28 January 2010

Guffanti's Restaurant: Only One Meal, But a Great One

And so someone wrote in and asked "Do you know when Guffanti's on 7th Ave and 26th Street closed?  My aunt owned and ran it after her husband died. She was pretty old by then herself.  She died in 1971, and I seem to remember it was going to be sold because there wasn't any one left that could run it."

And I thought, "Guffanti's what, now?" I knew nothing about a place with such a name. So, I looked into it. 

First of all, there was a Guffanti's. And it was well known. It was founded in 1892 was described in 1930 "the most famous Italian restaurant in all of New York." 274 Seventh Avenue was the address. The New York Times wrote about it an awful lot. It was run by Joe Guffanti, from Lake Como. In 1900, he was described as owning a "small establishment for the dispensing of food and drink," but those circumstances must have changed, because the pictures I have seen of Guffanti's interior show a quite spacious, elegant place. The original had a saloon up front and the dining area in back and the whole place was "dingy and dark." The food, however, was renowed and "unique, for nobody else knows how to concoct the strange dishes that are prepared there, and Joe never loans out his receipts for cookery."

Joe seems to have been an exacting, fussy man. There was an exact hour for lunch and an exact hour for dinner. Food was served at no other times. There were only six to eight tables, and in the center of the dining room were two pool tables! Otherwise, the room was unadorned and the furniture in bad repair. The clientele was mainly Italian, but also included businessmen, reporters, detectives and actors, including John Barrymore, Al Smith, Lillian Russell, Diamond Jim Brady and John Philip Sousa. A party was once thrown here attended by a high-school-age Ira Gershwin. Guffanti's seems to have been my kind of place.

Things had changed by 1920. An account of that year mentioned that Guffanti's was no longer "modest" but "a thing of sports and automobiles and six courses." Dishes were still "delicious," but "judgment in quantity as well as quality was [not] in evidence." There was "a heaping platter of the best spaghetti that ever was, enriched by a red sauce that cannot be surpassed in Italy itself." The writer said it was a mixture of "tomato paste, chicken livers, peppers green and red, onions, oil, lemon and spices." Hm. Sounds great.

In 1904, Joe Guffanti built Guffanti's Inn on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn (above). He sold the original Guffanti's in 1924 to concentrate his efforts on the Inn. He apparently did not think much of Prohibition; the Feds raided the Inn in 1924 and found $50,000 worth of booze. Joe's wife Mary died in 1915, and he remarried. His son moved to Bermuda and his daughter became a nun. Guffanti died in 1929.

Domenick Caserio, a former busboy from Turin, married Guffanti's niece Mollie Lomasney in 1908. He became the owner of the Manhattan restaurant in 1935; Guffanti must have sold it to him. In 1948, the place was still going strong. Noted gourmand Lawton Mackall wrote "Such spaciousness! Such fanciness! Such old-time substantiality! One dozen large oil-painted panels of views of Italy are still tops in their class...This place made history by serving the same meal seven days a week, year after year; assorted appetizers and long bread sticks, soup in tureen, spaghetti, choice of broiled chicken or filet mignon, green salad, dessert, coffee. Now there are choices at various prices, all in excess of the 85 cents I paid at my Guffanti initiation, I'm not saying how many years ago."

I think I would have liked the old Guffanti's better than the modern one.

Caserio died in 1952. After that, his sons Edmund and Robert Caserio took over with their mother. 

Chelsea Centro rests now where Guffanti's was.

So I found out a lot. But I did not find out when Guffanti's finally closed. Does anyone know?


Ken Mac said...

the Ocean Parkway shot is priceless

Toronto Chinese Restaurant said...

Nice Photo


Not listed in my 1965 Hart's NYC Restaurant and Dining Guide. Check with Bonnie Slotnick on W. 10th Street off of 7th Ave So in her cookbook shop -- she will know. She is a historian of NY restaurants, but you probably know that already...

sue said...

It is not listed in the 1964 Hart's Guide to New York City Dining and Entertainment.

Anonymous said...

Best guess from family members is it closed about 1962. Can anyone check guides from the early 60's?

Bill Kelly said...

1962 sounds good.My family lived on 24th near 9th Ave. We ate there very often until I moved in 1960 because ILGWU Co-Ops were built over our neighborhood. Rumor I was told, their lease was up. Some of my family moved close, then back into the Co-Op. Guffanti's closed between 1960 and 1962. When I visited the relatives in my old neighborhood, it was closed.
Bill Kelly

Lisa Hogan said...

I have a family group shot from a wedding that was held at Guffanti's Restaurant on Sept 3, 1938. Would your restaurant have held weddings?