At 99 Years of Age, Off to See Kinky Boots, in Heels

Le Veau D'Or, Manhattan

As I walked the streets of Boerum Hill on a Municipal Art Society tour last weekend, I so wanted to go back in time and see the neighborhood as it was decades ago.

Alas, that’s not possible, but the city offers its share of windows to the past.

Earlier this month, I was privileged to eavesdrop on a live window to the past, a 99-year-old former model dining in a quiet restaurant that once hosted Princess Grace, Orson Welles, Truman Capote and Jackie Onassis.

I could (and will, someday soon) write a lengthy post about the setting, Le Veau d’Or on East 60th Street, a 75-year old French restaurant with a classic table d’hote menu. Its longtime owner, Robert Treboux, passed away last year, but his daughter Catherine continues to run the restaurant.

Two Saturdays ago, I stopped in for lunch. As I enjoyed my mussels soup in a creamy broth, and sautéed monkfish with a side of scalloped potatoes, I listened in on the conversation between Catherine and a 99-year-old customer, who wore a black dress, black earrings and a matching bow in her hair.

She had some trouble hearing and her memory wasn’t perfect, but she enjoyed her meal, walked unassisted and carried on conversation better than most people my age.

“I’ve never seen a 99-year-old who can tie her own shoes,” her caretaker said.

The former fashion model came to New York from London in the 1960s. She addressed Catherine as “darling.”

I would have loved to hear her tell stories about her New York of a half century ago. But I was only privileged to small tidbits. At nearly 100 years of age, she was on her way to see the musical Kinky Boots—wearing heels.

“I do walk in heels. I’ve always done so. And that’s why I can today,” she said as she and her caretaker left the restaurant. “I don’t want a lot of help, because then you become helpless.”

After they left, Catherine and I sat over a cup of coffee and marveled at this woman’s spirit—and her class.

I am returning to Le Veau d’Or this evening for dinner. If one ever wanted a window to New York City’s past, this place is it.

Le Veau d'Or, Manhattan

Lost Restaurants of NYC: Castleholm on West 57th Street

Castleholm Restaurant, New York

Last month, I coincidentally purchased two postcards from two restaurants, Castleholm and Whyte’s, that happened to share an address, 344 W. 57th St. Last month, I posted about Whyte’s. Below is a short history of Castleholm, which preceded Whyte’s in the same location.

Both Whyte’s and Castleholm occupied the lower level of the Parc Vendome apartments, once the intended site of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. According to a May 27, 1983 article in the New York Times,

In the 1920’s Otto Kahn, the financier and arts patron, owned land west of Eighth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets. He offered the property at cost as a new home for the Metropolitan Opera Company, but the offer was rejected.

The late William Zeckendorf reported this nugget of New York history in his autobiography. He went on to say that he was permitted by Mr. Kahn to act as broker in the sale of the land and that he found as the buyer one of the major builders of the day, Henry Mandell. Thus it came about that Mr. Mandell built the Parc Vendome apartments.

The Parc Vendome apartments were built in 1931. Six years later, on February 23, 1937, the first reference to Castleholm appeared in the Times with the headline “Parc Vendome Space Leased by Cafe Chain.” The announcement read,

 The dining room and bar space, aggregating more than 10,000 square feet in addition to the basement, in the Parc Vendome Apartments, 340 West Fifty-seventh street, has been leased to the Castleholm Restaurant, Inc. It is said to be the first of a chain of restaurants planned by the company. The interests behind the new restaurant are the same as those controlling the Sacher restaurant on Madison Avenue.

Within months of that announcement, Castleholm opened, and thus began a series of occasional announcements in the Times. Among them,

  • a 1937 bar mitzvah
  • a 1937 luncheon hosted by the Broadway Association, celebrating the extension of the 57th Street crosstown bus, which ran from River to River
  • a 1938 May festival to benefit the West 63rd Street Community Home
  • a 1938 dinner to honor the captain of Columbia University’s varsity wrestling team
  • a 1952 luncheon for Hands Across the Sea Scholarship Awards Inc., which provided scholarship money for students of the Virgin Islands.

The restaurant was home to its own orchestra of “soothing melodies,” according to a Feb. 13, 1938, article, “Notes and Reflections on the Nightclubs.”

A new dance retreat for those who prefer soothing melodies to the whicky-whacky-whoo of swingdom may be found at the Castleholm in the Parc Vendome, 344 West Fifty-seventh Street. Ivor Peterson conducts his orchestra in the rendition of his own compositions and the more mellow product of Tin Pan Alley. Mr. Peterson works nightly from 9 P.M. to 1 A.M.

And on Oct. 3, 1943, a true sign of grim times:

With $162,000 already subscribed, residents of the Parc Vendome apartments in west Fifty-seventh Street will hold a party at the Castleholm restaurant in the building tomorrow night to reach their goal of $250,000 in war bonds for the purchase of a bomber which will be named for the building.

Well-known tenants of the Parc Vendome will be on hand to help spur sales. James Montgomery Flagg will draw sketches from life in return for large subscriptions. Octavus Roy Cohen will give autographed copies of his new book, “Sound of Revelry.” Abner Silver, composer, will play his new piece, “Hitler’s Funeral March,” and will present autographed copies to bond buyers. Harry Hershfield will preside.

Alas, the Times archive does not offer much about the food at Castleholm. For more on that, I turned to Dining in New York with Rector, a 1939 guide to Manhattan restaurants. The Castleholm entry tells us the following:

In addition to the smörgåsbord and the Swedish drinks served at the bar, there are music and dancing to serve as an inducement to go to the Castleholm. You should not need much inducement, for it is a mighty nice place. It’s open for midnight supper, too, a la carte—no cover charge, no minimum. Two can spend several enjoyable hours there in the evening for about five dollars. On Saturday nights, a reservation is suggested.

In the late 1950s, Castleholm appears to have closed (though the Times does not report the closing), making way for Whyte’s to move into the space. The restaurant was, however, fondly remembered in a 1983 article about restaurants “gone but not forgotten.”

Scandinavian smorgasbord at the Castleholm on West 57th Street, where in summer meals were served in the big outdoor garden. Iced cracked crab, herring in dill mustard and tiny hot meatballs scented with allspice were among the best choices.

And now, sitting on my desk, is a reminder of this Scandinavian restaurant’s “famous Viking Room and bar.” The postcard I purchased was sent in 1944, from a Bronx resident to her father, a Dr. Dahlstrom, in Michigan. The note: “Dear Dad, Cousin Hannah and I are here eating our smorgasbord. Love, Ida.”

How that postcard made it from Michigan back to New York, to the Antiques Garage Flea Market in Chelsea, I’ll never know. But I doubt Ida, Hannah and Dr. Dahlstrom could ever have imagined that their postcard memory of Castleholm would be inspiring someone 70 years later.

Castleholm Restaurant, New York

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