New York’s Sherry’s Restaurant: Manhattan’s French-Inspired Society Cafe of the Gay Nineties

Louis Sherry, who was born in St. Albans, Vermont in 1856, allowed people to think that he was French, believing that it would give him a more substantial background for the restaurant business he was about to open. The year was 1880 and Louis was a mere waiter at the Hotel Elberon in Elberon, New Jersey, but he was soon asked to supervise the kitchen of the exclusive resort. While he worked there he met many socially prominent people who assured him that if he ever opened a restaurant they would certainly patronize it. That promise, and the $1300 he had saved, were the foundation of the restaurant he started at Sixth Avenue and Thirty-Eighth Street in New York City in 1881.

New York Society

The restaurant was successful and Sherry slowly made many more acquaintances among the wealthy and socially prominent New Yorkers. Names like Goelet, Morgan, Astor, Aldrich,Stuyvesant Fish, James Burden, Ward McAllister and others flocked to his watering hole and became the principal customers of Sherry’s. In 1890 Louis purchased a private mansion at Fifth Avenue and Thirty-Seventh Street and made it into a most elegant , upscale restaurant which flourished for eight years. He was then able to afford the services of the famous architect Stanford White, who drew up plans for a twelve-storey building at Fifth Avenue and Forty-Fourth Street.

Famous Horseback Dinner

In this new building in 1903, C.K.G.Billings, milllionaire Chicago utility czar, gave the most ridiculous dinner ever recorded. The room that was used was one of the restaurant’s ballrooms, which was decorated as a garden, with sod on the floor, a huge harvest moon hanging from the ceiling and real birds singing and doing what birds do best. There were thirty-six men at this dinner…all on horseback..Every man had a tray attached to the horse and a rubber tube connected to champagne in their saddlebags. This event made a terrific splash in the upper echelons of society and was talked about for years thereafter.

Fancy Dress Ball

1905 found the largest ballroom in the building being turned intoa facsimile of the Court of Louis XVI at Versailles. The famous actress Rejane recited Racine and rose petals were strewn about the floor. James Hazen Hyde was said to have spent approximately $200,000 on the ball, which enraged the ‘ordinary people’ of New York. However, they were apparently mollified when the final totel of $50,000 to $100,000 was announced.

Those were the days in old New York and we shall not see their likes again. In 1919 Sherry left the restaurant business and concentrated on manufacturing confectionary and fancy jams and confitures.

He passed away in 1926.