This blog is primarily intended to celebrate classic and historic restaurants that still exist, but occasionally I will be posting about a restaurant that is gone or recently closed.
My mom was born and raised in New York City (in Queens) so although I grew up in San Diego we made several trips “back East” to visit family. In the early 1970s my relatives who lived on Long Island were very excited about the new modern skyscrapers in “The City”, which were designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki. My uncle worked only a few blocks from the World Trade Center for a shipping company in an older building that overlooked the Hudson River. I remember visiting the Twin Towers in 1976 as it was just after the big Bicentennial celebration in NYC on the 4th of July and there were still many historic boats in the city from the Parade of Ships. We visited the rooftop observation deck (which opened in 1975) during the day….
teenage me, a bit nervous on the roof of the World Trade Center, 1976
…and were lucky enough to dine at the Windows on the World at night. I don’t know how my Uncle scored a table there as it was the hot new restaurant in the city at the time.
La Fonda Del Sol – designed by Alexander Girard with furniture by Charles and Ray Eames – photo by B22 Design’s Facebook page
menu designed by Milton Glaser, 1976 – image by Container List
Warren Platner was the interior designer of the Windows on the World, working with Baum and graphic designer Milton Glaser on the menus, china patterns, and other graphics.
elevator lobby for the restaurant at the 106th/107th floors – photo by Glen. H on flickr
reception room for Windows on the World, designed by Warren Platner – photo by Dwell.com
Windows on the World, 1976 – photo by the Container List
The menu was a table d’hôte blend of American and Continental, created by the team of Baum with consultants Jacques Pepin and James Beard. There was also a more intimate Cellar in the Sky dining room with a 5-course menu and an extensive wine list, and the Hors d’Oeuvrerie, with an à la carte menu of small plates. The bars were called the City Lights Bar and the Statue of Liberty Lounge.
City Lights Bar, 1976 – photo by what’s left on tumblr.com
In 1993 a bomb inside a truck was detonated by terrorists in the basement below the north tower, killing six people and injuring many. The restaurant was closed due to damage to its receiving and storage areas, but it had been in decline after a couple ownership changes. Joe Baum won the bidding for a new Windows on the World, which opened in 1996.
new Windows on the World – photo by Container List
new Windows on the World – photo by KungFoohippy on imgur
Tragically, we lost Windows on the World and 79 employees of the restaurant on September 11, 2001. The new 1WTC building has a fine dining restaurant, but there is a controversial required fee of $32 just to take the elevator to the observation level that has the restaurant with the clever name ONE. (The original Windows on the World had membership dues at first, which varied by the area of Manhattan you lived in, but anyone could visit the restaurant for a one-time fee of $10 plus $3 per person. I guess in contrast, considering inflation, the $32 fee seems a bit more reasonable?)
Personally, I would rather dine at the modernist Four Seasons (which Joe Baum opened in 1959) that recently was saved from a remodel. Buy Peter Moruzzi’s book Classic Dining to see photos of The Four Seasons and then you’ll want to save your money and go!
Since it’s National Hot Dog Day I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite hot doggeries around the country. One of my favorite historic hot dog restaurants, and tops in the country for original vintage decor, George’s Coney Island in Worcester, Mass, was one of my first blog posts a few years back.
The hot dog was brought over to the U.S. from European immigrants, but its European origins are disputed. Sausage dates back to the 9th century BC (mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey), while the type of sausage used for hot dogs is similar to Weinerwurst or Vienna Sausage, which originated in Austria. However, the city of Frankfurt, Germany, claims it invented the frankfurter or “dachsund sausage” in 1497. Yet another claim is that a butcher in Coburg, Germany, invented the hot dog sausage in the 1600s and brought it to Frankfurt.
In any case the American hot dog on a roll is what we are concerned with here, which was reportedly already a German custom to eat sausage on a roll. It is a fact that hot dogs were first sold in New York City, either by a German immigrant from a cart in the Bowery in the 1860s or by Charles Feltman, a German butcher who opened the first Coney Island hot dog stand in 1871 (his employee, Nathan Handwerker, started Nathan’s in 1916). In 1893 hot dogs became popular at baseball parks and sold like hot cakes (or rather like hot dogs) at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago (sold by a pair of Jewish immigrants from Vienna who later founded Vienna Beef, Chicago’s most popular hot dog manufacturer). Also in 1893 the oldest mention of the term “hot dog” on record occurred in a Knoxville newspaper. (For more hot dog history visit the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s web site, where I sourced this info).
Superdawg, Chicago – photo by The Jab, 2003
Which city has the best hot dogs: New York or Chicago? People will argue this forever, but based on my experience Chicago wins hands down for best hot dogs in the country. Then there are the arguments within Chicago about who has the best hot dogs. We won’t go there because there are so many different types of hot dogs in Chicago (likewise, for pizza). There’s the classic Chicago dog “dragged through the garden” that is a steamed all-beef frankfurter on a poppy-seed roll with sliced tomato, raw chopped white onions, yellow mustard, bright green sweet relish, pickled sport peppers, celery salt, and a pickle spear (but never ketchup), reportedly invented at Fluky’s in 1929 (sadly, the only Fluky’s left is at a Wal-Mart in Niles, IL). Then there’s the char-grilled “char-dog”, which is terrific at Weiner’s Circle, where they only serve hot dogs cooked that way. And until it closes this October, the always busy Hot Doug’s serves dozens of hot dog specialties.
photo by The Jab, 2003
My favorite hot dog stand in Chicago is Superdawg. My Chicago friends may not agree, and I admit the hot dogs at Weiner Circle and Gene and Jude’s are great also (Wolfy’s is another one that comes out on top in polls), but I love the all-original drive up with car hops that is SUPERDAWG! Opened in 1948 by Maurie and Flaurie Berman, who have been represented on the roof of the restaurant as caveman and girl “dogs” since the beginning, it hasn’t changed much and, amazingly, it is still owned by the Berman’s, who run it with their children. They still have the same ordering system as in 1948: you drive in to the parking lot, order from your car into a mic/speaker, and your meal is brought to you on a tray in a very cute vintage looking box, which you will want to take home as a souvenir (mine still sits in my kitchen). This is one of the last restaurants in America that still has car hop service.
Superdawg with fries – photo by The Jab, 2007
In addition to the Superdawg™, which is a spicy dog that comes fully dressed and includes a pickled green tomato wedge, they also offer a Whoopskidawg®, which is a Polish-type sausage on a roll with special sauce, grilled onions, and pickle, and several other sandwiches. Their crinkle-cut super fries are excellent.
photo by The Jab, 2003
In New York City your best sources for hot dogs are the many hot dog carts around the city and the bargain Papaya-drink-and-two-hot-dogs stands which started in 1932 when Papaya King opened on the upper East Side of Manhattan (still on the same street corner of 86th St and 3rd Ave, and in several other locations in NYC). Although it originally only sold fruit drinks it started serving hot dogs because the neighborhood was predominantly German-American at the time. In the 1970s and 1980s Gray’s Papaya and Papaya Dog copied the concept, but Gray’s is down to only one location. Which is the best? I’ll let you be the judge as I’ve only been to the original Papaya King.
photo by The Jab, 2005
If you’re in Georgia, the town of Macon is worth a detour for Nu-Way Weiners, open since 1916 (their sign was misspelled in 1937 and they kept it that way to this day) and still in the same location (plus several other locations). Their specialty is chili dogs, which are made with their special homemade chili sauce (no beans, just the way I like a chili dog).
photo by Carrie Swing on Flickr
My favorite hot dog stand in greater Los Angeles closed and was demolished in 2011. Papoo’s Hot Dog Show (yes, it was more than just a stand, it was a SHOW!) opened in 1949 in Burbank, across the street from Bob’s Big Boy designed by Wayne McAllister in the Googie style in the same year (and still open).
Lastly, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, I’ve been disappointed by most of the hot dogs I’ve had (they are usually lukewarm, not hot). My favorite was the old Kasper’s on Telegraph Ave at Shattuck Ave, which closed “for remodeling” way back in 2002 and never re-opened. Kasper’s was started by Kasper Koojoolian, from Armenia, in 1930 at the corner of Fruitvale Ave and MacArthur Blvd (old US 50). Partners invested and It expanded into other locations in the 1940s, but in 1955 Kasper’s brother Paul split off, continuing as Kasper’s, while the rest of the partners started a chain of hot dog restaurants called Casper’s. Today there is still a Kasper’s on MacArthur Blvd (not in the same location as the original), in addition to others in Castro Valley, Hayward, and Pleasanton.
Kasper’s, MacArthur Blvd., Oakland – photo by The Jab, 2013
Casper’s continues with 8 Bay Area locations, and most have the original 1960s modern look in bright oranges and browns. Since 1989 the company has made its own frankfurters under the Spar Sausage name. I like the hot dogs at both Kasper’s and Casper’s, but Casper’s has the edge for taste and for decor.
Casper’s, Telegraph Ave., Oakland – photo by The Jab, 2013
I leave you, dear readers, with this photo I took on the road in Georgia in 2005, and a video of an amazing neon sign at Taylor Brothers Hot Dogs in Visalia, CA (where I need to go!). Please check the linked web sites for location, addresses, and open hours of the above establishments.
I recently heard some good news about the reopening of 101-year-old Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal after a long restoration. The renovation started after its centennial last year, one room at a time, and the restaurant was closed earlier this year to redo the kitchen. The signature tiled arched ceilings were restored by replacing damaged tiles with painstakingly reproduced ones that match perfectly with the original tiles from 1913 that remained.
Grand Central Terminal Restaurant, c. 1920 – image from Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
The Grand Central Terminal Restaurant and Oyster Bar was opened by the Union News Company in 1913, only two weeks after the magnificent Beaux-Arts Grand Central Terminal opened (a terminal is a railroad station that is at the end of a railroad line; when Grand Central opened it was the terminus of the New York Central Railroad’s line into Manhattan). Beautifully designed by architect Raphael Gustavino, for many years it was not primarily a seafood restaurant, but instead served a varied menu of dishes popular at the time. However, from the start it always had a popular oyster bar which featured a selection of raw oysters and the popular oyster stews and pan roasts. The restaurant catered to all walks of life, from the rich and famous traveling in style, who may have eaten in the main dining room (see picture above), to the average train traveler or commuter, who may have eaten at the more casual lunch counters, the oyster bar, or in the saloon in the back of the restaurant. Remarkably, all the different rooms are still in use and are now restored to how they probably looked in 1974, when the restaurant reopened after closing due to lack of business caused by the decline of long distance train travel in the U.S.
Grand Central Oyster Bar 1970s – image from Eater.com
Starting in the 1950s Grand Central was threatened with demolition for new high-rise buildings, a battle which lasted until it was designated a New York City Landmark in 1967 and a National Historic Landmark in 1975 (Jackie Kennedy Onassis was instrumental in saving it). When I was a teenager in the 1970s a fascination with trains since childhood and my wanderlust prompted me to take two cross-country train trips from San Diego on early Amtrak trains that were still running vintage, streamliner-era rail cars acquired from the railroads when Amtrak took over most passenger trains in 1971. Train travel was pretty cheap then so I could afford private roomettes on some trains, but I didn’t mind spending a night or two in coach at that young age (and the long distance coach cars then had tons of leg room and reclined nearly flat). I arrived in New York City by train in the mid-1970s at Penn Station and after my visit I departed out of Grand Central Terminal to Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited (the Hudson River route of the famous 20th Century Limited; Amtrak stopped using Grand Central in 1991). I remember exploring the worn out and nearly empty Grand Central that day and how depressing yet fascinating as a time-warp it was.
image from http://www.oysterbarny.com/
In 1974 the restaurant closed so the Metropolitan Transit Authority approached Jerome Brody, president of Restaurant Associates, Inc. (owners of many of the finest restaurants in NYC, including the Four Seasons, The Forum of the Twelve Caesars, The Rainbow Room, and La Fonda del Sol), to take over the space. The restaurant quickly reopened (in 1974) with a seafood-focused menu and a new logo (pic at right) but thankfully with the same appearance. It struggled for two decades until 1997, when there was a fire which nearly destroyed the restaurant. Many of the tiles and most of the equipment were damaged but it reopened just in time for the completion in 1998 of a four-year restoration of Grand Central Terminal. In 1999, I visited the Terminal and restaurant (my first visit) on a trip to NYC for a family reunion to celebrate my grandparents’ 90th birthdays (they were both born on the same date). I had heard about the Oyster Bar in Jane and Michael Stern’s 1997 book Eat Your Way Across The U.S.A. During my visit I also took the fascinating Grand Central neighborhood walking tour, which happens every Friday, is free, and is highly recommended by Le Continental.
Grand Central Oyster bar today – image by amny.com
Now that the recent restoration is complete I can’t wait to return, have a pan roast (a must for first time visitors), and some fresh, raw oysters!
Grand Central Oyster bar today – image by amny.com
Drinking green beer in a phony Irish pub seems to be a popular way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S., but I don’t go for that. Instead I’ll be drinking a Guinness with some Guinness beef stew and capping it off with a dram of Irish whiskey or perhaps a Tom Moore Cocktail (a Manhattan with Irish whiskey).
Corned beef and cabbage is a dish I really love, so I have it year round. Here are a few suggestions of where to enjoy the classic Irish-American dish this Sunday or anytime of the year.
Every Thursday my favorite restaurant in Marin county, Marin Joe’s, serves corned beef and cabbage for lunch as the daily special and it’s a winner. Tender, succulent, and juicy meat, with cabbage that isn’t too soggy, and plenty of food for $14. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are serving it on St. Patrick’s Day as well. It’s not an Irish pub, but I love the original mid-century googie coffee shop-style interior and exterior. I will probably be posting about Marin Joe’s again in the future.
The recently refurbished Tom Bergin’s is the oldest Irish pub in Los Angeles. It started in 1936 on Wilshire Blvd. as “The Old Horseshoe Tavern and Thoroughbred Club” and moved to it’s current location at 840 S.Fairfax Ave. in 1949 and was renamed “Tom Bergin’s Horseshoe Tavern.” I went before the 2012 takeover by the owner of popular Dom’s and Little Dom’s restaurants but from what I’ve read they did not mess with the historic feel of the place. It probably will be packed on St. Paddy’s Day but they serve reportedly good corned beef and cabbage every day.
Photo by The Jab, 2009
In New York City you can’t go wrong if you head to Neary’s in midtown for corned beef and cabbage, served every day since 1967. The decor appears to have not changed much since that time, except for the addition of many photos of celebrities who have dined there.
Neary’s NYC via TripAdvisor.com
Beannachtam na Feile Padraig! (Happy St. Patrick’s Day!)
1585 Casa Buena Drive, Corte Madera, CA
Open Sun 4pm-11:30pm, M-Thurs 11am-11:45pm, Fri 11am-12:45am, Sat 5pm-12:45am
840 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA
Phone (323) 936-7151
Open 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
358 E 57th St, New York, NY
Phone (212) 751-1434
Open daily 11:30am – 12:00am
Yet another old place in Manhattan closed and reopened as a fancy place (it was Bill’s Gay Nineties for the last 90 years or so, until March of last year when it closed) . Though when I went there I didn’t feel like they were very friendly. I felt like an outsider. On the bright side it looks like they kept lots of the old decor (in the bar anyway). I’m just a bit sad that I didn’t spend more time there, especially when the piano bar was going. But the cold service drove me away.