Special Report

The Oldest Restaurants in America

The restaurant business is a tough one, and it’s no surprise that restaurants come and go with some regularity. Statistics on restaurant failure rates vary widely. One estimate suggests that up to 90% of independent eating places close within their first year of operation.  

These dire statistics have been challenged. The first-year closing rate might actually be as low as 17%, according to research reported in an article in Forbes called “No, Most Restaurants Don’t Fail in the First Year.” But that doesn’t alter the fact that, no matter how good they are, or how successful they have been, restaurants have a finite lifespan. 

Unmanageable rent increases, changes in customer demographics or consumer tastes, fires or the effects of natural disasters, and the deaths and divorces (or simply retirement) of owners are among the many reasons that even thriving eating places fail. These, for instance, are the saddest restaurant closings of 2019.

When we encounter a restaurant, then, that has been around for 50 years, or a century, or even longer, it’s impressive. They must be doing something right.

Not counting coffeehouses, bars, and hotel dining rooms serving table d’hôte meals (those with limited choice served to guests at a fixed price and time), the first real restaurant in America was almost certainly Delmonico’s in New York City, first opened as a pastry shop in 1827 and expanded into a full-scale restaurant on the French model three years later.

24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of 18 restaurants around America that opened after Delmonico’s started doing business and that, as far as contemporary research can determine, were concerned with food as well as drink from the beginning, even if they opened as taverns or saloons. 

Most of these venerable establishments have gone through many changes over the decades. Menus have evolved, owners have come and gone, locations have shifted; sometimes they’ve even been destroyed and rebuilt or closed down for years before being revived. Bearing all this in mind, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a definitive list of the country’s oldest eating places. Nonetheless, the restaurants here are certainly among the oldest, and all have some real connection to their origins. 

One place that is not on this list, however, is Delmonico’s itself. Though there is a restaurant of that name operating today near the original location in downtown Manhattan, it has only the most tenuous relationship to its early-19th-century namesake. An offshoot of the first restaurant, which was opened in 1897 on Fifth Avenue at 44th Street and went out of business in 1923, is considered to have been the last Delmonico’s with any direct link to the original. 

Click here to see the oldest restaurants in America
Click here to read our methodology

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