Beaver Street, William Street & South William Street

1 Mar

All right, there are a lot of corners in this city. I’m speaking factually, and to prove it I’m gonna point to the dictionary’s definition of a corner as, 1. “the place where two roads or streets join or intersect.” You dig? That’s pretty clear-cut and objective. Less so is number 2. “a remote, secluded, or secret place.” But sure, we got a lot of those kinds too, although by nature you won’t find them labeled on a map. Now when a corner number 1 is also a corner number 2, as is sometimes the case, well yeah, that makes for something special. You might also put it this way, there are corners and then there are corners. It’s nice to seek those kind out. Phew, who knew that I was a closest scientist, using things like numbers and syllogisms with such facility? I’m gonna suggest you throw in definition number 3 here too, “a threatening or embarrassing position from which escape is difficult,” because you know, it’s important to not have your shit together all the time. Corner yourself, in the number 3 sense, on corners 1 and 2 and you’re the Triple Crown winner of a pretty good day. I’m saying get a little frantic people! Or don’t, whatever, or wait for proper springtime if you need to.

Beaver, William, and S. William Street meet at a five-spoked intersection, just below Wall Street. It makes for a lot of acute angles, and yeah, it’s one of these multi-definition spots I’ve been talking about. It’s way downtown, on New Amsterdam’s original street plan, and as such it’s almost always in shadow. That wouldn’t have been the case for most of New York’s history though, when church towers were the tallest structures in Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Bridge’s towers some of the tallest structures in the Western Hemisphere. It certainly wouldn’t have been the case when Delmonico’s Restaurant opened here, at its 56 Beaver St. location, in 1837. Delmonico’s had been around ten years prior to that, in some capacity, located up the street in a rented pastry shop; they rebuilt on this spot after The Fire of 1835. To show that they were serious about fine dining, they had the columns flanking the entrance brought in from the ruins of Pompeii. Or at least that’s what they told people, which got the trick done just the same.

Delmonico’s is considered probably the first fine dining establishment in the United States. It allowed people the novelty of sitting at their own table and choosing their food from a menu, as opposed to eating table d’hote style – everyone squeezed together and basically all having the same thing, whatever the cook was making that day. The restaurant was founded by two Swiss brothers, and at first Americans were wary of what struck them as a very French fashion. Most of their initial popularity lay with European visitors and ex-pats. But the place took off soon enough, and by the later half of the century it had expanded to four restaurants of the same name at various locations in the city. They moved north as the rich did, making it all the way to 5th Avenue and 44th Street. Then prohibition came along in the 1920s and I guess the lack of booze sales shut the whole shebang down. They closed for good in 1923.

So the Delmonico’s we see today is not the same establishment — the moniker’s just been resurrected by a new restaurant group. Still, the building is the original, and some big names have eaten here throughout the years. You got your heavy hitting J.P. Morgans and what-not, Edward VII, when he was still the Prince of Wales, but there were some literary folk as well hanging around from time to time. Mark Twain was a regular, when he was in town, and Charles Dickens too, although his characters don’t ever seem to be eating anywhere quite so nice, or even eating anywhere that has a menu. Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale (remember her?) used to eat here after every opera performance. And holy shit, Napoleon III would come here too, back when he was only Charles Louis. That puts me in a great mood, to be able to mention Napoleon III again so soon. You know what else puts me in a great mood? No seriously, I’m asking you. What else? Come on, just name one thing. Really, just name anything. I’ll bet you I can get excited about it. Or wait, even better, dare me to eat something. Honestly, anything, you bring it to me and I’ll eat it. Just feed me. Get me to spin around in circles. I’ll pay it back somehow; I’ll find the means. Or here it is, just like Mrs. Dalloway says, “one must pay back from this secret deposit of exquisite moments.” So there’s my capital, exquisite moments. That’s really wonderful. That seems so nice.  It’s running, running, running, running, running, running, stop. And then again.

(Originally posted Feb. 13th, 2009 on Takethehandle.com)

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