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

29 Comments

Filed under department stores, tea shops

29 responses to “Lunching in the Bird Cage

  1. Reverend Pat Kriss

    Today, as Lord & Taylor’s announced the closing of the Fifth Avenue flagship store in 2019, I experienced a deep pang in my heart. From my childhood through my early teens, Lord & Taylor was the special place where twice a year my mother and I journeyed from central New York for fashion, and, for the Birdcage. It was strictly Mother and Daughter time. I clearly remember the little dining desks with their right hand platforms. This always got Mom and me giggling, since we were both left handed. I remember the egg salad sandwiches, the tea in china teacups, the elegance and the fact that getting a reservation to lunch in the Tiny Bird cage wasn’t easy. That made it all the more special. I remember hours spent sitting outside the dressing rooms as Mom tried on multiple outfits, and came out to model them for my approval. She had been a runway model before marriage. Tragically our time together was cut short, as she died suddenly at the age of 48 and I was 16. Our Lord & Taylor days were very special and now, at the end of an era, sweetly remembered.

  2. My mom used to take us to the Chevy Chase store as a treat in the 70’s. My favorite was the Cheddar Cheese Biscuits with Ham! Delicious!

  3. Jean Steele

    No luck on finding the rice pudding recipe that I yearn for. I’m almost 86 and would like the thrill of tasting it at least one more time,

  4. D.K. Milgrim-Heath

    In Lord & Taylor’s 5th Avenue Department Store Restaurant Was The Bird In Lord & Taylor’s 5th Avenue Department Store Restaurant Was The Bird Cage
            By D.K.Milgrim-Heath©2010
    In Lord & Taylor’s 5th Avenue Department Store restaurant was The Bird Cage-
    Was beautiful era of the 1960s during my childhood years that stage!
    Delicious lunches had with my Mother and me tasting always delicious yearly as they should be-
    Because of the famous Manhattan Lord & Taylor’s reputation lunches I never forgot happily!
    The era of  beautiful styled women’s clothing with its gorgeous hats and white gloves-
    I sorely miss that really one of my favorite childhood styled loves!
    Women hair then so beautifully coiffed everywhere you looked and turned-
    People cared about their appearances back then in the 1960’s they yearned.
    Looking at old TV shows, movies, personal photos and magazines from then-
    Now being 2017 those styles being iconic are returning in vogue again!
    So strange showing my three grown children how their Grandparents and I used to dress-
    Tells them their grandparents and I were young really their age once nevertheless!
    A beautiful red lace 1960s outfit designed by my father the CEO of Emil Katz &Co-
    For my mother that I own now worn for a gala for my son’s drama class -I love it so!
    How can I ever forget Lord & Taylor’s Soup Bar as my Mother and I were regulars there?
    Remembering its famous Scotch broth chef William Palmer prepared beyond compare!
    A super jovial fat person making His Soup Bar truthfully the nicest, happiest place in the store-
    Mother and I as we window shopped often we wanted this soup some more!
    Years later comes the Winter season in my beloved Manhattan I think Scotch broth soup to savor-
    Since I’ve left Manhattan in 1962 the Scotch broth never again will I smell that flavor.
    Too bad my son living in NYC presently can’t ever realize that Winter joy to share-
    My childhood memory of the famous Lord & Taylor Soup Bar there.

  5. Penny

    Thank you for the wonderful article and comments. I’m impressed that many of you remember specific dishes. Perhaps because my visits to the NYC Birdcage were with my mom were way back in the 1940’s, my memories are less detailed. I enjoyed all department store restaurants but the Birdcage was my absolute favorite. Everything I ate there was delicious, and I loved the elegant ambiance — the Birdcage was a highlight of every visit to the city, in every season.

  6. 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.

  7. Anonymous

    Ann Scoville. Memories.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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 .

  13. 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!!!!

  14. 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?

  15. 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!!

  16. 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!

  17. 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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