Did you know the Flatiron Building used to have a massive restaurant in the basement?

February 22, 2018

New York’s iconic Flatiron building, built in 1902, gets plenty of attention for its distinctive, triangular design. But the massive restaurant that operated out of the landmark’s basement–known as The Flat Iron Restaurant and Cafe–has seemingly been lost to the ages. The basement restaurant allegedly could seat up to 1,500 guests. And by 1906, Madison Square had transformed from a desirable residential neighborhood for the city’s elite, as it had been in the Gilded Age, to a bustling commercial hub. The lengthy menu reflects that, with offerings that include affordable dishes of shellfish, meats, and sandwiches.

The Flatiron Restaurant and Cafe’s menu in 1906, courtesy of the Buttolph Collection, Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library

The Flat Iron Restaurant and Cafe was the earliest commercial tenant in the building alongside United Cigar Stores, which occupied a space on the first floor. The Flatiron’s basement offered plenty of space for the restaurant–it extended into the vaults that went more than 20 feet under the surrounding streets. There was more than enough seating to accommodate local workers for breakfast and lunch, and those taking in a performance at one of the many theaters which lined Broadway for a late supper.

The 1907 menu, courtesy of the New York Public Library

The original menu includes oysters and clams, relishes, soups, fish, shellfish, and roasts. (If you look hard, you can find clear green turtle in a cup, eels in jelly, and breaded calf brains, too.) A later lunch menu from 1920 includes specials like bratwurst, sweetbread, and a whole partridge. Soon after the opening, the restaurant added a club, one of the first of its kind that allowed a black Jazz band to perform. The space is credited for helping introduce ragtime to affluent New Yorkers.

The restaurant even sold souvenir beer steins with an image of the building on one side and an image of a woman with her skirts swirling in the wind, because the building was known for the wind that billowed past it. It’s unclear, however, when the restaurant closed. Now the sprawling basement space is no longer open to the public.

The Flatiron Building in 1909, via Wiki Commons

To relive the pastime of the Flatiron Restaurant, you can peruse the full four-page Flat Iron menu, digitized by the New York Public Library, right here.


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