Restaurants Long Tried and Still True

These historical New York restaurants are still worth the visit

New York has an ever-rotating roster of hot restaurants, but some restaurants exist outside of the trends. Some, of course, were the first to set any trend, giving the city its initial push to become the culinary incubator it is now with environments as quintessentially New York as their food.

A watering hole for celebrities and politicians, the 21 Club began as a speakeasy in prohibition era, designed with disappearing bars, hidden chutes and a secret wine cellar. Now, the restaurant waxes nostalgic for a happier era, with the ceiling of the main dining room, the Bar Room, covered with sporting “toys”: a baseball bat from Willie Mays, a model torpedo boat given as a gift by JFK, who ate here the night before his inauguration. Ricky Gervais and George Clooney regularly dine at tables once reserved for the likes of Frank Sinatra, putting their napkins in their laps for seafood towers, caviar by the ounce and Grand Marnier soufflé. An intimate, elegant upstairs restaurant and a more casual bar round out the premises. Thankfully for gentlemen, the establishment discarded its neckwear rule in 2009, but jackets are still required. (52nd St. nr. 5th Ave.)

Many of the rich and famous that frequent the latter are documented on the walls of a different restaurant across town, The Palm. Opened in 1926, the Italian steakhouse is legendary for its walls covered in portraits and caricatures – early versions of payment from starving artists and newspaper cartoonists who regularly dined here. The restaurant funnily began without steaks on the menu at all, and the owner would run to a butcher shop nearby every time someone requested one. Now, it serves filets, rib-eyes and New York strips alongside classic Italian dishes of veal, chicken and surf-and-turfs – a combination invented here. Although it has opened locations across the U.S., the walls of the original Second Avenue location are still the most valuable. Insured for half a million dollars each, they’re something worth seeing. (2nd Ave. at 45th St.)

Once the carriage house of Thomas Jefferson’s vice president, Aaron Burr, One if by Land, Two if by Sea has been repeatedly voted as the most romantic restaurant in the city. Built in the 18th century, two old barn doors lead into a dining room complete with two fireplaces, a bar-side pianist and crystal chandeliers. Chef Colt Taylor, whose training includes mentors such as Mario Batali, has designed a menu as sophisticated as the building’s past: bone marrow agnolotti, poached cod, Eberly guinea hen, duck with chocolate orange jus. The jazz brunch, too, offers perhaps the classiest start to a day in the city. (Barrow St. nr. 7th Ave.)

In the midst of the city’s largest train hub, Grand Central Oyster Bar has been serving seafood to passengers for more than a century since Grand Central Station opened in 1913. The restaurant long sat as a place to stop in for some mediocre chowder, but after receiving a massive makeover in the 70s by one of the country’s top restaurateurs, it is now a destination for gastronomes. There are shellfish platters and fried seafood platters, lobster still swimming in tanks, 22 types of fish, more daily specials than most restaurants have regular entrées, and nearly 30 varieties of oysters delivered fresh daily. The Gustavino-tiled ceilings were restored over the winter, so come early March when the restaurant reopens, it will be something to look up to, as always. (Grand Central Station, lower level)