Lost Restaurants of NYC: Whyte’s on West 57th Street

Whyte's Restaurant

Another trip to the Antiques Garage Flea Market in Chelsea had me browsing through postcards of old New York—this time from a vendor with a smaller, more modern selection (and by that I mean 1960s instead of 1910s). Images of long-shuttered New York restaurants captured my attention, and for $3, I walked away with three postcards:

  • Castleholm Restaurant, 344 W. 57th Street, with a 1944 postmark
  • Whyte’s, 344 W. 57th Street, with a 1963 postmark
  • Stockholm Restaurant, 151 W. 51st Street, with no postmark

No, I didn’t make a typo. I realized when I looked more closely at home that I happened to buy two postcards from two restaurants that occupied the same address during two different decades. Among the three restaurants, Whyte’s was by far the best known.

According to an April 21, 1971, article in the New York Times, Edward E. White opened Whyte’s (with a different spelling to differentiate from the many restaurants operated under the name “White”) at 145 Fulton St., between Broadway and Nassau, in 1908, four years after moving to New York from St. Louis.

Built in a kind of Alpine chalet style, Whyte’s strove to retain an Old-World aura, with its dark paneling, gilt-framed portraits, and long oak bar with well-shined brass spitoons.

The bar was a famous watering spot for downtown executives, with groups of insurance men, stockbrokers and politicians taking what seemed to be the assigned places at the rail.

The restaurant’s specialty of the house was finnan haddie, but some long-time afficionados said that the homemade rum raisin ice cream was Whyte’s chef d’oeuvre.

Women were never much in evidence, but unlike other restaurants of its type, Whyte’s never banned them. “I think it was the bar right out in the dining room that might have discouraged them,” Mr. [George] Macris [the manager] said, adding: “But we had plenty of loyal women customers.”

In 1929, Whyte’s “joined the uptown trend,” according to the Times, moving to 5th Avenue and 43rd Street, in the basement of the new Lefcourt National Building. The Fulton Street location became known as Woolley’s, run by management from the Waldorf-Astoria, then on Fifth Avenue and slated for demolition to make way for the Empire State Building. Several months later, the company operating Woolley’s sold its lease, and the restaurant became known as Willard’s. The new restaurant failed, and Whyte’s moved back to Fulton Street after its uptown venture also failed.

Raymond Hopper, a manager for the Whyte family, took ownership of the restaurant in the 1940s. Around 1954-55 (I can’t find this date in the Times myself; I’m crediting this site with the date), Whyte’s opened a second location at 344 West 57th Street.

The Times doesn’t offer much information about the new location, but a Nov. 15, 1963, directory to dining in the Times gave the Fulton Street location the following review:

There is an engaging, turn-of-the-century charm about Whyte’s, and the fish, particularly the finnan-haddie in heavy cream (listed as à la Whyte), is remarkably good. Dishes other than fish and sea food are not of equal stature. There is an à la carte menu for both lunch and dinner with main courses from about $2.35 to $4.25. Cocktails, wines. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

The Fulton Street location, at that time one of the longest operations under the same management, closed in 1971 after it was “outbid so fantastically” and unable to renew its lease, “an apparent victim of the financial recession.” The Times reported: “The manager said the restaurant’s 150 employes were notified of the closing at 2:30 P.M. on Friday. ‘Some of them cried like babies,’ Mr. Macris said. ‘A few have been here 38 years.'”

The postcard I picked up Sunday depicts the dining room of the West 57th Street location—again, very little information about this location online. The back of the postcard says that Whyte’s is “famous for its Beefeater Martini, charcoal broiled steaks, seafood and curried dishes.  Your host—Ray Hopper.”

Hopper died April 28, 1971, at the age of 63, just 8 days after the Fulton Street location closed its doors. He had also been a food purchasing agent for the Hamburg-American line, owner of Hofbrau Restaurant in Hoboken, and food purchasing consultant to the late Lucius Boomer, head of the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria Corporation, and to the Savarin Restaurant chain, according to his obituary in the Times.

Whyte's Restaurant

Advertisements

Fete Paradiso: Antique French Carnival Rides at Governors Island

Fete Paradiso, Governors Island

When people ask me what I like most about living in New York, my answer is always the wide variety of ethnic neighborhoods within reach. If I want Arabic food, I have dozens of options on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. If I want Greek, I head to Astoria, where I can buy a dozen varieties of feta. And so forth.

But a traveling exhibit on Governors Island of antique French carnival rides provides not only the opportunity to experience another culture, but also another time. Fête Paradiso, which will leave New York at the end of this month, brings together a collection of late 19th and early 20th century carousels, flying swings and a pipe organ.

A short, free ferry ride from Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge Park brings New Yorkers away from the city and to an island where time seems to have stood still for decades. Take a short walk to Nolan Park, and suddenly you’re traveled back more than 100 years, to 19th Century Paris. From Fête Paradiso’s website,

The extraordinary festival of artisan-crafted, vintage carousels and carnival rides – like a French film miraculously come to life – is the first of its kind to appear in the United States. Among the classic attractions, which come from the collections of Francis Staub and Regis Masclet, is a bicycle carousel from the late 19th century – one of only two in the world that were created in Paris to encourage the use of what was then the new mode of transportation – the bicycle. (The only other bicycle carousel can be seen in the feature film Midnight in Paris.) Fête Paradiso will also include an early 20th century Music-Hall Ball Guzzler, a carnival game that features life-size caricatures of Josephine Baker, Maurice Chevalier, Charlie Chaplin, the Fratellini Brothers and other celebrities of the time. …

To further enhance the nostalgic, dreamlike experience, a bumper car pavilion from 1900 has been transformed into a beer garden and special event space with food reminiscent of a French carnival prepared by New York’s legendary French bistro Le Gamin. In addition, a 1930 children’s carousel has been repurposed into a music kiosk, where performers will entertain visitors with period music and side show performances to heighten the Fellini-inspired environment.

The bicycle carousel dates to 1892, and riding it was quite an experience, physically and mentally. Those riding the carousel are expected to pedal, first forward, then backward. I left the ride out of breath, eager for a cold refreshing $4 lemonade from the concession.

As the carnival attendant, dressed in black-and-white striped shirt, warned us to mind our iPhones and other valuables, I thought back to the makers of this 121-year-old ride. As they fashioned the intricate metal bicycles and painted beautiful scenes around the top of the ride, they hardly could have imagined that more than a century later and a continent away, little children and grown adults, all carrying tiny telephones that doubled as video cameras, would be enjoying their handiwork. To those who built this ride with an eye for detail, beauty and enjoyment, I extend my appreciation. I am thankful as well to the collectors who had the foresight to preserve this collection of nostalgia and the imagination to assemble it into an attraction for New Yorkers to enjoy.

Fête Paradiso is here until Sept. 29 (when Governors Island all but closes to the public for the season), though one of the carnival workers said the rides may return here next summer after visiting warmer sites in the United States for the fall and winter. For more information on Brooklyn and Manhattan ferries to Governors Island, check out Governors Island’s website.

Below are some photos from my trip to Fête Paradiso last Sunday …

Fete Paradiso, Governors Island Fete Paradiso, Governors Island Fete Paradiso, Governors Island Fete Paradiso, Governors Island

Fete Paradiso, Governors Island

Bensonhurst’s Festa di Santa Rosalia

Festa di Santa Rosalia, Bensonhurst

Yesterday marked the end of Bensonhurst’s annual Festa di Santa Rosalia, a street fair that honors the 12th Century patron saint of Palermo, Sicily. Held every year (except 2011, when a supposed paperwork error led to a cancellation of the event) on 18th Avenue between 68th and 75th streets for 70 years, the feast brings street vendors, carnival rides, music and a lot of food—Italian and non-Italian to this once predominantly Italian American neighborhood.

Though visitors to the 10-day feast will still see older men seated on folding chairs on the sidewalks outside old Italian social clubs, they will also see Muslim women walking down 18th Avenue wearing hijab, dozens of storefronts with Chinese writing and food vendors roasting flank steak under a Colombian flag. Eighteenth Avenue is still subtitled Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard, but even eight years ago, when I first visited the Festa di Santa Rosalia, the neighborhood had become a multicultural one.

Unlike the much larger Feast of San Gennaro in Manhattan, which is produced by a contracted company, the Festa di Santa Rosalia is still put on by a local group, the Santa Rosalia Society. The feast honors the patron saint of Palermo, who lived and died in solitude as a hermit on Mount Pellegrino, three miles from Palermo. In 1624, during a horrible plague, her remains were dug up and processed through the city, putting an end to the plague. Today, she is still honored every year by Sicilians around the world, from Palermo to Brooklyn.

Below are some images from this year’s Festa di Santa Rosalia.

photo 2 (15) photo 3 (11)  photo 3 (12)

photo 2 (16)

photo 1 (14) photo 1 (15) photo 2 (14)  photo 3 (10)