How Delmonico’s became an NYC institution: Will it ever reopen?

Frank Sinatra dropped by for lobster, John F Kennedy enjoyed its famed discretion, and the Prince of Wales was honored at its grandest dinner.

Delmonico’s revolutionized American dining with a la carte French cuisine, white tablecloths and printed menus – it was the first ever restaurant reviewed by the New York Times in 1859.  

Its signature mashed potatoes were beloved by Abraham Lincoln and along with the legendary Delmonico thick-cut steak, the Big Apple restaurant claims to have invented Eggs Benedict, Lobster Newberg, Baked Alaska and the wedge salad. 

In the Roaring Twenties, its iconic flatiron building was acquired by an ambitious Italian immigrant who brought Hollywood glamour to Wall Street riches. The Lehman brothers were provided their own suite fitted with a stock ticker, while Rock Hudson had a bedroom, kitchen and bar in his own apartment.

Today the restaurant – which lay dormant throughout the pandemic – is embroiled in a bitter legal dispute that threatens its future.

DECEMBER 1905: Mark Twain and guests celebrate his 70th birthday at Delmonico’s. The bash was attended by 170 guests with names like Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, Dorothy Canfield, and Twain’s nephew Samuel E. Moffett. A 40-piece orchestra performed and a menu of champagne, oysters and ice cream was served.

SEPTEMBER 1974: and Stevie Wonder (center) and Yolanda Simmons (left) attend a party at Delmonico's in New York City

SEPTEMBER 1974: and Stevie Wonder (center) and Yolanda Simmons (left) attend a party at Delmonico’s in New York City

The iconic flatiron building in the financial district has been home to Delmonico's for almost 200 years

The iconic flatiron building in the financial district has been home to Delmonico’s for almost 200 years 

The courtroom battle centers on a row between two groups of Croatian businessmen over who owns the rights to the famous Delmonico name.

Max Tucci, grandson of one its former owners, says the restaurant has been ‘dismantled’ over the last three decades, ‘shed[ding] elements of sophistication.’

Founded by Italian-Swiss immigrants the Delmonico brothers, Pietro and Giovanni, in 1837 – the restaurant was the first in the city to offer a la carte dining at a time when the only competition were cafes and inns serving British fare.

It was the first restaurant in the US to lay white table cloths and provide diners with printed menus – one side in English, the other French.

Business boomed and its reputation soon spread throughout the city, catering to Wall Street tycoons, the political elite and cultural luminaries.

In 1860, Delmonico’s laid on the supper at the grand ball welcoming Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later to be crowned King Edward VII, to the US.

Lorenzo Delmonico, the brothers’ nephew and responsible for the menu, used pink and white drapery to transform the venue at the Academy of Music into ‘exotic tents’.

Printed menus proudly displaying the Delmonico name offered ‘Filets de Boeuf’, ‘Salades de Homards,’ and ‘Glaces a la Vanille et Citron.’

The New York Times reported, ‘We may frankly say that we have never seen a public supper served in a more inapproachable fashion, with greater discretion, or upon a more luxurious scale.’

Business boomed and from 1865 to 1888 the brothers opened four more restaurants, including a palatial site on Fifth Avenue dubbed the Delmonico Building.

In 1905, Delmonico’s hosted Mark Twain’s 70th birthday dinner. The bash was attended by 170 guests with names like Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, Dorothy Canfield, and Twain’s nephew Samuel E. Moffett.

A 40-piece orchestra performed and a menu of champagne, oysters and ice cream was served.

Mick Jagger attends a party at Delmonico's in New York City on September 12, 1974

Mick Jagger attends a party at Delmonico’s in New York City on September 12, 1974

1890: High society guests dining at Delmonico's. The restaurant revolutionized American dining with a la carte French cuisine, white tablecloths and printed menus - becoming the first restaurant reviewed by the New York Times in 1859.

1890: High society guests dining at Delmonico’s. The restaurant revolutionized American dining with a la carte French cuisine, white tablecloths and printed menus – becoming the first restaurant reviewed by the New York Times in 1859.

1902: A ladies' luncheon at Delmonico's. Founded by Italian-Swiss immigrants the Delmonico brothers, Pietro and Giovanni, in 1837 - the restaurant was the first in the city to offer a la care dining at a time when the only competition were cafes and inns serving British fare.

1902: A ladies’ luncheon at Delmonico’s. Founded by Italian-Swiss immigrants the Delmonico brothers, Pietro and Giovanni, in 1837 – the restaurant was the first in the city to offer a la care dining at a time when the only competition were cafes and inns serving British fare.

Dinner menu from Delmonico's on April 18, 1899

Dinner menu from Delmonico’s on April 18, 1899

However, just two decades later Delmonico’s was forced to shutter its doors in 1923 – business strangled by the post-WWI recession and Prohibition era.

Two years later, Tuscan-born Oscar Tucci walked by the empty building and, peering inside, saw his American Dream.

Prohibition posed no problem for Tucci whose wife smuggled bootleg gin into the restaurant stashed under the blankets in the baby carriage of their son Mario.

Tucci ingenuously bypassed the alcohol ban by selling Delmonico dollars, a scrip which patrons could buy and then use to purchase drinks at the bar.

After prohibition ended in 1933, Tucci converted the site from speakeasy to fine dining, following in the tradition of the Delmonico brothers.

He refurbished the restaurant, brought back printed menus and had the brass rails of the bar polished twice a day.

Tucci believed in providing his diners with an experience and drilled into his staff a strict code of hospitality, discretion and etiquette.

‘The men who come here don’t air their problems,’ one bartender told a reporter. ‘They talk stocks. I keep my ears open to catch a good tip.’ 

A stream of celebrities and dignitaries including Elizabeth Taylor, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Eva Gabor, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor flooded through the doors.

Paparazzi were not to step foot inside and any staff members found speaking to reporters would be fired. 

Megastars like Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, and Elvis Presley flocked to the venue for this reason, dining out on oysters Rockefeller and ribeye Bordelaise at tables adorned with Lalique glassware and Cartier cigarette lighters.

The busy kitchen of Delmonico's as seen in 1902 wen the restaurant was 65 years old

The busy kitchen of Delmonico’s as seen in 1902 wen the restaurant was 65 years old

Cooks in the Delmonico's kitchen in 1902

Cooks in the Delmonico’s kitchen in 1902

Delmonico's on the corner of Fifth Avenue. Business boomed and from 1865 to 1888 the brothers expanded to four restaurants of the same name, including a palatial site on Fifth Avenue dubbed the Delmonico Building.

Delmonico’s on the corner of Fifth Avenue. Business boomed and from 1865 to 1888 the brothers expanded to four restaurants of the same name, including a palatial site on Fifth Avenue dubbed the Delmonico Building.

Celebrities felt so comfortable, in fact, that burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee once stripped off atop a table – covering her assets with a menu.

‘Few places outside of Hollywood have seen the glamour that Delmonico’s did in its heyday,’ Debbie Reynolds once reminisced. ‘I miss that time and I miss that place!’

In his book ‘The Delmonico Way’, Tucci’s grandson Max describes Cary Grant’s favorite tipple as dark rum, ruby port, applejack brandy, maple syrup, and bitters.

Governor Thomas Dewey’s stiffener was slug of Holland gin, mixed with sugar, bitters, and a twist of lemon.

By this time Tucci had taken over most of the flatiron building and created several dining rooms, each with its individual decor and ambience.

The space meant that famous faces could enjoy dinner in private suites, away from prying eyes and listening ears.

Hollywood heartthrob Rock Hudson was accommodated with his own apartment after becoming a regular in the 1950s.

‘Delmonico’s became his kitchen and his discreet boudoir,’ Max Tucci writes. ‘After a few cocktails, and some air kisses with other A-listers, Rock shed his inhibitions and headed to the penthouse.’

Denzel Washington attends the Broadway cast of "The Iceman Cometh" Press Photocall at Delmonico's on April 11, 2018 in New York City

Austin Butler attends the Broadway cast of "The Iceman Cometh" Press Photocall at Delmonico's on April 11, 2018 in New York City

Denzel Washington (left) and Austin Butler attending the Broadway cast of “The Iceman Cometh” press photocall at Delmonico’s on April 11, 2018 in New York City

Luke Evans, Dakota Fanning and Daniel Brhl attend the New York Premiere Of TNT's "The Alienist" - After Party at Delmonico's on January 16, 2018 in New York City

Luke Evans, Dakota Fanning and Daniel Brhl attend the New York Premiere Of TNT’s “The Alienist” – After Party at Delmonico’s on January 16, 2018 in New York City

The private apartment was equipped with a marble fireplace, dining room, kitchen, wet bar – and bedroom. Staff were warned ‘do not disturb’ when Hudson – and would be fired if they did.

While Hollywood stars flocked there for special occasions, it was the local crowd of Wall Street workers who were Delmonico’s stock and trade.

The restaurant served up to a thousand ‘power lunches’ every day, and a ticker was installed at one end of the bar with the tables closest to it reserved for the Street’s biggest sharks.

But the city was changing and with crime rates soaring in the 1980s, Tucci was looking for a way out.

‘By the 1980s, crack cocaine had taken hold around New York, murders were on the rise, and gangs were quickly forming,’ his grandson writes.

The family sold the business in 1987. 

Delmonico's was among eateries and bars across the country that were forced to close during the coronavirus lockdown. They have never reopened

Delmonico’s was among eateries and bars across the country that were forced to close during the coronavirus lockdown. They have never reopened

Some of Delmonico's legendary steaks seen in the fridge when the venue was open pre-2020

Some of Delmonico’s legendary steaks seen in the fridge when the venue was open pre-2020

The Delmonico steak made famous by the restaurant. The term is now used to refer to any thick-cut steak

The Delmonico steak made famous by the restaurant. The term is now used to refer to any thick-cut steak

After changing hands several times since then, the restaurant is now the subject of a legal dispute over its name and the use of the flatiron building at Beaver Street.  

The restaurant was closed throughout the pandemic, but a press release sent out earlier this month stated how the restaurant would return in the fall of 2023.

This claim was swiftly slapped down on Delmonico’s Instagram account which said: ‘It has come to our attention that former associates have been misrepresenting themselves to the media as owners of Delmonico’s.’

The disagreement centers on a legal ruling in spring 2021 in which brothers Ferdo and Omer Grgurev managed to secure full ownership of the location, but were barred from operating a Delmonico’s restaurant or any other restaurant within one mile until March 2023. 

Yet, the Grgurevs have stated that they also have still the right to still operate the restaurant under the Delmonico’s name. 

In the meantime, Dennis Turcinovic and Joseph Licul, who are involved in another restaurant, are now claiming to be the new owners of the property as of January 1, 2023, and are not involved in any ongoing lawsuit with the previous owners.

An Instagram post on Delmonico's Instagram account alleges the 'recent reports that we will re-open at 56 Beaver Street are false.'

An Instagram post on Delmonico’s Instagram account alleges the ‘recent reports that we will re-open at 56 Beaver Street are false.’

The restaurant at 56 Beaver Street has served as the 're-dressed' exterior of The Continental Hotel in the John Wick movie series. Keanu Reeves is pictured, above

The restaurant at 56 Beaver Street has served as the ‘re-dressed’ exterior of The Continental Hotel in the John Wick movie series. Keanu Reeves is pictured, above

A representative for Turcinovic told Eater how he and Licul signed a new 15-year lease with Time Equities and deny any claims that might suggest they are not the legitimate owners. 

They have announced plans to remove any website that suggests otherwise and are planning to launch new websites if the issue is not resolved.

But the Grgurev brothers state it is they who have the right to operate the restaurant under the Delmonico’s name with others barred from operating any Delmonico’s or another restaurant within one mile until March of this year.  

In April 2022, the landlord, Time Equities, attempted to evict the restaurant, under the Grgurev family’s management, for alleged non-payment of almost $300,000 in rent and fees. 

The Grgurev family denied the eviction claim and stated it was related to the landlord’s delay in repairing water damage in the building from Hurricane Ida in 2021.

By December 2022, the lease expired and the landlord did not renew it, Time Equities then signed the deal with Turcinovic and Licul, Grgurev’s former partners.  

Michelle Grgurev, the daughter of Omer Grgurev, now says her family believes the landlord intentionally allowed the lease to expire so that it could be reissued to new tenants. 

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