New York is said to contain between five and six thousand restaurants. These are of every kind and description known to man, from Delmonico’s down to the Fulton Market stands. A very large number of persons live altogether at these places. They are those who cannot afford the expense of a hotel, and who will not endure a boarding-house. They rent rooms in convenient or inconvenient locations, and take their meals at the restaurants. At many nominally reputable establishments the fare is infamous, but as a rule New York is far ahead of any American city with respect to the character and capabilities of its eating-houses.
The better class restaurants lie along Broadway and Fifth avenue. The other longitudinal streets are well supplied with establishments of all kinds, and in the Bowery are to be found houses in which the fare is prepared and served entirely in accordance with German ideas. In other parts of the city are to be found Italian, French, and Spanish restaurants, and English chop houses.
The fashionable restaurants lie chiefly above Fourteenth, and entirely above Canal street. Delmonico’s, at the northeast corner of Fourteenth street and the Fifth avenue, is the best known. It is a very extensive establishment, is fitted up in elegant style, and is equal to any eating-house in the world. The prices are very high. A modest dinner, without wine, for two persons, will cost here from four to five dollars. The fare is good, however. The house enjoys a large custom, and every visitor to New York who can afford it, takes a meal here before leaving the city. Delmonico is said to be very rich.
A young man, to whom the ways of the house were unknown, once took his sweetheart to lunch at this famous place. His purse was light, and when he came to scan the bill of fare, and note the large sums affixed to each item, his heart sank within him, and he waited in silent agony to hear his fair companion make her selection. After due consideration, she ordered a woodcock. Now woodcocks are expensive luxuries at Delmonico’s, and the cost of one such bird represented more than the total contents of the lover’s purse. He was in despair, but a lucky thought occurred to him. Turning to the lady, he asked with an air of profound astonishment:
“Do you think you can eat a whole woodcock?”
“How large is it?” asked the fair one, timidly.
“About as large as a full grown turkey” was the grave reply.
“O, I’ll take an oyster stew,” said the lady, quickly.
The fashionable restaurants make large profits on their sales. Their customers are chiefly ladies, and men who have nothing to do. Their busiest hours are the early afternoon, and during the evening. After the theatres are closed, they are thronged with parties of ladies and gentlemen who come in for supper.
From: “Lights and Shadows of New York life; or, the sights and sensations of a great city.” by James D. Mccabe, Jr