Food Then: Grand Central Terminal/Bryant Park

The area of Midtown East, which can be accessed either by stopping at the Bryant Park or Grand Central Terminal transit points, has always been laden with activity. It is a tourist hotspot for its many attractions, including numerous restaurants. During the Great Depression Era, the 1930s, some restaurants managed to stay alive. Some of the notable Midtown East, Depression Era restaurants include Manny Wolf’s Chop House, Janssen Graybar Hofbrau, and the Oyster Bar (Grand Central Terminal Restuarant).


Manny Wolf’s Chop House

Manny Wolfs 49th Street Chop House was a two-story building located on 3rd Avenue and 49th Street that once served as a buggy whip factory in the 1800s. The Berman-Schleifer family, who owned numerous restaurants and concessions in New York City, owned the steakhouse originally, which they opened in 1897. The restaurant offered cocktail hour, lunch, dinner, and late supper meals of selected food, wines, and liquors. Though it wasn’t the first, the restaurant featured air conditioning, white table cloths, and soundproofed walls. It offered enormous portions of exquisite food at moderate to more-than-moderate prices.

          It was very popular with hearty eaters who enjoyed excellent food with little excessive style infused. Marilyn Monroe frequented the restaurant when she was in New York. The noisy, crowded atmosphere also attracted those looking for a night out, offering dancing after ten o’clock in the evening 1. Manny’s Chop House upheld high standards until its decline and close in the mid-1970s. The building itself deteriorated increasingly until the winter of 1976 when restauranteur Alan Stillman purchased the historic building and restored it to its former glory. It opened as another white-tablecloth restaurant in the winter of the following year as the first Smith & Wollensky 2 .


Janssen Graybar Hofbrau


Janssen Graybar Hofbrau, also known as The Famous Janssen Hofbrau, 5 was first constructed in 1898 at 1214 Broadway Ave. on the corner of 30th street. 6  Founded by August Janssen, this high-class restaurant was originally known as Hofbrau Haus; this name derived from the German term Hofbrau, which refers to a “royal court brewery,” and Haus, which means house. 7  Hofbrau Haus served gourmet German-American cuisine at, what were then, expensive prices.  No menus exist from the 1930s, but even in 1957, the restaurant’s prices were high. In a menu obtained and transcribed by the New York Public Library, the most expensive item on the menu from 1957 was Roast Prime Ribs of Beef au jus at $4.95.  A Lobster Cocktail was $2, Smoked eel was $0.80, and a bottle of champagne was $1.  For full transcriptions and more images of the menu, check out this link.

Janssen, a real-estate mogul, advertised his restaurant with the famous slogan, “Janssen Wants to See You!” 9  This popular slogan drew in a flurry of customers—mostly wealthy individuals in the area.   One of the diners included wealthy British socialite Nicky Haslam, an elite interior designer. 10  In an article Haslam wrote for Daily Mail, 11 he notes that Janssen’s was a popular destination for his crowd of socialites.

After Janssen handed down Janssen Graybar Hofbrau to his son, August Janssen Jr., the restaurant moved to the Graybar Building in 1938, located at 420 Lexington Ave. on the corner of 44th street.  Today, the German restaurant has been reconstructed and turned into an office space. 12

Grand Central Terminal/Oyster Bay

The Grand Central Terminal Restaurant, also referred to as the Oyster Bar, first opened in 1913 on the lower level of the Grand Central Terminal at 89 East 42nd Street. It was a convenient restaurant option for individuals traveling to and from New York City via train or individuals simply in the Midtown East area. Raphael Gustavino designed the Oyster Bay. He decided to use “arched and vanted ceilings covered in terracotta tiles.” 13

[caption id="attachment_1994" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="A snapshot of The Oyster Bar in the past 14"]The restaurant was famed not for its food in particular, which included a variety of seafood, but for its convenience for travelers. Its prime location in the heart of a busy train terminal allowed the restaurant to flourish because of a constant customer stream. It quickly became a busy lunch spot, attracting a large group of “well-heeled travelers and Midtown workers alike.” 15

The restaurant satisfied the “oyster bars, stands, shacks, and cellars…obsession in New York, [and] right at the heyday of long distance travel, so it was a smart combo.” 16  The 20th century menu included fried clams, oyster pan roast, crab meat lump cocktail chopped chicken liver canape, and fresh salmon steak with a cucumber salad. 17

An old menu for the Oyster Bar18

The Oyster Bar faced a significant decline in the middle of the 20th century due to a decline in train travellers through Grand Central Terminal. The restaurant went bankrupt in 1972 and remained unoccupied for two years before restaurateur Jerome Brody bought and revived the establishment.

Page Contributors: Stephanie, Michelle, Megan


  1. Federal Writer’s Project (NY). New York City Guide. New York: Random House,1939. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <>.
  2. Colameco, Mike. Mike Colameco’s Food Lover’s Guide to NYC: An Insider’s Guide to New York City’s Gastronomic Delights. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2009. Print. “Smith & Wollensky”. page 289.
  3. “Manny Wolf’s Chop House.” New York Public Library. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <>. Menu from August 22, 1941.
  4. "The Famous Janssen Hofbrau." New York Public Library. N.p., 1 Oct. 1957. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <>."”
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    Web. 26 Apr. 2012. <
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  11. Peretz, Evgenia. “Truly, Madly, Nicky.” Vanity Fair. N.p., Sept. 2008. Web. 23
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  13. Kludt, Amanda. “Andrew Tarlow’s Reynards, Now Open in Williamsburg.” Eater NY. 21 Sept. 2011. Web. 02 May 2012. <>.
  14. "The Grand Central Oyster Bar." Eater NY. Web. 05 May 2012..”
  15. Kludt, Amanda. “Andrew Tarlow’s Reynards, Now Open in Williamsburg.” Eater NY. 21 Sept. 2011. Web. 02 May 2012. <>.
  16. Kludt, Amanda. “12 Killer New Duck Dishes in NYC.” Eater NY. 21 Sept. 2011. Web. 02 May 2012. <>.
  17. “Grand Central Terminal Restaura …” – What’s on the Menu? Help Transcribe The New York Public Library’s Historical Menu Collection. Web. 05 May 2012. <>.
  18. "Grand Central Terminal Restaura …" – What's on the Menu? Help Transcribe The New York Public Library's Historical Menu Collection. Web. 05 May 2012. <>.”