I have spent long months in New York City and was very happy to do so. It’s one of my favourite spots, although I had not ever considered it to be overly historic. I am a Londoner and so tend to take history a bit for granted. I also have American friends who think that anything ancient enough to have the paint dry must be an antique. The Historic Shops and Restaurants of New York has introduced me to the older attractions of that city that I didn’t know existed.
There are a surprising number of enduring establishments which ooze charm and wood panels. These are real wood panels and not film props. What you see is no reconstruction but a glimpse of a bygone era before uniformity and the internet. These businesses have laughed in the face of modernity and lived to tell the tale.
Each chapter considers a different class of shop or restaurant, starting with Apothecaries and finishing with Steak and Chop Houses. I was amazed to find Saloons. I had thought that they would no longer exist and that they had only ever existed in the Wild West and in the minds of over-romantic movie directors. Here they are… although it should be noted that a New York saloon is called a bar or a tavern.
There are a few entries that even an overseas tourist might have heard of. Tiffany (don’t go for breakfast), Katz’s Delicatessen (do go for breakfast), Barnes and Noble, and Bloomingdales. But the majority of those listed will be a revelation and have names that are an historian’s dream.
The Algonquin, Brooklyn Women’s Exchange (sounds like a wife-swap shop), Hammacher Schlemmer, and Yonah Schimmel Knishery (a knish is a must try New York delicacy) all sound as though they should have a story to tell… and they all do. The Historic Shops and Restaurants of New York is, in fact, filled with family histories, stories of fortitude and success in a land where so many took refuge and sought a better life.
The Historic Shops and Restaurants of New York is one of the most fascinating books about the Big Apple. The authors Ellen Williams and Steve Radlauer are both New Yorkers and are evidently proud of their city. Their book explores a very real element of what made America the country it is today, diverse and full of character. This is a must for any tourist who wants to tread the road less travelled.
The Historic Shops and Restaurants of New York
Authors: Ellen Williams and Steve Radlauer
Published by: The Little Bookroom
Price: $16.95US, £10.00
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018