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.
Some of the best restaurants in the city are those in which a lady is never seen. It must not be supposed that they are disreputable places. They are entirely the opposite. They are located in the lower part of the city, often in some by-street of the heavy business section, and are patronized chiefly by merchants and clerks, who come here to get lunch and dinner. The fare is excellent, and the prices are reasonable. The eating houses of Henry Bode, in Water street, near Wall street, Rudolph in Broadway, near Courtlandt street, and Nash & Fuller (late Crook, Fox & Nash), in Park Row, are the best of this kind. In the last there is a department for ladies.
Between the hours of noon and three o'clock, the down-town restaurants are generally crowded with a hungry throng. In some of them every seat at the long counters and at the tables is filled, and the floor is crowded with men standing and eating from plates which they hold in their hands. The noise, the bustle, the clatter of knives and dishes, the slamming of doors, and the cries of the waiters as they shout out the orders of the guests, are deafening. The waiters move about with a celerity that is astonishing; food is served and eaten with a dispatch peculiar to these places. A constant stream of men is pouring out of the doors, and as steady a stream flowing in to take their places. At some of the largest of these establishments as many as fifteen hundred people are supplied with food during the course of the day. A well patronized restaurant is very profitable in New York, even if its prices are moderate, and the higher priced establishments make their proprietors rich in a comparatively short time. The proprietor of a Broadway oyster saloon made a fortune of $150,000 by his legitimate business in five years. A large part of the income of the restaurants is derived from the sale of liquors at the bar.
The principal up-town restaurants are largely patronized by disreputable people. Impure women go there to pick up customers, and men to find such companions. Women whose social position is good, do not hesitate to meet their lovers at such places, for there is a great deal of truth in the old adage which tells us that "there's no place so private as a crowded hall." A quiet but close observer will frequently see a nod, or a smile, or a meaning glance pass between the most respectable looking persons of opposite sexes, who are seemingly strangers to each other, and will sometimes see a note slyly sent by a waiter, or dropped adroitly into the hand of the woman as the man passes out, while her face wears the demurest and most rigidly virtuous expression. Such women frequent some of the best known up-town establishments to so great an extent that a lady entering one of them is apt to be insulted in this way by the male habitues of the place. These wretches hold all women to be alike, and act upon this belief.