Here’s a choice cut of classic movie scenes from quintessential NYC eateries – all still open and ready to take your order.
New York City restaurants are transient enterprises, but movies preserve them in their glory before they disappear: My Dinner With Andre (1981), for example, immortalized Café des Artistes, which closed in 2009. Great restaurants have sometimes been memorialized through a production designer’s artful re-creation: Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) re-created the Algonquin Hotel’s Round Table Restaurant handsomely in Montreal, while Carol (2015) caught the precise atmosphere of the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room on its Cincinnati set. The following seven restaurants in NYC – all of which you know from the movies – are still standing and waiting to feed you.
Katz’s Delicatessen in ‘When Harry Met Sally…’ (1989)
Home of “legendary” pastrami and matzo-ball soup, Katz’s – which opened as Iceland Brothers in 1888 – is the New York restaurant most likely to be visited by romcom-loving tourists. The Lower East Side deli owes that honor to the spectacular fake orgasm performed by Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) in Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally…, scripted by Nora Ephron. Sally does it for the benefit of her friend Harry Burns (Billy Crystal), who claims no woman he’s slept with has needed to feign ecstasy. The scene was made extra famous by the punchline deadpanned by the woman (Estelle Reiner, the director’s mother) at the next table: “I’ll have what she’s having.” A sign hanging above the table where Ryan and Crystal were filmed says: “Where Harry met Sally … Hope you have what she had! Enjoy!”
Go there: Katz’s Delicatessen, 205 East Houston Street, New York, New York 10002. +12122542246.
Order: What she had.
Sylvia’s Restaurant in ‘Jungle Fever’ (1991)
In Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, everyday racism threatens the love affair between the married Harlem architect Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes) and the Italian-American temp Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra). Angie’s dad whips her with a belt when he discovers she’s seeing an African American man. When Flipper takes Angie to Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem, a waitress (scene-stealing Queen Latifah) ignores them for 30 minutes. She eventually tells Flipper: “Fake, tired brothers like you comin’ in here – that’s so typical. I can’t believe you brought her stringy-hair ass up here to eat.” Sylvia Wood (1926-2012), the ‘Queen of Soul Food,’ founded her famous restaurant in 1962. In May 2014, the corner of 126th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard was named Sylvia P. Woods Way to honor Woods’s contribution to Harlem.
Go there: Sylvia’s Restaurant of Harlem, 328 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, New York 10027. +12129660660.
Order: Barbecue rib special, peach cobbler.
Founded in 1962 by Sylvia Woods, Sylvia’s in Harlem is New York City’s best-known soul food restaurant. Seating around 450 people in its multiple dining rooms, it delights patrons with such specialties as pork and beef ribs, fried chicken, catfish, collard greens, cornbread, smoked ham rocks and pie. Sunday’s Gospel Brunch (11am to 4pm) is not to be missed.
Smith & Wollensky in ‘American Psycho’ (2000)
Serial killer and investment banker Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) dines at some of the late ’80s’ most fashionable Manhattan restaurants in Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel – and he name-drops plenty more. Many of them have gone – Arcadia was replaced by Amaranth, Espace by Steak Frites, and so on. Still successful is the old-fashioned macho steakhouse Smith & Wollensky, where Bateman and an investigator (Willem Dafoe) lunch on dry-aged USDA prime steaks. It’s fitting that a premier steakhouse should be favored by Bateman, given his penchant for butchery.
Go there: Smith & Wollensky, 797 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10022. +12127531530.
Order: Big, charred steaks (and ask for the impressive wine list).
This classy steakhouse, famous for its cellar, specializes in the juiciest USDA Prime dry-aged steaks, but the lamb, poultry and premier seafood are also top-notch. Favored sides include creamed spinach, hash browns and seasonal vegetables. Don’t leave without trying the decadent desserts.
Lenny’s Pizza in ‘Saturday Night Fever’ (1977)
In the opening credit sequence of John Badham’s landmark musical drama, Tony Manero (John Travolta) swaggers along 86th Street in Bensonhurst and up to the street-side serving hatch of Lenny’s Pizza, which opened in 1953. “Hiya Tony, two or three?” says the server as the camera cranes down past the store’s pink and blue neon sign. “Two, two, give me two, that’s good,” Tony tells her. He receives the crusty-looking slices stacked and munches them as he struts away – an authentic New York move. Thus a star was born. Lenny’s maintains its “street” vibe to this day.
Go there: Lenny’s Pizzeria, 1969 86th Street, New York, NY 11214. +17189461292.
Order: The 18-inch (46-centimeter) round cheese pizza. Double-decker slices are mandatory.
John Travolta brought attention to this durable Bensonhurst pizzeria when he munched a double-decker slice at the start of Saturday Night Fever. As well as specialty pizzas like the whole-wheat margarita with grilled vegetables, the caprese square and the spicy buffalo chicken pie, Lenny’s serves excellent calzones, salads, hot heroes, whole-wheat wraps, pasta dishes and Philly beef/chicken steaks. Service and delivery are fast and reliable.
‘21’ Club in ‘Sweet Smell of Success’ (1957)
The club “21” opened as a speakeasy in 1930. It survived Prohibition-era raids to become a restaurant catering to the rich and powerful, though its warm, relaxed atmosphere these days suits big feasters of all stripes, including couples headed for the romantic “Upstairs” room. The 33 colorfully painted iron lawn jockeys that decorate the exterior – two more stand inside – preserve its sporty look. The eatery appears in such films as All About Eve (1950), Written on the Wind (1956), Wall Street (1987) and Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). In Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success, the monstrous newspaper columnist JJ Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) twice wrangles at “21” with his oily press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis), whom Hunsecker has charged with breaking up his sister’s romance with a jazz musician. “21” serves traditional American cuisine. JJ serves strychnine.
Go there: “21” Club, 21 West 52nd Street, New York, New York 10019. +12125827200.
Order: The 21 hamburger, Bailey’s New York cheesecake.
The former Prohibition-era speakeasy is great for power lunches, but you don’t have to be a mover or a shaker to enjoy the American traditional cuisine and the old-fashioned decor. Favorites include the 21 Burger, filet mignon, the mixed grill and creamy chicken hash. As for the desserts, you can’t go wrong with the banana foster, baked Alaska or Bailey’s New York cheesecake. Couples opt for the romantic Upstairs or one of the 10 private dining rooms.
The Nom Wah Tea Parlor in ‘Reversal of Fortune’ (1990)
Nom Wah started as a bakery and tea parlor in 1920 and became a Chinatown favorite thanks to its fresh Chinese pastries, steamed buns, dim sum and, of course, tea. Dim sum is the reason to eat there now, and the spot’s faded look exerts a pleasingly vintage vibe. It’s hosted scenes from All Good Things (2010), Premium Rush (2012) and Reversal of Fortune, in which Nom Wah stands in for a suburban equivalent. Barbet Schroeder’s legal drama depicts the struggle of Claus von Bülow (Jeremy Irons) to overturn his 1979 conviction for the attempted murder of his heiress wife Sunny (Glenn Close). Lunching at Nom Wah with his attorney Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) and others, the fastidious socialite is miffed when the ginger prawns disappear before he can grab one, so he orders his own plate of them.
Go there: The Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street, New York, New York 10013. +12123926800.
Order: Shanghainese soup dumplings.
Originally opened as a bakery and tea parlor in 1920, Nom Wah in Chinatown is New York City’s oldest Chinese restaurant. It’s famous for its Old World charm and, above all, its dim sum. Try the pork buns, the Shanghainese soup dumplings, the shrimp and snow pea leaf dumplings, and the sticky rice with Chinese sausage.
The Russian Tea Room in ‘Tootsie’ (1982)
Founded by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1927, this NYC staple occupied the north side of West 57th Street until 1929 when it slid south to its current berth at number 150. Visitors to the opulent Old World-style restaurant can still take the booth where Tootsie’s Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman), dressed in drag, ambushes his agent George Fields (played by Sydney Pollack, the comedy’s director). Having told Michael he wouldn’t get any more parts, George is shocked to learn that “Dorothy Michaels,” Michael’s new persona, has gotten a soap role. Tootsie is dated seen through the lens of 2018, but it’s still fun. The restaurant itself is a tourist favorite that luxuriates in its over-the-top modernist Russian decor.
Go there: The Russian Tea Room, 150 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019. +12125817100.
Order: Traditional Tea Room red borscht.
With its red booths, antique samovars, gilded-bird friezes and rarefied Old World atmosphere, the Russian Tea Room offers one of the most exquisite dining experiences in New York City. The modern continental cuisine boasts bold dishes like cocoa-dusted, seared venison. Traditionalists may opt for the red borscht, the blintzes, the beef stroganoff or the chicken Kiev, all excellent. The afternoon tea has a set menu.
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