by the tangy Cold Senegalese Soup, thick with curry, chicken chunks and apples ($14); the Creamy Chicken Hash, with baby spinach ($36); or the famous 21 Burger ($30). Note that the 21 Club has a dress code, so jackets and ties are required for men and no jeans and sneakers are allowed for either gender.

Russian Tea Room

Founded in 1927 by former dancers from the Russian Imperial Ballet as a chocolate shop and tea emporium, The Russian Tea Room (150 W. 57th St.; 212-581-7100; has had its share of ups and downs in the years since. At one time a gathering place for the New York theater elite, aided by its location next to Carnegie Hall, the Tea Room brought in a new chef in 2007 and refocused the menu toward the classics – borscht ($18), pelmeni (classic Russian oxtail dumplings, $22), chicken Kiev ($38) and boeuf a la stroganoff ($39) – as well as contemporary versions of traditional Russian cuisine, including goat cheese and wild mushroom blinchiki ($18). Go not only for the unusual-in-Manhattan food, but for the extravagant décor – rich red booths facing into the restaurant for people-watching, dark green walls covered with replicas of Russian paintings, chandeliers hung with festive red Christmas balls year-round and a gilded gold ceiling. Splurge on the cheese and cherry blintzes for dessert ($18), or try some vodka flights ($18 for 3 ¾ oz tastes) or classic cocktails like the Moscow Mule, a blend of Stolichnaya and ginger juice ($18), at the well-stocked bar up front as you imagine that you're celebrating with the Russian cultural elite of yore. Tip: For a slightly more affordable indulgence, pre- and post-theater prix fixe menus are available for $55 for three courses, and there's a tasting of three vodkas for $14 from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday at the bar.

Peter Luger

With its rustic wood interior and overly bright cafeteria-style feel, Peter Luger (178 Broadway, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-387-7400; likely looks very much the same today as it did back when it opened in 1887. But you don't come here for the atmosphere or even the service, which can be brusque and rather impersonal. You come for the meat. (Vegetarians beware: This is not the place for you.) Many steak-lovers think it's more than worth a trek out to Brooklyn for a dry-aged porterhouse for two ($85), three ($127.50) or four ($170) at this famous beef emporium. In fact, your waiter will pretty much assumes that if you're eating here at all, you will want a steak, with creamed spinach ($8.95 for two) and Luger's special German fried potatoes ($11.95 for two) on the side, and it will be hard to persuade him to bring you anything else (though it may be worth talking him into delivering the huge plate of thick and juicy double lamb chops for $39.95). Be prepared to bring cash – though its prices reflect modern times, Luger nods to the past by not accepting credit cards – and to leave extremely full, doggie bag in hand. Note: Make reservations several weeks in advance, especially for weekend nights, or be prepared to dine at 6 p.m. or 10:45 p.m.

Barney Greengrass

Celebrating its 100th birthday this year, "The Sturgeon King" Barney Greengrass (541 Amsterdam Ave.; 212-724-4707; is still serving up mounds of smoked fish, bagels and bialies, mainly to crowds of locals and in-the-know tourists. The barebones room with formica tables is a great place to spend a laid-back Sunday morning reading the paper while enjoying one of Barney's smoked fish platters – try the kippered salmon, sable and Nova Scotia salmon ($39) with bagels, cream cheese, coleslaw and all the fixings, or an egg dish made to order with a side of sturgeon, lox or whitefish ($12.50 to $18.75). Barney Greengrass is open for breakfast and lunch only, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and accepts cash only.

Carnegie Delicatessen & Restaurant

If you're wandering New York at 2 a.m. with a hankering for corned beef, you're in luck. The classic Carnegie Deli (854 Seventh Ave.; 212-757-2245;, which opened in 1937, not only serves up enormous corned beef sandwiches, but also features hot pastrami, roast beef, beef brisket, turkey, chopped liver, egg and any combination thereof daily from 6:30 a.m. to 4 a.m.. (The average sandwich price is $14.95.) The multi-page menu offers a little something for everyone and includes such specialties as My Fair Latkes, potato pancakes with applesauce or sour cream ($13.95); homemade chicken broth soup with matzoh balls ($7.95); Jeff's Favorite, pastrami or corned beef served open-face on a potato knish with melted swiss cheese ($23.95); and their "famous cheesecake" ($9.25 for plain with blueberries or cherries on top, or chocolate or strawberry flavors), which some claim is the best in the city. No matter what you order, the portion will be enormous, but keep in mind that the eagle-eyed waitstaff ensure that you'll be charged $3 extra for sharing. The cash-only deli does not take reservations, so be prepared for a short wait on a weekend afternoon.


Though there's plenty of debate over which pizza in NYC is the best, there's no debate over which was the first: That honor goes to Lombardi's (32 Spring St.; 212-941-7994;, which has been serving customers traditional coal-oven pizza since 1905, when Gennaro Lombardi started a pizzeria inside his grocery store on Spring Street. Now a block from its original location on the edge of Little Italy, Lombardi's continues to pack in the crowds with its signature thin-crust pizzas ($15.50 for a small and $19.50 for a large, plus extra for toppings including pepperoni and homemade meatballs, as well as their justly renowned clam pizza for $26). Though the restaurant expanded in recent years, there's always a line out the door, so be prepared to cool your heels outside before you're invited in to enjoy your pie.

Classic Watering Holes: Drinks Served Through the Ages

Old-time New York bars range from more traditional cocktail lounges with upper-crust crowds to laid-back beer halls and taverns where anything goes.

The Campbell Apartment

Though the Campbell Apartment (Grand Central Terminal, 15 Vanderbilt Ave.; 212-953-0409; is located right off of bustling Grand Central Station, it's a hidden cocktail lounge that even many New Yorkers don't know about. With soaring 25-foot-high ceilings, medieval crests carved into the wall and ceiling panels and stained glass windows, the Campbell Apartment appears to be from another era – and indeed it is, as it started out as a private office that financier John W. Campbell had remodeled into a Florentine-style palace in the early 1920s. Today you can lounge in comfy red couches and enjoy vintage cocktails including the Bayard Fizz (gin, fresh raspberries, maraschino liqueur and lemon juice, $13) or the Prohibition Punch (passion fruit juice, rum, grand marnier and champagne, $16) while watching the often-lively after-work bar scene. For a quieter experience, stop by on a weekend; there's live jazz on Saturdays from 9 p.m. to midnight with a two-drink minimum.

King Cole Bar

Home to the first Bloody Mary in the United States – called the Red Snapper and introduced in 1934 by a Parisian bartender – the King Cole Bar (2 E. 55th St.; 212-753-4500) in the storied St. Regis Hotel is a classy place to enjoy a perfectly mixed cocktail. Hang out with the well-heeled regulars and tourists toting shopping bags at the bar overlooking the famous 30-foot-wide namesake mural, painted by Maxfield Parrish in 1906, or choose a bite from the bar menu, served daily until midnight. (The tasty bar snacks of mixed nuts, including macadamia, and wasabi peas are offered complimentary with your admittedly pricey drink order.)

Bemelmans Bar

Though Bemelmans Bar (35 E. 76th St.; 212-744-1600; isn't quite as old as other places on this list, there's no doubt that it's one of the New York classics. Ludwig Bemelmans, author and illustrator of the Madeline series of children's books, was commissioned in 1947 to paint the whimsical mural covering the walls of the bar in the Upper East Side's Carlyle Hotel. The lighthearted paintings of Madeline frolicking with assorted animals in Central Park balance the classic elegance of the gold-leaf ceiling, black granite bar and nightly live piano music. The short but smart cocktail menu specializes in drinks from the 1860s through Prohibition, including the Gin-Gin Mule (gin, homemade ginger beer, fresh mint and lime juice, $19) and the Carlyle Punch, a secret recipe that changes each day ($15).

Oak Room Supper Club Cabaret

Not to be confused with the recently reopened Oak Room restaurant at the Plaza listed above, the Oak Room Supper Club Cabaret (59 W. 44th St.; 212-419-9331; Oak Room Supper Club Cabaret) in the historic Algonquin Hotel has been popular with locals, tourists and special-occasion celebrators since 1939. Step through the exquisite lobby of the Algonquin Hotel, built in 1902, into a small hallway leading to an intimate back room where each of the 25 tables faces the musicians at the center. The small size of the Oak Room provides a unique chance to see your favorite jazz or cabaret singer up-close and personal; Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall started out here. Arrive early for a three-course dinner for $70 before the 8:30 p.m. show ($65 on Sunday), or a little later if you just want drinks. There's a second show on Friday and Saturday nights at 11 p.m., as well as a jazz brunch on Sunday.

Old Town Bar and Grill

Tucked on a quiet street off Union Square, from the outside you may think that the Old Town Bar and Grill (45 E. 18th St.; 212-529-6732; is just another dive bar – and while there's nothing fancy about it, there's plenty of New York history. The Old Town is one of the oldest bars in the city, dating from 1892, and it still contains many original fixtures, including the 55-foot marble and mahogany bar and the 16-foot tin ceilings. Check out the old press clippings on the walls as you settle into a wooden booth, head upstairs to the dining room for a burger, sandwich or salad or join the diverse crowd sidled up to the bar for a beer.

Pete's Tavern

Just down the block from the Old Town Bar, Pete's Tavern (129 E. 18th St.; 212-473-7676; bills itself as the oldest continuously operating bar in New York City. Pete's opened in 1864 and stayed open through Prohibition, when it was disguised as a flower shop. The bar's other claim to fame: O. Henry wrote the "Gift of the Magi" at a booth in 1904. Pete's retains many original details, including the tin ceiling and 30-foot rosewood bar, and also serves a somewhat incongruous Italian-American menu.

Classic Stores: Still Selling After All These Years

Many of today's traditional New York stores are now run by subsequent generations of the founding families, including the first two listed below.

Russ & Daughters

Up until the 1960s, New York was chock-full of appetizing stores, which sold "appetizers" such as smoked fish, salads and cream cheese to be eaten with bagels. One of the last remaining appetizing stores in New York City is the Lower East Side's Russ & Daughters (179 E. Houston St.; 212-475-4880;, which has been selling these traditional foods since 1914. It's still a great place to go for herring, smoked salmon and other smoked fish, plus an extensive selection of dried fruit. Proof of its enduring popularity: This year New York Magazine cited Russ & Daughters as the best place in the city to buy bagels and lox.


The quintessential New York food store, Zabar's (2245 Broadway; 212-787-2000; has been family-owned since 1934, when Louis Zabar rented an "appetizing counter" in a market where he sold smoked fish. Zabar gradually took over the entire market and expanded his wares to include fresh-roasted coffee and other foodstuffs. Today more than 50,000 people visit perpetually crowded Zabar's every week to buy classic New York treats such as fresh-baked bagels, cinnamon or chocolate babka and rugelach, black and white cookies, cheese, deli meats and, of course, the smoked fish that started it all.

Hammacher Schlemmer

Starting in 1848 in New York's Bowery district, Hammacher Schlemmer (147 E. 57th St.; 800-421-9002; sold hard-to-find builders' hardware and mechanics' tools. Today the company sells "the best, the only and the unexpected" in household products and appliances, toys, clothes and more – ranging from an ultrasonic eyeglass cleaner to a waterproof cashmere coat to the first animatronic dinosaur – in the same location it has occupied since 1926. Every item purchased in the store's two floors or through its online or print catalog (the longest running in the United States) offers a "Lifetime Guarantee of Complete Satisfaction," meaning you can return it at any time, for any reason.