Lunching in the Bird Cage

Lord & Taylor’s Bird Cage restaurant and tea room was opened in the late 1930s. It continued on the fifth floor of the Fifth Avenue New York City store until the 1980s when it was updated and renamed Café American Style. Accommodating only about one hundred persons, the Bird Cage was considerably smaller than the main restaurant in Altman’s which held over two hundred, as well as Abraham & Straus’s in Brooklyn which held over four hundred. Until the mid-1970s the Bird Cage was outfitted with armchairs with trays connected to them. In the early years each tray was supplied with a complimentary cigarette. Diners selected sandwiches, salads, and desserts from rolling carts modeled on Italian racing cars. As Lord & Taylor branches were opened after World War II in locations such as Westchester (shown here, 1948), Millburn NJ, Hartford CT, and Washington DC, they too were furnished with their own Bird Cages.

For many years the Bird Cage staff at the Fifth Avenue store provided refreshments to shoppers who arrived before the store opened each morning. Lord & Taylor president Dorothy Shaver initiated the custom and insisted that the coffee, juice (in summer), or bouillon (when temperatures were frigid) be served in china, not paper, cups.

birdcagemilkbarny1950Other well-loved eateries in the Manhattan store were the men’s Soup Bar on the tenth floor and the children’s Milk Bar (shown, 1950). Scotch broth and deep-dish apple cobbler with rum sauce were specialties at the Soup Bar.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

22 Comments

Filed under department stores, tea shops

22 responses to “Lunching in the Bird Cage

  1. Marjorie Krause

    I loved going to the Bird Cage with my mother in the 60’s. The bird cage itself was the focal point of my meal because it actually had real birds in it. I was just mesmerized by them. It was a fun and special time with my mom.

  2. Anonymous

    Ann Scoville. Memories.

  3. Jean Steele

    I eagerly want to learn about the Bird Cage Restaurant that was on the top floor of Lord’s and Taylor in No. Virginia — might have been Falls Church, and this was in the seventies. They served a rice pudding that was to die for. I’ve been searching recipes ever since. None of the recipes give the consistency of theirs — light and meringue like and very light on the rice. It tasted a little lemony. If this description make others want to know about the recipe, I’d be very surprised. I have tried to duplicate without success. Thank you for the post.

  4. sherry

    We used to go the the Bird Cage in Jenkintown PA. I always ate the salad bowl and late 70s the frozen yogurt. That was my favorite restaurant.

    • Veronica Dee Ang

      I used to have sandwiches with my mom at the Birdcage in Jenkintown. They had seating arrangements for two where the seats were connected but on opposite sides and there were colourful birdcages above every seating arrangement. It was so chic and quaint and lovely to take tea or a lite snack.

  5. Maria

    As a child in the 1960s my mother and I visited the Birdcage Restaurant in Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue many times during our Saturday shopping forays. I remember the tea sandwiches. But mostly I remember the huge bird cage in the center of the room shaped like an immense cylinder filled with birds and tree branches. I always coveted one of the prize seats on the circular divan which went all the way around the cage so I could watch the birds while I ate. Wonderful memories. Live birds, really!

  6. Joan Boyer

    Joan
    A favorite treat of my grandmother’s was taking my sister and I to the Bird Cage for lunch. Nanny would surprise us when we Christmas shopped. The dessert tray was our absolute favorite. As I am now 54 this had to have occurred in the mid 1960’s. Wonderful memories.

  7. James Warner

    I remember having lunch many times with my mom. I loved the strawberry custard . From the cart and seeing to birds in the cage in front .

  8. JMC

    My Grandmother was the hostess at the Bird Cage in the Westchester (Eastchester, NY) location for many years. I have wonderful memories of having lunch there in the 70’s and feeling like a “lady”. When I got older my friends and I used to go there for lunch between our college classes. The “Bird Cage” has since been moved from the main floor to the top floor, where I doubt many know it even exists. Wonderful memories for me, but so sad for the current shoppers…

    • Barb

      I was a bit of a wild thing, but lunch at the Eastchester L&T is something I loved and my mother and I had fun there, and wonderful food!!! Did not know it was still open. Wonder what the menu is now. Bet your mom seated us!!! Mine worked there a bit in the 70s on the floor can’t recall which dept. I still have the clear “purse” L&T gave employees so they could not steal items. Even back then, people did wrong things, but the purse too cute with the rose and brings
      back the days of yore.
      If I did not now live in VT I would hotfoot it in and have lunch!!!!

  9. Dina

    I can still remember lunch at the Bird Cage at the Lord and Taylor in Millburn….my girlfriend and I would always order the same thing: it was a salad that came with an ice cream scoop of cottage cheese, egg salad, and tuna salad on top of greens mixed with beets and shredded carrots…best salad and then the dessert cart….heaven! So thankful for the memory.

    • You’ve described a classic department store dish — thanks!

    • Patrice

      Yes, that’s it! The salad bowl! I was trying to remember what was in that delicious salad. Thanks for sharing. Such a wonderful place. I would visit the one in Chevy Chase Md. with my mom almost every Saturday. Loved it!

    • Anonymous

      Trying to remember what was in that salad! I remembered the cottage cheese, beets, and shredded carrots over greens and another ingredient maybe, shredded cabbage? It also came with a choice of tea sandwiches.
      Dont remember having tuna and egg salad and cottage cheese. I had the salad when I lived on Long Island in Manhasset. Maybe it was served differently?

  10. Marianne Brzozowski

    Growing up in New Jersey in the 1950’s, now, one of my fondest memories was a yearly visit with my mom to Lord and Taylor’s in Millburn. We were a “blue collar” family and our lunch at the “Bird Cage” was a real treat. This was before the advent of the fast-food restaurants of today, thankfully. I remember savoring every morsel of the tea sandwiches. My mouth drooled over the dessert selections. As a young adult, I moved to the Washington, DC area. When I had attacks of homesickness, I would go for lunch, by myself, to the Falls Church L&T. I reveled in the memories.

    How sad it is that the past generation cannot experience the same graciousness!!

  11. Cricket

    At the Lord & Taylor’s in Washington, men who went to the Bird Cage were entitled to two desserts with their lunch. My sweet-tooth father naturally loved going there for lunch when we went shopping, and we kids felt deprived because we only got one!

  12. Ronni

    I ate at the Bird Cage on Fifth Avenue with my mother many times, when I was growing up in the ’60’s. My favorite from the dessert cart was a Bavarian cream with some kind of sauce, it was a combination pudding/gelatin type of thing. I would be interested in a recipe recreating it, if you’re aware of one. Thanks for the information above!

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