Joe Allen, founded in 1965, is the archetypal post-theater restaurant. With one of the longer histories on Restaurant Row, Joe Allen has been serving classic American cuisine in a brasserie setting since I was a little girl. I was always happy to come here with my parents and be able to order a hamburger rather than having to go out for a fancy meal.
Mr. Allen - who also owns Orso, an Italian restaurant next door – had an initial concept to provide a comfortable, dynamic atmosphere with good food. And while the restaurant continues to serve some of the best comfort food around, spending time at night in the bar area, shows Joe Allen's real appeal. The high energy level from the post-theater crowd is contagious. The manager explained to us on one visit that they are the first phone call that people make after they have secured their seats for the next Broadway show.
And, while he remained hesitant to divulge names, he shared how many actors and actresses have continued over the years to head immediately to Joe Allen after they perform - "here," he elaborated "you're surrounded by theater, and we do all we can to promote that culture." I can attest to the numerous actors who grace their tables, as I have had the pleasure of meeting a few over the years, as well as a highlight one evening when Barbara Walters sat right next to me.
It is hard to say something new about Joe Allen, so long has it been a staple for theater goers. While the menu remains updated and contemporary, Joe Allen does not take any risks. Rather, it thrives on its reputation among patrons based on its long tradition of casual dining. Seeing the last of the pre-theater crowd during our visit, we were struck by how Joe Allen seemed appropriate equally for a quick burger and glass of wine in half an hour before a show, or a long, late into the night dinner where no one wants to head home.
When I mentioned to a friend that I was up to 33rd Street, she reacted immediately, "You know that this is the street that Wolfgang's is on, don't you? " I loved the description that she and her husband shared with me. "It is an old world man-cave that has incredible charm and certainly appeals to the serious eater. " Situated in the former historic Vanderbilt Hotel with magnificently tiled low vaulted ceilings, my husband and I agree that this is a splendid restaurant to dine. Wolfgang's, located in the sleek New York Times building on West 41st Street, is equally pleasant, but offers an entirely different ambiance. During the daytime, the sunlight streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing the steaks to glisten even more as they are being brought to the tables. The businessmen in their suits still dominate during the lunch hour; however, theatergoers and tourists fill the restaurant in the evening. Wolfgang Zwiener spent some forty years digesting the world of steak by working in the iconic restaurant, Peter Luger's. Think of it this way, Wolfgang received a veritable master's degree in meats in Brooklyn, and now has earned his doctorate in his own restaurant, where he has written a top-notch thesis. When others might have chosen to slow down a bit or even to retire, he began opening his own restaurants. Over the years, I have been to the four in Manhattan, with the 33rd Street flagship location being the one where we have chosen to celebrate many special occasions. As noted, it is a favorite of friends of ours, and when I asked them to speak to me further about Wolfgang's, the immediate response was, "Personally, of all the steak houses in New York, this is the one to go to. " They went on to describe the menu as not only having excellent steaks, but they also always look forward to ordering seafood, and then brace themselves as the kitchen presents them with a seafood platter appetizer that is "utterly outrageous. " There are jumbo shrimp (my number one oxymoron) and lobster with huge pieces to devour, and thrown in for good measure, some oysters and clams. "Even if you leave the steak out of the equation, it makes for an incredible meal. " But, who can leave the steak out? According to my husband, a man who is passionate about his meat, Wolfgang gets it right every time whether he decides on a filet or a porterhouse. And I, of course, am all about the side dishes and salads, which Wolfgang continues to deliver.
Upon entering the Palm, one can tell it lives and breathes New York. Whether it is the famous caricatures on the walls, the rich mahogany leather high chairs, the sizzling steaks or the unmistakable din of a successful New York City restaurant, the Palm has each and every trait of a staple. It is a restaurant where tradition is paramount and regulars are treated like family. Opened by Italian immigrants Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi on the east side in 1926, the restaurant has been family-owned from its inception. Surprisingly, the Palm began as somewhat of an accident. Bozzi and Ganzi intended to call their traditional Italian restaurant La Parma but, with their thick Italian accents, the city licensing clerk misunderstood. And so, the restaurant's name – and trademark – was born. The original location, on Second Avenue at 45th Street, served as a lunch and dinner club for members of the city's newspapers, whose offices were located within a few blocks of the restaurant. It was here that my husband first discovered the Palm some forty years ago with his college roommate. He recalls how the mustachioed maître d' took no names but remembered everyone in order, and being excited by seeing the fight promoter, Don King, at the very next table. Ever since, my husband has revered the Palm, particularly the softball-sized juicy filet mignons served charred on the outside and perfect-to-order on the inside. Four generations after Bozzi and Ganzi opened their restaurant, most of the Palm's traditions remain intact. The West 50th Street setting is true to the Palm's roots. Hospitality and consistency of service and quality of food is the mantra the Palm lives by, according to General Manager Richard Hammel. And while the city, and especially the neighborhood surrounding the restaurant, rapidly changes, the Palm serves as a reminder that tradition still sells. As Hammel said, "Hospitality knows no age. "When Lucy and Casey, two members of the Manhattan Sideways team, visited The Palm in November 2016, they had the pleasure of taking a tour with Robert, the restaurant’s hospitable and enthusiastic sales manager. He explained that the crowd is a mix of businesspeople, theatergoers, and families. Celebrities, politicians, and sports figures, many of whom are featured in The Palm’s constantly expanding collection of wall caricatures, can also regularly be spotted in one of The Palm’s dining rooms. (In the past, there was a "sing for your supper" policy - an artist could enjoy a free meal by drawing a portrait for the wall). When Robert first started working at the Palm three years ago, nobody wanted their faces on the back wall. Then, Robert added Hugh Jackman, who was performing in “The River” across the street, and the back wall suddenly became the spot to be for Broadway actors. Now, “Robert’s Wall” is filled with the caricatures of Broadway’s stars and their autographs. The Palm’s walls feature famous people alongside lesser-known faces and, in Robert’s words, “people we just love. ” If there’s a signature under a caricature, you know that person has visited The Palm. The Palm is all about loyalty. An estimated forty percent of its customers are return guests, according to Hammel, in part because of the 837 Club, the loyalty club that provides guests with points for dining there. But while regulars provide a large chunk of its business, there has been a surge of younger guests and tourists in the past few years. This is partly due to the new specialty drink and cocktail menu, intended to shake things up and diversify the clientele. Even Hammel admitted: "the Palm is still a men's club at times. " But the Palm is not afraid to adapt to changing times and, as Hammel said, "consistency and staying the same are different. "While the photographer was taking shots of the restaurant and the food, I also struck up an endearing conversation with Armando, a waiter who has been working at the Palm since this location's opening in 1989. He was standing below a caricature of Sarah Jessica Parker. A swirly cursive note next to her face read: "Just simply the only place for 'the folks. ' Much love and luck. SJP. "
A restaurant with a history to rival that of its surrounding District, Sardi's first opened its doors in 1927. In an effort to attract customers to their new location, Italian owners Vincent Sardi and wife Eugenia Pallera recalled a favorite Parisian jazz club that hung movie star caricatures as wall decor. The couple imitated the gimmick, hiring Russian artist Alex Gard to depict Broadway stars in exchange for a meal each day, a deal that was honored until Alex died in 1948. The tradition established, Sardi's became known for the drawings of Broadway's elite that peppered its walls. In the 1930's a group of great Broadway figures and newspapermen who called themselves the "Cheese Club" met at Sardi's regularly and helped catapult the restaurant into the middle of the Broadway community. Sardi's became a haven for theatrical folks and stayed open late to welcome actors, and host after-show and opening night parties. Notably, Antoinette Perry's partner, Brock Pemberton, invented the Tony Award while dining at Sardi's, an award that continues to be given in her honor each year. Though owner Vincent Sardi was born in northern Italy, the food itself is not Italian, but rather continental – a decision rumored to have been intended to disassociate the restaurant from the Italian mafia. Over the years, both the elder and younger Vincent Sardi attempted to open other locations in Manhattan and on Long Island, but they ultimately failed. Sardi's is exclusively a Theater District institution, having evolved with the area for nearly a century, and consequently becoming a major player in its development - a fixture in Broadway's world of constant change.
"We are the oldest restaurant on our block. We try to keep a low profile while doing the best we can, and every day we appreciate that we are living in this country, ” said Guadalupe, who has been married to Rafael Rivas — affectionately known as Papa Bear — for over forty years. The restaurant was founded by three Cuban cousins, who took Rafael under their wing when he came to the U. S. from the Dominican Republic in his twenties. With their encouragement, he started out as a dishwasher, then a lineman, and eventually ran the show up front. When the cousins decided to retire in the mid-1980s but could not find a buyer, Rafael stepped up to the plate and asked if he could take over Margon. With years of hard work and small payments, Rafael has upheld the cousins' tradition of serving Cuban favorites, such as roasted pork, oxtail, fried sweet plantains, and rice and beans to the line of customers that stretches out the door on any given day. Little by little, each member of Rafael's family was brought from the DR to join the fold. Guadalupe — who met her husband while they were both on a tour of the Statue of Liberty — along with Rafael's brother, sister, sister-in-law, and many of their children — are all part of this warm and loving family affair. Papa Bear's smile lights up Margon — and his entire family smiles with him. They work like a well-oiled machine, serving a constant flow of customers ranging from construction workers on break, to ladies meeting for a leisurely lunch, to a gentleman in his eighties who never misses a day to sit down and enjoy his usual. According to Guadalupe, “We have the best customers. They come from all over the world. We have every accent. They visit once and then they tell their friends.
Not only does Barbetta profess to be the oldest restaurant on Restaurant Row, it is also one of the oldest Italian restaurants in New York. Opening its doors in 1906, in four adjoining townhouses built in the late 1800s by the Astor family, Sebastiano Maioglio began his long restaurant career. The emphasis has always been on Italian dishes and wine from the Piemontese region, where he was from. Sebastiano’s daughter, Laura, took over in 1962, and immediately began to remodel the restaurant in the style of 18th C. E. Piemonte. With her passion for collecting art, great sense of personal style, frequent visits in Piemonte, and an art history degree from Bryn Mawr College, it is no wonder that Barbetta’s exquisite interior has become as highly regarded as its food. The dining room demonstrates its old-world opulence, with ornate chandeliers, chairs, and tables meant to evoke a palazzo of the eighteenth century, during Piemonte’s cultural height. The baroque interior serves as more than just a reference to its heritage; it is a part of it. The great chandelier in the main dining room initially came from a palazzo in Torino, where it belonged to the royal family. Laura negotiated to obtain this 18th C. E. chandelier for two years. Other highlights of Barbetta’s extensive collection include the harpsichord in the foyer - crafted in 1631, as well as hanging wall prints from Piemonte - part of a distinguished set crafted in 1682. Items that could not be authentic, such as the numerous chairs and barstools, are reproductions of museum pieces that were specifically chosen by Laura to be reproduced in Italy. The garden, available for dining in the summer, holds trees dating back over a century ago, and, in line with the interior, holds the atmosphere of refined European aristocracy. Barbetta, while serving as a cultural landmark, remains focused on the excellence of its ever-changing list of dishes while serving classics such as risotto and polenta since its founding. Every dish on its menu since 1962 has been approved by Laura, and celebrating its long history and heritage, each menu item is marked with the year it began to be served, while dishes from Piemonte are in red print. Although esteemed for its dishes, Barbetta is also famed for its 72-page wine list, which has won numerous awards. Barbetta has also transformed the Italian dining scene through its numerous examples of “being the first”- from its conception to the present day. A few highlights include its beginning as the first Piemontese restaurant in New York, its status as New York’s first elegant Italian restaurant after its 1962 transformation, as well as its usage of numerous ingredients that at the time, were not commercially available in America and which had to be specifically imported by them from Italy. A particular example of one of these imported ingredients is white truffles. Years ago, Barbetta’s own truffle-hunting dogs became so well known that they were asked to perform a demonstration at Carnegie Hall in 1992. Barbetta is also unique in its emphasis on low sugar and low salt dishes - Laura even decided that Barbetta would smoke its own salmon to ensure it would not be too salty. Laura described Barbetta as “an institution, much more than a restaurant, ” due to the extensive culture that has been built around it and that it has created. The description as “much more than a restaurant” struck us as particularly apt, due to Barbetta’s long list of famous regulars - from The Rolling Stones to Jacklyn Kennedy - its exceptionally elegant and unusually spacious interior, variety of phenomenal food, and historical significance.
Alongside numerous restaurants and bars, The Church of St. Mary adds a European influence to the Times Square area. With vaulted ceilings and glorious stained glass windows, the church offers a level of contemplative splendor to an otherwise busy area. When I stepped inside for a few moments on my walk across 46th, I was in absolute awe. I could not wait to watch the reaction of other members of the Manhattan Sideways team when I brought them by a few days later. The 45th Street church was founded in 1868 and built on ground donated by John Jacob Astor, with the understanding that the church would remain “free” - meaning visitors did not have to pay pew rents. Radical in its time, this Episcopal Church could open its services to people from all walks of life while remaining dependent on contributions from wealthy parishioners. In 1893, after one of these contributors, Sara L. Cooke, left the church a large amount of money in her will, the church leaders decided to move to a larger location one block north on West 46th. Built in the French Gothic style, this building was the first church made with an iron skeleton rather than stonework. While walking through this breathtaking piece of architecture, I checked in with one of the Manhattan Sideways photographers, who was looking a little shaken. She told me that the sheer size and beauty had simply taken her breath away. St. Mary’s keeps her doors open everyday so that passersby can share in this experience.