Ain't Nothin' Like a Classic: 8 Old School Restaurants You Should Cross Off Your NYC Bucket List ASAP

This city is chock full of restaurants that precede prohibition. These restaurants have withstood the test of time, the sharp eye of hawklike New York City restaurant critics, and thousands of patrons that have the opportunity to eat at their establishments. 

You've probably heard the names of these restaurants in daily conversation, usually spoken with hints of reverence and longing. 

These iconic restaurants keep the city's fine dining standards high, their culinary prowess setting the bar high enough to please even the pickiest of Manhattanites. 

While many of these are as pricey as the tuxes on their tuxedoed servers, some of them don't require your entire monthly paycheck to taste. 

However, if you guys somehow inherit tons of money from a long lost relative you had no idea even existed, we'd highly recommend making a reservation at these restaurants. 

1. Peter Luger's Steakhouse (178 Broadway - Brooklyn)

Who would have thought that this classic steakhouse would have originally opened as a billiards and bowling alley with a café? Not us. That's exactly what Peter Luger created in 1887. Along with his nephew, Carl, who manned the kitchen, Luger made his neighborhood joint a staple in Williamsburg. 

After Peter Luger's death, neighbor Sol Forman bought the auctioned restaurant, which had fallen into disrepair. Along with his wife, Marsha, Sol was determined to make the restaurant the legend that we know it as today. 


Most of his success could be attributed to Marsha, who spent two years learning how to select the finest quality meats in regards to marbling, color, and texture from the finest quality of meats, USDA Prime (which in itself is the highest 2% of meats). 

Once Marsha selected their meats, they are dry aged under specific conditions to deliver unbeatable flavor and texture. 

It's not even 11 a.m. and we're already drooling.

2. Monkey Bar (60 East 54th Street)

Unlike most restaurants and bars of its day, this bar and restaurant opened (and survived) during the Great Depression. This humble little spot at the Elysee Hotel was a hotspot for somewhat crude and suggestive jokes and songs. Heck, it was once known as the "easy lay."

It was visited by writers (Tennessee Williams), politicians, media barons, jazz musicians, and performers (Johnny Payne and Mel Martin). 

Its original mirrored paneling created an atmosphere in which patrons would mimic one another, which brought the phrase, "monkey see, monkey do," into the minds of the owners and patrons. 

The Monkey Bar was formally named in 1950, when the mirrors were replaced by caricatures of monkeys...much more fitting, and probably a bit less crude (depending on who we're imitating..or worse, who's imitating us). 

3. Grand Central Oyster Bar (89 East 42nd Street)

This little spot opened in 1913. You know, pre-WWI, pre-prohibition, big deal, right? Grand Central Terminal (otherwise known as an engineering masterpiece in its day) opened its doors at the same time as the Grand Central Oyster Bar. Immediately, tourists and travelers flooded in.

Its success is most notably due to its location in Grand Central, which was one of the biggest centers of transport for the city. 


After travelers began to choose to take to the skies over the time-consuming option of rickety trains, Grand Central declined in popularity and upkeep, along with the Grand Central Oyster Bar

However, the Grand Central Oyster Bar was offered rebirth in 1974. It transformed into a seafood destination hotspot that has attracted diners from across the country and earned itself plenty of awards. 

4. MR CHOW (324 East 57th Street) 

MR CHOW is definitely not the oldest on this list, having opened in 1979. However, it has quickly risen to become a hotspot for the rich and famous. 

Givenchy described it as a "Precious Jewel Box" in the city of New York. If you're lucky enough to be at any important parties in the fashion, art, or museum industries, we're sure you'll see MR CHOW's name. 

If you're not lucky enough to be apart of that world (as we sit here in our Gap cords and basic brand sweaters), don't be discouraged. You can still be cool enough to eat at MR CHOW, along with a reservation and a sizable chunk of your monthly paycheck. 


5. Raoul's (180 Prince Street)

In the mood for some pretty dope French cuisine that was started by a pair of Alsatian brothers (that's an area in France that makes some pretty sick wines)? This is truly a rags to riches story for the history books. 

When Guy and Serge Raoul bought this little bistro in the 70s, they relied on the patronage of local vagrants living (illegally) in lofts to spread the word of their good food. 


Luckily for them, the word spread far and wide, and the brothers have been thriving ever since. The walls are bedecked with french, bohemian decor, giving homage to the artists who were some of their first diners. 

You can still come during their later hours to see artists and locals alike that spurred Raoul's greatness.

6. Smith & Wollensky (797 3rd Avenue)

Although Smith & Wollensky now has quite a few locations throughout the country, this original is a NYC. Founded by Alan Stillman following his success with the T.G.I. Friday's franchise, Stillman delved into the highly competitive world of NYC fine-dining, and succeeded in creating an icon.

Stillman chose the former location of Manny Wolf's, a steakhouse institution in NYC, to be the foundation of his first. Stillman also chose the names Smith & Wollensky at random in a NYC phonebook. 

You know, just the typical way people choose the name for their incredible restaurants (not really, but probably should be... it would make things a lot more interesting).

Smith & Wollensky uses only USDA Prime steaks that they dry age and hand butcher at their locations. 

While it has a pretty colorful history, Smith & Wollensky chooses to display its history on the walls of its original location on 3rd Avenue. The walls are adorned with cheeky photos, paintings of zaftig women, awards, letters, and name plates above favorite tables of some of their more wealthy clientele.

If you want the serious goods on their story, ask your waitstaff or server to give you the legends of this NYC icon. Whether to believe them or not is up to you.

7. Ear Inn (326 Spring Street)

If you've ever walked by a seemingly innocent "BAR" sign, where the loops of the "B" is painted over to display "EAR," you might want to head through their green doors. 

During Prohibition, the Ear Inn became a speakeasy. The second story apartment was used as a boarding house, smuggler's den, and a brothel. Sounds like a legit NYC classic, right? 

This upstanding establishment (we kid, we kid) came out of the repeal of the Prohibition without a name, being called "The Green Door," by many sailors and longshoremen. 


It has only operated under the title of the Ear Inn since 1977, in order to avoid the Landmark Commission's review of any new sign. They cheekily painted over their "Bar" sign to read as "EAR," and thus, the Ear Inn was born. 

Also, it's haunted. Say hi to Mickey for us. He's still waiting for his ship to come in. 

8. The Old Town Bar (45 East 18th Street)

This little old bar has been operating since 1892. Seriously, this place has been around for more than a century. If you want to go to a bar with a cemented place in NYC history, Old Town is it. It still has most of its original decor (and urinals, in case you were wondering, which were made in 1910...).

Like most other bars in the city, the Old Town Bar operated as a speakeasy during the Prohibition Era. 

If you walk in for the first time and wonder why you've seen the bar before, that's because it's been in plenty of popular television shows, movies, and even in Madonna's "Bad Girl" video... we're not kidding. 

This is definitely a place to check out as much for its history and location as its food and drinks. Still not convinced? Well, this historical spot won't break the bank either.

Check out 7 Feel-Good Comfort Foods & Where To Get 'Em This Fall in NYC.

[Feature Image Courtesy of Jinxi Eats]

get spoiled in your inbox