56 Beaver St
Delmonico’s, the first fine-dining establishment in the United States, is the birthplace of Eggs Benedict and Baked Alaska.
Delmonico’s is an American dining landmark. The restaurant was founded in 1827 by the Delmonico brothers, who came from Switzerland and changed the way America eats.
Before Delmonico’s, America did not feed its hungry citizens in restaurants – only in taverns. Taverns, unlike modern-day restaurants, did not offer a menu. The simple food was prepared by the keeper and served at communal tables. By contrast, the concept of a restaurant implies that customers get to choose food and wine while dining at private tables. Delmonico’s offered the first à la carte menu and wine list in the country, as well as pioneering the farm-to-table idea.
Since the Delmonico’s couldn’t find the fresh ingredients needed for their culinary creations, they grew their own endives, artichokes, and tomatoes on their farm in Williamsburg.
Although Delmonico’s moved several times, the building that occupies 56 Beaver Street is special. It was constructed by the Delmonicos specifically to house their finest dining establishment. The dining rooms occupied first three floors, with the top floor featuring private dining — a previously unheard-of luxury. The basement held the main treasure — the largest private wine cellar in the city, holding an impressive 1,000 bottles of the world’s finest wines. The entrance to Delmonico’s is framed by the columns imported from the ruins of Pompeii.
Delmonico’s claims to have created such dishes as Lobster Newberg, Delmonico Steak, Baked Alaska, Manhattan clam chowder, and the brunch staple, without which Sunday in New York would be unimaginable, Eggs Benedict.
The restaurant was patronized by the brightest stars of the day. The list includes a famous operatic soprano, Jenny Lind, known as the “Swedish Nightingale,” as well as the famed actress of the day, Lillian Russell, who dazzled the public with her stage talent, voice and striking looks.
She often appeared on the arm of her longtime life companion “Diamond Jim” Brady, the most celebrated eater of the Gilded Age. Although this may be an urban legend, but according to John Mariani’s history of restaurant dining, Brady started his day “with a hefty breakfast of eggs, breads, muffins, grits, pancakes, steaks, chops, fried potatoes, and pitchers of orange juice.” His lunch at Delmonico’s “consisted of more oysters and clams, lobsters, crabs, a joint of beef, pie, and more orange juice,” which was followed by a dinner of “three dozen oysters, a dozen crabs, six or seven lobsters, terrapin soup,” and a steak, with a dessert of “a tray full of pastries… and two pounds of bonbons.” When he died, doctors discovered that his stomach was six times the size of that of an average person.
Delmonico’s was frequented by Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde, while Mark Twain celebrated his 70th birthday at the restaurant.
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States; Edward VII, Prince of Wales; Napoleon III of France; and Nikola Tesla, the inventor of alternating current electricity, were also known to dine at Delmonico’s.
Delmonico’s was so popular that it has become sort of a chain. 10 other Delmonico’s opened in different parts of town; however, only the original downtown location maintains the old-time feel of grandeur and luxury.