When Delmonico’s Was On 14th Street
Delmonico’s, synonymous with elegant dining and fine cuisine in the heart of the Financial District, has enjoyed a long history in New York City. The restaurant was first started by Swiss brothers John and Peter Delmonico (originally Giovanni and Pietro) in 1830 at 25 Williams Street, next to their confectionery at 23 Williams Street. According to one source, it was the first restaurant to open in the United States modeled after those in Europe by offering a la carte fare. By 1836 the brothers, along with their nephew Lorenzo, bought land at 2 South William Street and built their purpose-built restaurant. Other Delmonico restaurant locations were established in New York throughout the 19th and into the early 20th centuries, following the ever-shifting centers of New York’s commercial and social scenes. One of the grandest such sites was at the edge of our neighborhood, at 1 East 14th Street.
Lorenzo Delmonico chose the site at 1 East 14th Street for the family’s newest restaurant, which opened on April 9, 1862. It was located one block west of Union Square, then one of the most fashionable areas in the city. As stated by The New York Times at the opening: “The Brothers Delmonico are determined, it would seem, to keep pace with the rapid uptown strides of society, and to secure once more the patronage of all classes of the community. Their new location is in the very centre of fashionable life. It is touched on the homeward stretch of a large majority of the merchants of the City, and is peculiarly handy for those who are hungry and athirst, after the theaters.”
The restaurant occupied the former mansion of Moses H. Grinnell, a former New York Congressman and Commissioner of New York City’s Central Park. Continuing the tradition of the restaurant as a family affair, Lorenzo tapped his 22-year-old nephew Charles Delmonico to manage the restaurant. There was a cafe in addition to the restaurant which was referred to as “the best club in town.” According to the New York Tribune regarding the restaurant’s opening: “The service is splendid. The waiters noiseless as images in a vision — no hurry-scurry or preparation. The dishes succeed each other with a fidelity and beauty like the well-composed tones of a painting or a symphony. It was a brilliant overture to the noble operate henceforth to be played there.” During this time that Delmonico’s was at 14th Street, women were permitted in the restaurant for the first time (but not the cafe and not without an escort).
But all would not stay this way forever. The Union Square neighborhood would quickly fall from fashion, and in 1876, the location at 1 East 14th Street was closed in favor of a location further north on Fifth Avenue. Delmonico’s would continue at various locations until prohibition when the dining habits of New Yorkers changed and the wealthy dined at home with their private wine cellars and the middle class turned to private clubs with bootleg gin. After nearly 100 years, Delmonico’s closed in 1923. Since then various restaurants opened with the Delmonico’s name, although they had no relation to the family or the original restaurant. In 1999, a restaurant was opened at the original South William Street location under the name “Delmonico’s Restaurant” and continues there to this day.
As to the building at 1 East 14th Street, it was demolished shortly after Delmonico’s vacated. It was replaced in 1879 by a six-story commercial building which would later be the home to the headquarters of the NAACP as seen on the GVSHP Civil Rights and Social Justice map. In 1958, that building was demolished and an apartment house was constructed which is still there today.