THE TITLE OF MITCH BRODER’S new book is just what I’ve been doing lately: Discovering Vintage New York (Globe Pequot, $17) — or what’s left of it, anyway. While friends plan winter trips to Paris, Costa Rica, Burma, and other far-flung places, my own wanderlust is limited these days to the New York City of an earlier era. With Broder’s book as my guide, I’m discovering or re-discovering venerable Manhattan bars, restaurants, bookstores, hat shops, bakeries, etc. — some well-known, some not-so, some dives, some fancy — that have miraculously survived the relentless march of commerce.
I’m much happier at the Old Town Bar on East 18th Street, a dimly lit 1890s tavern with a 55-foot-long marble bar and a dumbwaiter bringing sandwiches up from the basement, than in some trendy new spot. Everything is original: tin ceiling, tile floor, stained glass windows, converted gas chandeliers. “We don’t want to be a hip place,” says an owner, and hurray for that. Broder, a seasoned newspaperman, wants us to have the whole back story; he gives us three pages of reportage on each of 50 places, plus sidebars with 25 more.
The book is a handy compendium of places I once frequented but had forgotten, always meant to get to but never did, and a few I’d never heard of at all. Wait too long, and some of these spots might not be there when you finally get around to it, Broder points out in the book’s introduction. “When places like these close, people who always meant to visit them start grieving. I wrote this book to save you some grief.”
Here’s a partial list of my winter itinerary, drawn from Discovering Vintage New York:
Barbetta, an old-school Italian restaurant on W. 46th Street, opened in 1906 in a brownstone parlor floor
El Quijote, a kitschy Spanish-themed restaurant on W. 23rd St., est. 1920
Right: Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop
B&H Dairy, a Jewish lunch counter on Second Avenue dating from the 1940s. I remember the mushroom barley soup from my NYU days, but never dared to dream it was still in business.
Milano’s Bar on E. Houston, est. 1923 (new to me, though I’ve seen it in passing).
Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers Street in Chinatown, on the street since 1920, though in a different storefront, and possibly the first to serve dim sum in New York.
Yonah Schimmel’s antique knish bakery I know, and Cafe Reggio on MacDougal, the last of the original Village cafes where you can still get cannolli and baba rum and cappuccino in a nicotine-stained 1920s interior, both included in the book. Mysteriously, the White Horse Tavern, Minetta Tavern, Walker’s and Raoul’s, all favorite downtown haunts of mine, are not. But I find it heartening that there are enough old places left that Broder couldn’t cover them all.
Let the new places continue to open (and close). I’m feeling some urgency about checking out the holdouts. If not now, when?
Below: Wo Hop