16 October 2007

The Trouble With Zagat's

OK, there are a lot a problems with Zagat's. But what really gets me about their New York restaurant guide is the special feature at the back that lists "Historic Places." One would think that this enumeration would contain only the oldest, longest-lived restaurants in Gotham. But a parenthetical under the title reads "(Year opened; *building)."

That means that a lot of the places on this list, the ones with asterisks like Fresh and the Comfort Diner, are on it simply because they're located in an old building. WTF is that about? New York is full of old buildings. You can't include every Tom, Dick, and Harry's just because they pay rent at some ancient brick Tribeca walk-up. Diners will be consulting this list to find out where in they can feast not only on food but New York history. They can do this at Keens and Katz's. They can't do it at Heartland Brewery, despite the fact that one of the mini-chain's locations rests in a 1812 building. One If By Land, Two If By Sea has every right to be proud that it is 35 years old, but has no right to the claim of second oldest restaurant in the City after the Fraunces Tavern, just because they're the latest tenant in a carriage house once owned by Aaron Burr.

The list is confusing in another way. Such restaurants as John's on 12th Street and Carnegie Deli certainly belong on this roster. But Zagat's has both lined up not with the year they were founded, but with the year their buildings were erected. John's was opened in 1908; Zagat's lists it next to the year 1890. Likewise, the Carnegie was founded in 1937, not the 1899 listed in the guide.

My guess is Zagat's used to list only the oldest restaurant in NYC. But then some other eateries, housed in old structures, and hoping to cash in on some tourist dollars, called up whining, "Hey, we're old too! Kinda." However it happened, the list is utterly useless in its present form.


Anonymous said...

agreed. they should split it into 2 separate lists.

Francis Morrone said...

Useless indeed. What's more, for Fraunces Tavern they say 1762, which was the year Samuel Fraunces opened his restaurant in a house that had been built in 1719 and which is now a 1907 conjectural reconstruction of the 1719 house. Useless and weird. Also, we need much better New York restaurant history than we have.

Anonymous said...

Technically, the list is correct. The list is titled "Historic Places", not "Historic Restaurants". And the list indeed gives a list of restaurants located in historical places. In fact, the only problem with the list is that Fraunces Tavern shouldn't be on it, and that is arguable since at least the location is a historical place.

The problem with the list is that no one cares about a list of restaurants in historic buildings, so the reader's mind elides "Historic Places" into "Historic Restaurants". And the editors doubtless know this. The language needs a word for this sort of thing.

A list of historical restaurants would be a useful feature in a restaurant guide.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Ed: Good point. It does say Historic Places. But you're also right in saying when Zagat readers see "Historic Places" they think "Historic Restaurants."