Classic NYC Restaurants

Julie Besonen

(Updated 11/06/2017)

Savor living, breathing New York City history at a clutch of old, old-school venues we hope will be around forever. There's the enduringly fabulous Keens Steakhouse, the always-packed McSorley's Old Ale House and sturgeon king Barney Greengrass. Peter Luger, Grand Central Oyster Bar, P.J. Clarke's and '21' Club also strike us as here to stay. See below for others that have stood the test of time, including where Abraham Lincoln liked the potatoes.

Photo: Marley White

32 Withers St., 718-384-8831, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Episodes of Kojak and The Sopranos were filmed at Bamonte's, whose decor makes it perfect central casting for an old-school Italian restaurant. Back in the day, Joe DiMaggio loved to drop in for pastina soup and sausage with peppers and onions, but Bamonte's history goes back way further than that—all the way to 1900. Keeping the space intact, right down to the wooden phone booths and vintage chandeliers, are founder Pasquale Bamonte's grandson Anthony and great-granddaughters Nicole, Laura and Lisa. Waiters in black tuxes will approve your choice of the meaty pork chop with hot or sweet pickled peppers and are never bothered by red sauce spilled from mussels marinara onto white tablecloths. Celebrities still visit, such as baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda, who's partial to pasta fagioli and linguine with clam sauce, and Chalky White (actor Michael Kenneth Williams) of Boardwalk Empire, who loves the spaghetti and meatballs.

Photo: Marley White

56 Beaver St., 212-509-1144, Financial District, Manhattan
In the 1860s at Delmonico's you may have looked over at Abraham Lincoln and said, "I'll have what he's having." Legend has it the president enjoyed Delmonico potatoes, piping hot and buried in cream, butter and cheese. (If he'd eaten them more often he might not have been so rail thin.) They're still served today at this handsome Financial District citadel, the birthplace of the Delmonico steak (boneless rib eye), lobster Newberg (more cream), hamburger steak, eggs Benedict and baked Alaska, although the origin of the latter three is a matter of dispute. Over the centuries the restaurant has changed locations and ownership, but this triangular plot of land was its flagship site in 1837. Co-owner and managing partner Dennis Turcinovic, whose father bought Delmonico's in 1998, has been instrumental in restoring the old-world grandeur of the formal dining room while also adding an adjacent bar that offers a more casual, lower-priced experience (though a few classics are still available at dining-room prices).

Photo: Julienne Schaer

Katz's Delicatessen
205 E. Houston St., 212-254-2246, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Before Bill Clinton became a vegetarian he relished a Katz's pastrami sandwich, like many presidents before him. The rosy, butter-tender meat is piled high as the Empire State Building and is almost as much of a New York City icon. On weekends there can be six separate lines to reach the counterman skillfully slicing it to order (tip a buck or two and you may get leaner slices). What's not as well-publicized is the never-a-line counter for frankfurters, some of the best in the City: the supple, evenly cooked link is nestled in a soft bun spread with zesty mustard and loaded with sauerkraut. Locals in the know stop in after work or a movie at the nearby Sunshine Cinema to wolf them down. Chicken liver adherents thread through the crowds to the very back, where the spread is scooped out and sold by the pound. Thick-cut fries, snappy pickles and draft beer are good accessories to any meal here. The Lower East Side has seen many changes since Katz's opened in 1888 and is soon to see more, given that the deli's one-story neighboring buildings will be torn down for high-rises. Third-generation co-owner Jake Dell recently signed a $1 million-plus deal selling the air rights to the building, saying it ensured Katz's would stay on the same corner for many more years to come.

Courtesy, Lexington Candy Shop.

Lexington Candy Shop
1226 Lexington Ave., 212-288-0057, Upper East Side, Manhattan
This endearing gem has been holding down an Upper East Side corner since 1925, its windows stocked with Coca-Cola memorabilia and a candy counter up front by the register. Beloved by locals and a loyal celebrity clientele, Lexington Candy Shop is a time-warp luncheonette featuring true-blue bygone fare daily until 7pm (6pm on Sundays). Grab a forest-green booth or a stool at the Formica counter, patches of it worn away from assiduous scrubbing, and leave Bruce Springsteen alone so he can nurse his hot chocolate in peace. Ignore Paul McCartney, partial to the Greek salad and veggie burger. Don't bother Matt Dillon, an eggs-and-bacon kind of guy, or Uma Thurman coming in with her kids for grilled cheeses and milkshakes whipped up in a Hamilton blender from 1946. Chocolate egg creams and the signature butter burger (a smear of butter melting into the patty) are other heartwarming indulgences.

Photo: Alex Thompson

Old Town Bar
45 E. 18th St., 212-529-6732, Union Square, Manhattan
Old Town Bar, open since 1892, is a beautiful saloon classically outfitted in dark wood, pressed tin ceilings and Victorian light fixtures. Multigenerational families, guitar-toting musicians and new-media types natter in booths that used to be pulled back to hide the liquor during Prohibition times. Andy Warhol's Factory was once nearby in Union Square, and he and his cohorts were regulars, drinking more than eating, reports Gerard Meagher, whose father bought the venue in the 1970s. The Meaghers own the building, a primary reason it's lasted; they also used to own vast tracts of land in Williamsburg when Matthew T. Meagher, Gerard's great-grandfather, was a powerful political boss and the inspiration for a character in Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Guinness and shots of Jameson along with a juicy, charbroiled cheeseburger are the way to go here. And share a plate of crunchy fried clam strips, which Meagher tells people "are as good as Howard Johnson's. They say, 'Oh, really, that good?'" Yes, they are.